Industry Insiders Say Bootlegging Won't Dent 50 Cent

Retailers predict Get Rich or Die Tryin' will debut at #1.

An abbreviated first-week sales cycle won't stop 50 Cent from cashing in at record stores, industry insiders say.

His Get Rich or Die Tryin' hit stores Thursday, five days early, in a move aimed at thwarting bootleggers (see "50 Cent's Album Hitting Stores Sooner Than Planned"). Despite a four-day first-week sales cycle — as opposed to the traditional six (Tuesday through Sunday) — most are predicting the album will top the Billboard 200 albums chart.

"The first week it'll sell between 500,000 and 600,000," forecasted Sonya Askew, urban music buyer for the Sam Goody/Musicland chain. She said she based her prediction on the high interest in 50, who signed a joint deal with Eminem's Shady Records and Dr. Dre's Aftermath imprint. "This is going to be very strong. It will sell 50 to 60 percent of what [The Eminem Show] did, which isn't bad."

Even higher figures, closer to a million copies, were predicted by others.

"This might be the biggest debut in hip-hop since DMX's It's Dark and Hell Is Hot [in 1998]," said Johan Gill, a clerk at Tower Records in New York's Lincoln Center. "It's huge. Practically every customer who came through the door today has been coming in for this record."

Unlike many hip-hop albums, which tend to debut high and then drop significantly, 50 Cent's disc isn't expected to depreciate drastically. Askew said the album should stay put at #1 for the next two or three weeks, perhaps until Fabolous' Street Dreams gives it a run for its money March 7. Even when it vacates the top slot, Get Rich or Die Tryin' isn't likely to descend into the chart's nether regions quickly, given the public's sheer fascination with 50 Cent.

"The album will definitely have staying power," said Paul Stokes, urban music buyer for George's Music Store in Chicago. "It's not just his music, but his life story, what he's been through."

50 Cent's Cinderella story is one of the most compelling in hip-hop. He went from being a teenage drug dealer to an underground rabble rouser to a high-profile rapper hooking up with Eminem and Dr. Dre (see "50 Cent Inks Deal With Eminem, Dr. Dre"). Along the way, he was stabbed and shot several times, including once in the mouth.

"It's his image," Stokes said. "People relate to the story. They're the main cats buying it."

Since bootleggers not only cut into the artist and label's profits, but also retailers', many stores are delighted when a label pushes up a hot album's release.

"As a buyer, I'm excited. It's giving retail the opportunity to make money," Askew said. "Lots of labels are afraid to pull the trigger. Interscope, [the parent of Shady/Aftermath,] is not. I would have been upset if I had to wait until [next] Tuesday to put it on shelves."

Interscope employed the same tactic last year with The Eminem Show, releasing it on a Sunday. In December, Columbia followed suit with Nas' God's Son, stocking store shelves four days early (see "Nas To Release God's Son Earlier Than Planned"). Like The Eminem Show, legitimate copies of Get Rich or Die Tryin' will be bolstered with a DVD component absent from the illegal copies.

The trend of earlier than expected release dates is likely to continue, since bootlegging is only getting easier.

"As long as you can buy burners so cheap — you can burn 20 copies at a time, and [blank] discs are so inexpensive — it's not going to stop," said Violet Brown, a buyer for the Wherehouse chain. "There needs to be a crackdown. You see people in parking lots selling CDs. You can go into a CD store and they're selling bootlegs."

While the illegal practice is most prevalent in hip-hop, other genres are not immune. Highly anticipated albums by Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park may face a similar situation as their release dates near.

If there's a silver lining to this problem, it's the publicity. When Interscope announced the earlier release date, media outlets were quick to report it. So even for those unaware of the change, the news served as a reminder that the album was going to be available in just days.

"Controversy is always good, and publicity, any kind of publicity, always helps the record," Gill said. "With all the anticipation for 50 Cent's album, people were ecstatic that they could get the album earlier."

Be sure to check out our full-length feature on 50 Cent, "50 Cent: Money To Burn".

Watch the MTV News Now special "All Eyes On: 50 Cent." Click for schedule.