001: "They Say I Walk Around Like I Got An S On My Chest, Nah That's A Semi-Auto In A Vest On My Chest..."
50 Cent articulates how being great comes with even greater risk
Track one. Verse one. 50 Cent got straight into it from the get go with “What Up Gangsta”, the introduction track for “Get Rich Or Die Tryin’” - an undisputed classic album and comfortably 50’s finest work. He wastes no time in dropping wisdom with his first bar.
“They say I walk around like I got an S on my chest,
Nah that’s a semi-auto in a vest on my chest”
50 uses wordplay to compare the firearm he carries and conceals to the S logo that can be found sported by Superman, arguably the greatest and most popular superhero of all time - big shoes to fill, but as 50 says later on in his album, “If I can’t do it, homie it can’t be done”. 50 meant business, but we’ll get on to that in a bit.
At a glance, this metaphor paints multiple narratives around his lifestyle and environment; The weapon ultimately allows him to command respect and be treated accordingly, in the same way Superman is treated given that we know the power he has at his disposal (again, further down the line in the album, 50 does warn us explicitly, “right now I’m on the edge, so don’t push me”). He also alludes to the fact that, in surroundings where opportunities and a way out are few and far between, the possession of a weapon elevates his status to that of a superhero who is able to protect and fight for the causes of the disenfranchised folks around him, not to mention his own personal interests as well.
But the gift of a great artist is the ability of their message to transcend beyond the realms of their reality and apply to any and everybody. They use their world as a case study and their talent as the medium to depict situations that we can apply to our own to learn from. Make no mistake about it, Curtis Jackson is a genius who was at the top of his game when creating this album and it’s opening track. It’s none more evident than with this bar.
Ultimately, 50 is giving us the same advice that you’ve heard in multiple different areas of art, literature and even anecdotally (perhaps from a wise family member, or a friend who’s giving advice):
“Fortune favours the brave” - Latin proverb
“With great power comes great responsibility” - Stan Lee
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go” - T.S. Eliot
50’s weapon is symbolic. It may give him the look of Superman on the exterior, but once you scratch the surface, you can see that the same gun that gives him the status is what also weighs him down. This is the wisdom behind this bar. The gun allows him to succeed and thrive as a hustler. The glamour that comes with that might be cool and superhero-like in many respects, but its main purpose is for protection, to combat the trials and tribulations he may face. 50 Cent is telling you that being great in whatever lane you’re in comes with even greater risk. Being Superman requires looking over your shoulder. Getting to the top is one thing, but staying there is a completely different ball game.
So here’s what we can learn and take away from 50 Cent’s art and message. We currently find ourselves in the side-hustle era, the gig economy, where everybody wants to create a start-up, brand, monetise a hobby or pursue ventures for an extra stream of (ideally passive) income. It’s not an easy task and it’s important that we appreciate the concept of developing/building a business or income stream. Your name, your reputation and your wellbeing are on the line and it can be difficult to navigate around this, especially in the era of social media and hyper-marketed products left, right and centre. It’s imperative that you know who you are and what your goals are, just as 50 Cent has demonstrated in his bars of wisdom and beyond. There’s more to it than rocking a cape, as you need to carry your responsibility to yourself and your aspirations at all times. Greatness and success, whether you measure it with results or how you’re perceived, always comes with an equally unglamorous aspect; The hard hours, the graft, the grind. Without risk, there is no reward. The gun gave 50 power and respect, but it also put a target on his back.
50 used his identity and lifestyle to guide his logic. As a hustler and a neglected member of America’s system, he took matters into his own hands, whether on the streets or in the boardroom. His ruthlessness translated into success because he was sure of himself and his ideas. His strategy was bulletproof because he knew where he stood and how to manoeuvre accordingly. Could his rise have been predicted? Well, I told you earlier that he meant business, and that pun was certainly intended. As the years went by and albums upon albums were sold in their ridiculously high numbers, 50 developed into an astute and supremely talented businessman to compliment his equally powerful skillsets as a musician. He counts food & beverages, television, tech and entertainment amongst his portfolio of profit churning assets/investments to go alongside his success in music, both as an artist and an executive. Some might say nobody could have predicted this, but as we’ve just broken down, 50 said his bars and meant them, regardless of where he applied them. Wisdom works in every setting and it’s up to you to implement it.
So when you see entrepreneurs on the go, documenting the photo-worthy aspects of their profession, posting their long thoughts and making it seem like an easy route to the top, remember 50 Cent’s word of advice. Remember that the S logo has a dark side to it.
Do yourself justice, utilise your mind.
A Word On The Song/Artist
Quite simply, it is one of, if not the best of album intros ever, on one of the greatest bodies of work produced not only from the genre of hip-hop, but music as a whole. The term “classic” is banded about a lot, but there is no dispute here. “Get Rich Or Die Tryin’” belongs in the pantheon of all-time greats.
In his prime, 50 held his own against any of his peers and competitors, whether past, present or future. While his interest and output for music has dwindled over the years (both in terms of quality and quantity), there is no denying the heights he was able to scale in his heyday. He is one of my favourite artists, and I can still recall the very moment I pressed play on “Get Rich Or Die Tryin’” via my Sony CD Walkman. It was a rollercoaster of a journey that wasted no time in speeding off. “What Up Gangsta” set the tone for 50’s eventful life on the streets, transition into the limelight and establishing his intentions for the music industry. Legendary shit.
I have “What Up Gangsta” included in my “First Impressions - The Hip-Hop Intros Playlist: Vol. 1” playlist which you can listen to on Apple or Spotify alongside other volumes and concept playlists. Like, follow and share my profiles/playlists to stay up-to-date with all of my current and future playlist collections.