The most hyped album of 2003, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ dominated the rap charts as soon as it dropped this month, despite being basically an average album. It became the fastest-selling first album — this is 50 Cent’s first major label release — since the dawn of modern sales tracking in 1991, with 872,000 copies sold in the first five days. That puts 50 Cent on the top 10 list of fastest-selling rap albums of all time.

His meteoric rise in the world of hip-hop is not surprising, considering the cast of superstars behind him — including Eminem, who signed him, and Dr. Dre, who produced the album. But long before Eminem took notice, heads were banging to 50’s flow in the underground. In addition to two full-length independent albums, the rapper released a flurry of mixtapes and bootlegs in the years before he did “Wanksta” on the “8 Mile” soundtrack. He created a buzz largely by criticizing mainstream hip-hop and going after everyone from Jay-Z to Mariah Carey. People were requesting 50 Cent on the radio and singing along with his non-LP tracks way before the industry knew his name.

With the release of Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent has entered the commercial world he used to condemn, and he’s finally making money off his rhymes. The most striking thing about the album is its sheer authenticity — 50 Cent is a proven gangsta in an industry of fake thugs. In May 2000, he was shot nine times, including once in the face, and some say whoever killed Jam Master Jay was actually after 50. On “Many Men,” a song that opens with a recreation of his shooting, 50 lets us feel the pain of his personal history: “Many men, wish death upon me / Blood in my eye dawg and I can’t see / I’m trying to be what I’m destined to be / And niggas trying to take my life away.”

Speaking with a street authority not heard since Tupac and Biggie Smalls, 50 Cent calls out all the wannabes, especially his nemesis Ja Rule. At the end of “Back Down,” an overdramatized voice whines “Oh no he didn’t say anything about Ja. Okay, Ja is my boo. Jeffrey Atkins ain’t never hurt anybody. And y’all know, big things come in small packages — Holla!”

The album is superbly produced — except for the plodding tracks laid down by Eminem — as Dr. Dre once again proves his skills in the studio. It is obvious that the beats were very carefully prepared. The standout “In da Club” is an instant club hit, and the rest of Dre’s sets allow 50 Cent to go commercial without going pop. At times, it seems Dre did more to make this album a success than 50.

Mostly, that’s because 50 Cent’s lyrics are elementary. He is thoroughly unconvincing on “Patiently Waiting,” when he claims “When I die they’ll read this / And say a genius wrote it.” He’s much more in his element when he barks, “I’m similar to a squirrel / Lookin’ for a slut / Wit a nice butt to get a nut.” Eminem also outshines him on that track — something a guest artist should never be allowed to do.

50 Cent is rhythmically inept on many of the songs, and though his flow is on point on “In da Club” and “If I Can’t,” it struggles on too many others. Still, the CD is not overdone with guest appearances or R&B hooks, and the artist’s raw style is nicely complemented by the album’s smooth production.

Despite not being the most creative or lyrically skilled new artist, 50 Cent has created a space for himself at the top of the hip-hop world. Judging by his unbounded confidence and the way his album has blown up in the past two weeks, he could be there for a long time to come.