Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Elaborate Yet Heretofore Misunderstood Humor Of 50 Cent

I have a conspiracy theory regarding 50 Cent. He’s faded from prominence recently—I was as surprised as you will be to discover he’s doing an album (that will be “Eurodance” influenced, apparently, which means that 50 is following a trail most recently blazed by the Black Eyed Peas. It will also be entitled "Black Magic." There's 50's irrelevance in two sentences.)—and there’s a very simple reason for that: 50 Cent has run out of jokes.

You might not associate 50 with high humor, but I’m certain his career began as an elaborate joke. “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” is up there with “The Fast and the Furious” for great, obvious titles of terrible works of art. So the title should’ve been a tip-off. Then there’s this:

Because I don’t want you to be reading a dissertation, let’s isolate the four most risible claims in the song: 50 Cent claims “When I die, they’ll read this and say a genius wrote it”; 50 Cent claims that any shooting ever committed, at any time or any place has been caused by 50 Cent; Eminem claims that al Qaeda actually meant to hit Shady Records with their airplanes; Eminem claims that 50 Cent is like “mixing Biggie and ‘Pac” and “throwing them into a pot.”

Admittedly, that song is probably the funniest song of the album, but there’s also the hilarious claim of “If I Can’t” which is all title (“If I Can’t/do that/homie it can’t be done”), and then there’s this:

In which 50 Cent claims that a) the LAPD and NYPD’s top priority is bringing 50 Cent to justice, b) 50 Cent is a better three-point shooter than Kobe (actually, if he means 2010 NBA playoffs Kobe, this may be accurate) and c) his songs “belong in the Bible like King David’s.” (A tipoff that this is all an elaborate joke: no way someone who has that extensive a knowledge of the Bible also makes such self-evidently absurd.)

Then there’s this:

In which 50 Cent claims that “every time I rhyme/something special happens every time/something like Ali in his prime.” Again, laughable claims.

The problem with 50 Cent’s fiendish plan was, like The Producers, actual success. The public (including, sadly, myself at oh, fifteen or so) appeared to buy him as a somewhat legitimate artist and he ran out of jokes. He was unable to seriously be 50 Cent, but he tried to be. And say what you will about the public, but they can spot a faker: or, someone trying to fake being a fake image. So, uh, score one for the public? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t count on a 50 Cent comeback.


  1. Man, good post, the musical stylings of Curtis Jackson got me thinking about recent hip-hop in general. I was duped by 50 Cent too, which I think as you've hit on, is both laughable and sad. I remember listening to and enjoying Get Rich or Die Tryin and The Game's Documentary in high school at around the height of 50's general popularity, and when everyone including me was making a special effort to pronounce "Fiddy" rather than "Fifty". Of course one of the main reasons he gained legitimacy was by constantly playing off his getting shot 11 times, which I remember being taken with at the time but now of course looks cheap and crass. I also remember being impressed with hearing how he had supposedly singlehandedly destroyed Ja Rule's career (speaking of “elaborate yet heretofore misunderstood humor”)- “Where is Jaaa?!”

    At the time though all I cared about were the beats and the more than serviceable flow. You can still take a song like Ski Mask Way for example and have a great instrumental, although heavily compromised in song format by the lyrics.

    What people realized I guess in 50's case is that there isn't much there after the initial infatuation with the beats and flow – the lyrics are meaningless as you've pointed out and hit you after several listens like a sledgehammer to the head, and the persona has seemingly just been forgotten by most, or consigned to ironic ridicule as with much else once lauded in pop culture. 50 is just one of the more successful people (in terms of record sales and recent popularity) to exploit the perpetual gangster persona, but just doesn't have the scope, subtlety, or humor to make it lasting and significant. He borrowed a lot in general from Tupac's thug/gangster popularization, and all those Tupac songs – earnest, shrill, humorless - that take that to an extreme in the later albums are the most embarrassing and forgettable ones. 50 also seems to have very little in common with Biggie - Biggie is a great storyteller and self-deprecator, and his persona comes across as multifaceted and sly, while 50 comes off as if being a gangster is the objective on his resume and his lyrics read like a never-ending business log of units moved and money made (a la Jay-Z).

    I don't know who his target market is anymore, but I'd assume that people like me 5 years ago would listen, or if he's too old, move on to the next artist like him. It's another example of the interesting process where artistic mediocrities – Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Eminem, 50 – are elevated to cultural touchstones for a time and given tremendous influence on behavior and attitudes (or maybe they are just symbols the public will invests in and brings to prominence). This holds especially with young people - I know for me listening to 50 cent in high school was just part of a larger reinforcement that told myself I wasn't tough/hard enough, wasn't ripped enough, confident enough, ad infinitum. Today realizing that I allowed those attitudes to get to me through the medium of a superficial artistic creation is somewhat depressing, if a good lesson to learn.

    And at least the mediocrities do show the value of truly lasting creations in the gangster genre - Biggie, Tony Soprano, Avon Barksdale for example – where the violence and gangsterism going on is often one of the less interesting aspects to them.

  2. Great Dave reference. Let's link it just because.

    I wanted to talk about your last little paragraph though. The distinction I'd make in the instances you cited--and I'd add in Stringer Bell and Michael Corleone--is that those characters are more than violent. But the sort of image they present is (oh god, the faux-lit-theory) kind of a hypercapitalist, I'll-do-anything-to-succeed which has been so often mined for tragedy or humor in American literature (if I might cite myself here, note that Gatsby of The Great Gatsby is a gangster) and is present in their characters. So the violence is an inextricable part of their character, they just happen to have more to their characters than that.

    A movie that only kind of understands this fact is American Gangster; the fact that it only partially understands that can be seen from the title.