“There is, for the small man living unobserved, no iniquity that he will not carry through to the limit; if he sees a true man he turns and takes cover, hides his iniquities, sticks out his merits, but the other fellow sees the significance of this as if he saw into his lungs and liver; what is the good of his faking, what dish does it cover?”
—Tseng Tsze, disciple of Confucius.
To retrace 50 Cent’s career path from street-posted crack dealer to his present-day status as rap’s Sith Lord—his crazy-unprecedented inaccessibility in the Fort Knox-like inner sanctum of musical mega-stars—is impossible to sum up easily in a sentence or two. Everyone is still trying to figure out how Madonna got there, let alone Fiddy. But in his case, we at least know that the path to his success has one too many beefy digressions. This was an artist completely blackballed by his industry before most people had even heard of him, before Eminem signed him. He was banned from recording studios across America for snitching on a couple of Queensbridge’s most feared gangsters, including Kevin “Supreme” McGriff, in his track “Ghetto Koran”, revving up a longstanding dispute between Fiddy and Murder Inc. records, Ja Rule’s gangsta rap label that Fiddy alleges (as do police) was part of McGriff’s money laundering operation.
The best way to understand the trajectory is to simply listen to 50’s breakthrough track “How to Rob”, and see how little has changed in the music and how much has changed in the man. Fiddy went against the grain of hip hop. He hated his way to the top. He called out everybody. Not since LL has hip hop seen so much beef, and never before has beef made so much dough. Suffice it to say, 50 Cent is probably the most successful rapper in the history of the genre because, like Jay-Z, he isn’t afraid take shots at other rappers in his rhymes. 50 has set landmarks for sales, entrepreneurship, competitiveness, and celebrity. How did he do it? Another time, another place, someone else. A good story though.
The story of today is much simpler: the repackaging, bonus-added “special edition” of the latest album, featuring a DVD’s worth of promotional videos and no extra songs (there’s actually one less song than the original version and the “collector’s edition”, both released in March of 2005). There’s no remixes, no documentaries, just the rap videos. Granted, The Massace doesn’t need to be any longer than it already is, unless they could have somehow put the G-Unit remix of “Still Tippin” on here, or some footage of 50 talking to Young Buck about the Game. So The Massacre: Special Edition is the same album, but with a DVD featuring videos for every single song, including the drop-dead ridiculous video for “Piggy Bank”. This video in particular, is so fucking bad that it deserves a bit of extra attention.
“Piggy Bank” features funky polygonal versions of G-Unit in the same low-budget, 3-D animation style they use on the late-night mattress warehouse commercials. I give it to 50 for ably rapping over this imposing rock operatic beat by Needles and Sha Money XL. The lyrics are classic Fiddy, from the school of “How to Rob”. He calls out Jadakiss and Fat Joe especially, and does a number on both of them in the video. It’s all a joke; I don’t understand how anyone could ever take it seriously. Fat Joe gets beat up in a boxing ring/boxing video game (it’s irrelevant, both worlds are seriously lousy-looking). But portraying Jada as a ninja turtle was an especially adolescent choice in this vapid, worthless video. It is such a pathetic attempt to sell the new 50 Cent video games; only a child would think this was a good idea. It’s an ugly video on every level, with imagery including: scantily clad 3-D booty dancer, expensive animated cars, 50 toting big cartoon machine guns, Lloyd Banks as a Mr. Potato Head (why? why?).
“Piggy Bank” and the following video, “Gatman and Robbin”, are so foul they basically stink up the entire DVD with their syphilitic stupidity, and the whole cross-marketing of teenagers and kindergartners generally sucks the spirit out of the whole charade. “Toy Soldiers” is half video game, and that is the lame half. “I Don’t Need ‘Em” is some kind of lousy computer animation made to look like Sin City. And compared to Ghostface’s verses over the same beat on the first Theodore Unit mixtape, Fiddy sounds a lot more sleepy behind the Gameboy. “Gatman and Robbin” is a typical cartoon beat by Eminem, who is also featured, and the video does the obvious by dropping 50 into Toonland like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Eminem’s verbal skills are as bananas as ever, but here the beat forces both rappers to resort to a robot flow that is boring as a dry fuck. Combined with flashy postmodern animation, the video and song are both so frustratingly putrid that I wish they would release The Massacre a third time in six months time with new videos for these three songs.
