G-Unit Radio, Pt. 22: Hip-Hop Is Dead
n his pursuit of pop dominance, 50 Cent has willfully made himself into a terrible rapper and as one-dimensional a slogan-spouter as has ever graced hip-hop. But the piece of bullet still lodged in his tongue has also turned his louche, lazy flow into one of the most effective instruments in pop music. Almost as limited, and catchy, as Nate Dogg’s rich baritone or Pharrell’s ersatz-Curtis Mayfield squeak, 50’s Slick Rick-cum-Fabolous-and-Ma$e sneer promises import that the lyrics fail, over and over again, to deliver. But the sheer sound of it is intoxicating, and he knows it. Something about the way 50 hits the beat—or more often, just misses it—feels eloquent.
The best place to track this development has been on his ludicrously entertaining G-Unit Radio mixtape series. The last one to come out was Hip Hop Is Dead, and though it is positively ancient in Internet time—it was released last fall—it was recently re-released on iTunes, and there’s still shameless fun to be had listening to 50 spin his limitless arrogance over some of last year’s trashiest beats. He presides like a grinning, overfed pasha. “I’m feelin’ good,” he declares on “Don’t Front,” adding, “I’m feelin’ good because I’m playin’ around and I sound better than their serious efforts.” He loads contempt on the last two words. Later, he entreats “This is rap, man. Have some FUN with it” over the woolly funk of Fergie’s “London London.” For 50, showing that he’s making an effort would be unseemly, an admission of defeat. His poker-faced rivals—Nas among them, whose own Hip Hop Is Dead is a million times more respectable and half as fun as this one—could stand to learn something from him.
But it’s only when 50 is doing his Unwholesome Seduction routine that his voice finds a purpose beyond providing tinsel to expensive beats. He nailed it on The Massacre’s “Baltimore Love Thing,” where he personified heroin addiction. When he moaned, “Let’s just be alone / So I can kiss and hug you / Push me inside you / No man can love you like I do / Call me daddy / I make you feel good, I mean real good,” he let his voice break a little, pushing extra breath into the word daddy, and suddenly he was a Method actor. He performs the same trick again on Hip-Hop Is Dead’s one flat-out stunner, “Puppy Love.” A masterful example of his brand of empty manipulation, it features 50 reminiscing about the abortive, messy relationships of his youth. “‘I’m so into you baby, we ain’t even gotta touch’ / That’s the type of shit I say when I really wanna fuck,” he murmurs. Scenarios begin pat and conventional—“Trish was my bitch till she fucked my godbrother”—and then take a sickening swerve into violence: “I ain’t the sensitive type, I ain’t sit around and cry / I caught the bitch on the avenue and punched her in the eye.” He adds, sardonically, “Call it puppy love.” The blithe amorality both repulses and compels, two things 50 does with ease when he’s on.
He also instigated a meaningless, short-lived feud with Diddy over some contract niceties involved in signing Ma$e to G-Unit. It was a cynical new low for 50—on the diss track, he confessed to not even caring if Ma$e was signed or not. It was an opportunistic grab to push Lloyd Banks’s sophomore LP. (How’d that go, by the way?) So it was appropriate that he chose Dead Prez’s “Hip-Hop” as a backing track—the most anthemic anti-commercial hip-hop screed ever recorded. 50 finally owned up to the title of hip-hop’s tumor, and has since played the role with relish. Critics who complain that 50 is “ruining hip-hop” are missing the point. We’re better off with a villain as identifiable, unambiguous, and entertaining as 50 Cent. Give me a big, fat, grinning target over general pervading malaise any day; in the meantime, here’s hoping the next overloaded, pandering record he releases pisses off as many people as his last.