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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2003

Controversial hip-hop star admits he's no role model

"You don't want me to be your kids' role model. I'll teach them how to buck them 380s and load up them hollows."

— from "High All The Time"

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Staff Writer

Sacha Waldman

50 Cent with Fabolous

7 p.m. Tuesday

Blaisdell Arena

$36.50 — $39.50


Whoever said hard-core hip-hop of the gangsta variety never taught anyone anything of value never heard the inspired flow of 50 Cent.

In addition to the generous above offer to instruct anyone under 18 on the proper method of inserting a hollow-point bullet into the chamber of a Magnum .380, there are still other pearls of wisdom to be gleaned from the fertile mind of this former cocaine dealer turned 4-million-selling hip-hop playa. For example:

  • 50 Cent on his conscience: "I'm innocent in my head, like a baby born dead."
  • 50 Cent on the end of a grudge: "Till I bust a clip in your face ... this beef ain't over."
  • 50 Cent on making it big: "When you sell like Eminem, you get plenty of groupie love."

The enigmatic 50 arrives for his first Honolulu concert appearance on Tuesday — and an all-ages show, no less — as not merely one of the hottest artists in hip-hop, but one of its most controversial.

In the five months that have elapsed since 50 first popped a cap in our nation's collective consciousness, much ink has been spilled trying to figure out how the 27-year-old native of Queens, N.Y., seemed to single-handedly make rapping about death, violence and ingesting massive amounts of Indo cool again.

The simple answer just might be that 50's brand of mayhem and misogyny has a beat, and you can dance to it.

This is not to discredit 50's very serious — oft times unimaginably dark — tales of his upbringing and life experiences thus far.

For starters, 50's single mother sold crack until she was killed when he was just 8. 50 started selling the drug himself at age 12, and continued dealing even after getting his first record deal (a bum one, as it turns out) with Columbia at age 23.

In May 2000, he was shot point-blank nine times while sitting in a car in front of his grandmother's Queens home, only a month after being stabbed during an altercation with arch rival Ja Rule's crew in a recording studio. Crack-dealing enemies from his past are still eager to pop him, and 50 has said that he'd return to selling the drug if his music career ever tanked.

Clearly, 50 Cent is on the money when he proudly boasts that, as an irredeemable gangsta, he's hardly a role model for impressionable American youth. But are we wrong for accepting his shrug of an excuse with little more than a shrug ourselves and, in doing so, making 50 a multimillionaire?

Believe it or not, I like 50's music. Since March, I've probably spun "Get Rich Or Die Tryin' " at least a half-dozen times. The CD still cracks me up.

I dare anyone to listen to a 50 Cent witticism like "My money come in lumps, my pockets got the mumps" or "We ridin' 'round with guns the size of Lil Bow Wow" while negotiating H-1 and not find yourself howling with the kind of laughter previously reserved for discussions of Coolio's current whereabouts. (There's funnier stuff on "Get Rich," but this is a family newspaper.)

50's vocal delivery is a wickedly listenable, laid-back drawl that cleverly cloaks the hard-boiled seriousness and darkly comic cynicism of his lyrics in the semi-mushmouthed Sean John's of a stoner ordering a dozen or so McDonald's Value Meals. (His slur is the aftereffect of a bullet fragment in his tongue and a hole in his jaw where the bullet passed.)

Forget about anger, 50's pulse barely seems to rise even when spitting serious lyrical venom in the direction of Ja Rule on the "Get Rich" cut "Back Down."

Guided by the deft studio hands of Dr. Dre and Eminem, "Get Rich" doesn't so much showcase a terrifically skilled lyricist on the level of either mentor than one made eminently more listenable by superb production and genuinely infectious, club-ready beats.

For better or worse, "Get Rich" features some of the catchiest flow about getting shot, plotting murder, staying high, having groupie sex and clipping enemies put to vinyl since the early '90s heyday of N.W.A. And unlike that legendary crew, 50's tracks are eminently danceable and, with some judicious editing work, easily rendered Top 40 radio friendly.

Even with 50's mind-numbingly bouncy radio hit "In da Club" well on its way to topping Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart and his mix tapes widely circulating the hip-hop underground, music-industry types were still relatively surprised when "Get Rich" entered the magazine's album chart at No. 1 in February with 872,000 in first-week sales.

More than 400,000 copies of "Get Rich" were sold in its first day of release alone, and the CD remains entrenched in Billboard's top five.

As much as I applaud 50's rags-to-legit-riches success and enjoy listening to his music, though, I can't help but feel guilty about supporting works from 50 and others like him who may follow.

(For those keeping score at home, that would be unrepentant former crack dealers who would gladly sell the stuff to my future offspring again should their careers go the way of, say, Mase.)

Artists such as Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, The Roots, Black Eyed Peas, Jurassic 5, Mos Def and Talib Kweli prove that hip-hop can be innovative, provocatively honest and confrontationally real without half-cocked thug manifestos.

Tales from the thug life sell records because the outsider imagery resonates with buyers or, more troubling, because its themes of violence, cash and womanizing provide a cheap thrill.

50 Cent may indeed be channeling real-life experiences into his volatile lyricism, but all he's giving us are images of the drug dealer as rebel hero, women as playthings and the thug life as the only honest life. And sadly, its hardly new ground.

"If my life wasn't like this, I would have nothing to rap about," 50 told Entertainment Weekly in February. "Don't expect me to change because my record has taken off. It took 26 years to get this way. I get one CD, one year to change? That's not gonna happen."

Here's betting it will happen. 50's wordplay will change and mature on his next CD because that's what any artist aspiring to greatness does. And 50 Cent is way too savvy a musical force of nature to imagine himself as merely a hip-hop flava of the year.

Besides, none of us should have to buy a man's CD just to keep him from selling crack.