Those three videos are like some kind of horrific Sesame Street interlude in a DVD that features an otherwise excellent set of videos. There is a very crisp black & white portrait of Queensbridge (“In My Hood”), a taffy sweet cinematographic booty epic (“Candy Shop”), the ghetto psychedelic mandalas of guns and more guns peeling out like petals of some kind of crazy gun flower (“This Is 50”), a party with Mobb Deep and everyone else in “Outta Control”, and some other generally decent videos that include footage of 50 writing rhymes and out on the road and in the studio and wearing a lot of diamonds. Documentary-ish footage. Live footage. The videos are fun, but there are no enlightening interviews or even half-baked documentaries like on the second side of Jim Jones’s latest record Harlem: Diary of a Summer (featuring, confusingly, the hit single “Summer in Miami”). The Jones DVD has a couple terrific little docu-minis about his views on life and a day in it, as well as a few semi-okay videos.
I really wish there was some documentary footage of 50 Cent eating dinner and talking to his managers and accountant. I’d like to see 50 Cent interviewing a publicist. Because just when we finally got a glimpse of how Saddam Hussein lived, we have the new mystery of the Fiddy compound. How does the man survive in total isolation from everyone but lackeys and monkeys? (I’m just speculating about the monkeys.) I want to watch him pull a John Malkovich and order some sweet new towels for his guest bathroom on the second floor of his mansion. I’m bored of seeing 50 drive around in the best cars on the street. I want to see his view when he wakes up in the morning.
The videos are good, for the most part. The photography is always of quality, and 50 is a commanding presence on the screen. He has the kind of casual motions of a man who doesn’t need to worry if all eyes are on him. He knows they are. He did everything you could to make sure that everyone would know his face. He made enemies as fast as he could. Enemies were a decisive strategy in 50 Cent’s rise to dominance in the rap game. Videos like “Ski Mask Way”, and “In my Hood” are glimpses of 50’s cinematic vision of the street life, making enemies. These are videos with a bit of the luster and intensity to the best crime films, from the gritty style of Juice to the painterly compositions of The Godfather. The concept for “Guns Come Out” makes a much stronger impact than the childish cartoons. Gangsters come out of the darkness wearing giant winter clothes and packing giant heat, while a red-and-white draped Fiddy raps through their robbing and killing. The whole thing is scary and cool. The track is produced by Dr. Dre and is exactly the reason why people pay him so much cold crisp cash to make them. It is a good, good beat in every way. It is probably the best beat on the record, and the video matches its menace step for step. A perfectly simple concept with brilliant results.
50’s comfort in front of the camera should make his transition to film easy if not entirely respected. This is so rad for a generation, to get another big-ass movie about one of the biggest rappers in the world. What if Juice came out after Tupac’s biggest level of fame but before he died? That’s what this is like. Fiddy’s no Brando, he probably isn’t even a Tupac, but he can do a good imitation of someone writing a rhyme on the decks of a production studio or looking out the window of a tour van. He can ignore the camera while he smokes a cigar, and he can casually turn the wheel of his car while it sits on the back of a flatbed truck. These are situations where 50 is convincing. Strangely enough, it’s the footage of him rapping in the studio where he looks the least credible. “Rider Music”, on the other hand, is convincing: 50 is writing a rhyme in the back of a Bently, with a desk that drops down from the back of the front seat, and he’s dressed like the President of Penzoil, being followed by a bananas yellow Lambo with a buddy inside. Simple concept for a video, but very nice twist on the typical driving-around-style video. He also looks quite comfortable and at ease with using Method Acting for the X-rated video for “Shake That Ass”, featuring scads of half-naked lesbians in the back of a strip club making out with each other while Fiddy raps. It’s in black and white, so it’s artistic. It’s not actually artistic, but there are naked chicks, so that’s something anyway.