Tony Yayo: Thoughts of a Predicate Felon

[17 October 2005]

By Lee Henderson

Tony Yayo Plea Bargains His Way Into The Hearts Of Millions

No doubt I should be writing about how much I love the new AZ album instead of defending the admittedly lousy debut of Tony Yayo. People frown upon the G-Unit like they’ve sold out hip-hop, or started a rampantly contagious outbreak of beef, or any other crimes, but the G-Unit haven’t done anything other than get rich off rap music. That’s no great feat, many have done it before. But no one in the history of rap has done it quite like 50 Cent. His rise was meteoric and unprecedented and overwhelming. Master P was a star. 50 Cent is a sun. This guy is blazing. Who can fuck with 50 Cent? Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, and who else? Maybe nobody. I mean purely from a business standpoint. Lyrically, whatever. These three artists form a great rap triumvirate. Without 50 Cent, rap has only The Great MC, and the Great Producer. With 50 hip-hop takes its place in history with its first Great Star. And every time any one of these three guys moves a muscle, he introduces another kid to hip hop. And one day that kid will realize that AZ released his mid-career classic A.W.O.L. the same year he bought the Tony Yayo album he never listens to anymore. And they’ll put on A.W.O.L. and it will blow their third eye out that he could rhyme like that, and just kill a beat. And that’s how rap takes over the world.

So the most interesting thing about the G-Unit phenomenon is that they’re essentially the first big-budget rap group. The money comes across in the production so hard you expect that press releases will soon include the budgets like they do in movies. And like their counterparts in the summer film industry, every official album by a G-Unit member suffers under the weight of its own hype, but it never reflects the sales. The albums are no better or worse than those by other rappers. And why are all of Eminem’s tracks these days sounding like TV theme song remixes? He’s chasing nine-year old kids with these beats.

People have a lot of problems with how the G-Unit’s scorched-earth business model has alienated them from the music scene. But despite the hate, there’s still always half an album’s worth of good songs by each member (aside from Lloyd Banks, who has no good songs). Even this irrelevant CD by Tony Yayo has a few good tracks, generally the ones with his boss on them. And the same can be said for most rappers whose credibility is a lot more solid. The instant classic is as rare as it has ever been. But the budget on G-Unit albums is always audibly way, way higher. Fun to listen to, but there’s no actual effect aside from giving radios bright, lushly overdubbed productions to play over their compressed signals. Julio Iglesisas, make cream like that nigga. Phil Collins-money spent in the studio means that the G-Unit have the most seductively pristine hip-hop albums of all time. Big crashing snares and chunky basslines are in full effect. This is state-of-the-art digital shit, level board possessed by a computer spirit, and microphones invented by Gillette. In the age of the download, to hear even the weakest Yayo track on its actual, purchased CD is to hear the best production rap has ever had. In the case of MP3s, a G-Unit CD is flashy like diamonds compared to tinsel.

There’s some good arguments for wanting to throw some grit on there, but these big-budget CDs are interesting for the same reasons we go see the summer blockbuster: to check out this year’s latest special effects introduced in basically the same story we watched last summer. If 50 Cent’s beef with Game was a publicity stunt, then it’s gone out of control. But Fiddy was a beef rapper from the start, and that’s why his ride to the top was like a silver spike rising out of the earth straight into the air. He tore through everything in his path sky high, and as a result he’s an almost entirely isolated feature in the landscape. Every compromise he’s made to get to where he is has had a genuinely positive effect for the entire rap industry. He’s not stealing other rap artists’ audiences. 50 Cent is bringing all new listeners to rap music. He’s the gateway drug. He’s Green Day, first stop on a trip into the history of punk. He’s Coldplay, first stop on a history of simpering English pop. Those kids whose first CD is a G-Unit are going to have something in common with another generation of listeners whose first experience with rap was RUN/DMC. The sales don’t stop there. Unlike most other forms of wealth, in the creative economy, the mainstream >does tricke down to the rest of the tributaries. Eventually, if all goes well EPMD picks up a check thanks to 50 Cent.

And eventually audiences realize that there’s really no extra value to highly produced rap records. Budgets go up and skills go down. Tony Yayo is an awful rapper. It’s hard to listen to him. Even when the beats are sickening, it’s Yayo whose gagging. Used to be that an MC wanted to kill every track, but these days, the beats are taking home the headless corpse.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/yayotony-thoughts/