When Get Rich or Die Tryin’ dropped in February 2003, 50 Cent was the biggest, meanest rapper alive. He was the closest thing to a hip-hop superhero (or supervillain), a hulk of a man who wore a bulletproof vest like Superman wears a cape. But his reign at the top wouldn’t last long; just four years later, 50’s third album, Curtis, faced off (literally) against Kanye West’s Graduation in a heavyweight sales fight — and lost. That day not only confirmed the changing of the guard from a stagnant street rapper to a pioneer in a pink Polo but set in motion the steady decline of 50 Cent, who is better known these days for his Power TV show and picking on Rick Ross.
However, 50 Cent has been quietly enjoying a small yet no less surprising victory in music this year thanks to his single, “I’m the Man.” Last week, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) announced that the song had been certified Gold, meaning it has sold over 500,000 copies in the United States through both digital downloads and on-demand streams.
It’s 50’s first plaque in four years.
The best part? The song wasn’t originally a 50 Cent record. “I’m the Man” was first released in October 2014 as the debut solo effort from Sonny Digital, the Atlanta-via-Saginaw producer behind iLoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday” and 2 Chainz’s “Birthday Song,” to name just a few. Sonny’s version was on SoundCloud for more than a year before 50 Cent decided to hijack it and include it on his December 2015 mixtape, The Kanan Tape, before releasing it as an official single this February.
“My manager told me 50 had liked it a couple months prior, but it went over my head. Then he came to Atlanta and called all the producers to the studio. When he first walked in — this is when I knew this shit was probably for real — he was singing the song!” Sonny recalled during a recent appearance on the No Jumper podcast. “I gave him some more beats. He hit me back and he was like, look, I want to do that ‘I’m the Man’ song. He kept me on the hook and basically re-did the verses. That was it. That song was gonna do what it was gonna do — it’s 50 Cent. It’s a good song, too.”
“I’m the Man” wasn’t an instant hit. The single debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Bubbling Under R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart and barely cracked the US R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. So in May, 50 decided to do what most artists do when they want a hit: he called up Chris Brown for a remix. It definitely helped. The revamped version performed much better commercially, cracking the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, while the accompanying video has racked up over 60 million views on YouTube, compared with just 7.5 million for the original song’s “short film.”
Yet, it’s 50’s solo version of “I’m the Man,” not the Chris Brown remix, that has turned out to be the biggest seller. But why? Is it similar to how Kanye West’s “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2” helped catapult Desiigner’s “Panda” to the top of the charts? Or is it because 50 Cent, dare we say, still has commercial viability as an artist? The answer is that Curtis Jackson, for all his waning popularity in music, is a bigger deal on television these days—and it paid off.
In July, “I’m the Man” was featured in the season two premiere of HBO’s Ballers, which drew 1.6 million viewers. In the following week, the song had generated 13.8 million streams, 109,000 Shazams and 20,000 downloads in the US — a 280% gain from the previous week. The “I’m the Man” remix was also featured in Power, the Starz TV series starring, produced and co-created by 50 Cent. By the end of July, both versions of “I’m the Man” held the top two spots on THR’s Top TV Songs chart.
In all reality, “I’m the Man” is nothing more than a nice little feather in 50 Cent’s hat, which has been looking pretty bare these last few years. It also gives him a new set of bragging rights over Rick Ross, who has yet to release a Gold-selling single in 2016 (or 2015, for that matter). It’s unlikely to spark a 50 Cent comeback, as Curtis seems more interested in building his filmography than his discography these days. Even the Gold-certified success of “I’m the Man” probably won’t be able to unlock his long-awaited Street King Immortal album from the vaults of G-Unit Records.
If there’s one thing we know about Curtis Jackson, it’s that he’s a resilient motherfucker. Shoot him nine times, he’ll make a rap career out of it. Give him his “biggest L,” he’ll keep talking. Give him a hot song and he’ll make it a hit single out of it.
Never count 50 Cent out.
By Andy James, who still has “What Up Gangsta” as his alarm. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Instagram