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The hustler
50 Cent gets a little less gangsta and a lot more money
Related Links

50 Cent's official Web site

Peter Keough reviews 50 Cent's movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin’.

Joseph Patel reviews' 50 Cent's album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’.

Carly Carioli reviews 50 Cent's at Avalon.

Hua Hsu on the truth behind the tales of 50 Cent.


It might come as no surprise that 50’s favorite movie from last year was The Aviator. But who knew how closely he identifies with the subject of that film? "Howard Hughes is a big dreamer. He envisioned things and actually went after them, and there are points where people think he is absolutely crazy because he gets set on whatever his decisions are for the moment. He spent all the money that his mother and father made off drill bits on a film because he is already committed to the project, and he is spending so much on it because he is already there. I am kind of like that with projects that I commit to. I stay working at them. Even if it kind of seems like it is a failing effort, I continue to work and then it turns into something positive." 50 Cent as rap’s Howard Hughes? Well . . . he is making G-Unit MP3 watches. And rumor has it that he saves his pee.


"Y’all already know what I’m about," 50 Cent rapped on last year’s "Disco Inferno," the lead single for the follow-up to his 2003 debut. Yeah, we did. His myth had been written in blood, his gangsta story nailed down by those nine infamous bullets he took on his grandma’s front yard. Might as well have been Hector up there with a mike in his hand, the G-Unit army standing behind him like Trojan toy soldiers. From day one, 50 had been following a script, playing the now-archetypal hoodrat who rapped in his free time and hustled drugs until he caught a break, turned his dark days to gold, his grams into Grammys.

In his new movie, a bio-pic named after his first album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 is that struggling street hustler with his eye on the prize. It’s such a familiar story, the film barely has to tell it, and it’s so deeply woven into the urban American landscape, you see the end coming before you take your seat. Fifteen years of gangsta rap has created a new rags-to-riches archetype: the hungry rapper/dealer whose skills bring him wealth, fame, and respect. That 50 recycled the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ title is no surprise: it’s a credo he lived by as a kid and brought with him to the helm of his G-Unit imprint.

"Overall I want people to leave with a bigger picture of how my life has been," he points out when I reach him by phone. "I figure if they have more information about my past, they will understand why I am doing some of the things I am doing in the future."

And as he takes on more responsibilities as a CEO, launches more products, and makes more millions, 50 is turning his old hustle into a legitimate business. Forget drugs: he doesn’t drink or smoke pot. Instead, he’s endorsing his own flavor of Glaceau Vitamin Water (Formula 50: Grape), manufacturing luxury watches (with MP3 capabilities), and putting out a video game with Vivendi Universal called Bulletproof. That’s all on top of the G-Unit clothing line, his autobiographical novel, his signature Reebok sneakers, and the recently inked production deal with Sony Pictures.

The marketing campaigns have forced 50 to distance himself from the gangsta image, but he’s still every bit the street hustler. If selling vitamin water with his name on it requires, he will pose in a bathrobe reading the Wall Street Journal. "Nigga you hustle, but me, I hustle harder," he croons on "Position of Power, " from his second album, The Massacre.

50’s entrepreneurial ambition has cost him: he’s endured the usual sell-out charges, and earlier this month, the Source put his picture on its cover with the headline "G-Unot! Is Corporate Rap’s Top Unit Fading Fast?" In recent months, he’s been the object of disses by Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Lil’ Kim, Nas, and the Game. "Is it me or does ‘Candy Shop’ sound like ‘Magic Stick’?" Fat Joe rapped on "Fuck 50," which appeared this summer on a mixtape of the same name. Jadakiss followed with his exuberant "Checkmate," asking, "When did it become cool to get shot and not shoot back?" Then the Game dropped "300 Bars and Running," a 15-minute assault on 50 Cent and G-Unit that had the young upstart barking, "I knew you’d changed when you started sleeping in that vest, dog/I don't need 50 Cent, my niggas make collect calls." 50 may have a new film and soundtrack on his hands, but losing credibility in the rap community is a dangerous game.

But he’s still got blinders on: at this point, he’s made a friend for each one he’s lost, mostly by signing new talent to the G-Unit roster. Since last spring, he’s added five artists, and that’s in addition to the clique’s original members, Young Buck, Lloyd Banks, and Tony Yayo. Most recently, 50 inked a deal with former-Bad-Boy-turned-minister Ma$e, who appears to have renounced his faith for a crisp G-Unit jersey and a promise from 50 that a grittier image will boost sales. 50’s made similar promises to new G-Unit recruits M.O.P., a duo who used to run with Jay-Z at Roc-a-Fella. Mobb Deep, a storied rap duo best known for their classic 1995 album, The Infamous (Loud), are also on board, rounding out an impressive, if somewhat unlikely, team of veterans in the G-Unit stable. Upstart Olivia, meanwhile, is now known as the "first lady of G-Unit," and the young Spider-Loc seems to have replaced the Game as the group’s West Coast representative.

Unfortunately, Olivia hasn’t done well so far, and Tony Yayo’s debut album tanked back in August. That hasn’t stopped the G-Unit corporation from showing fiscal gains. And little missteps don’t matter when your army looks like an empire.

Of course, all the new friends in the world won’t make a bit of difference if 50 the artist can’t hold up his end of the musical bargain. No matter what the SoundScan numbers say, the excitement that preceded his debut album has all but flatlined over the last three years. Back when Eminem first signed him, 50 was hailed as a Second Coming — the guy who would outshine Tupac and take his place as America’s realest, most dangerous street poet. The hype was blinding. When he first blew up with "Wanksta" and "In da Club," 50 sounded eager, even desperate, to live up to it. These days, with his wealth accumulating, that hunger seems to be gone. On the Get Rich soundtrack, 50 keeps his raps slow, sloppy, and inane: "Everybody mad when their paper don’t stack right/When I come around y’all niggas better act right/When we got the tops down, you can hear the system thump/When we rollin’, rollin’, rollin’!" Yes, that is a Limp Bizkit reference, and in fact most of the lyrics on the soundtrack sound more like parodies of gangster rap than examples of it. Worse, 50’s once fiery delivery has been reduced to the purr of a satisfied cat lying in the sun. As they say, if you’re bored, then you’re boring.

And 50 seems to have gotten bored pretty quickly. On The Massacre, the sinister claustrophobia and palpable paranoia of his debut had all but evaporated. The rhymes weren’t just predictable, they were recycled rap clichés so familiar it was impossible to tell from where he’d lifted them. "Shorty hips is hypnotic/She moves, she’s so erotic/I watch her, I’m like, ‘Bounce that ass, girl!’/I get it crunk in here/I make it jump in here/Front in here, we’ll thump in here," he rapped on "Disco Inferno," the same hit single that had asserted his mythology a few bars up.

One of the more rousing moments in Get Rich takes place after 50’s character has been treated with reconstructive surgery for a bullet wound to the jaw. He walks around the house with a mouthguard, injecting painkillers into his gums and staring sadly into the mirror. He can’t speak, let alone rap — and it’s not until his girlfriend threatens to leave that he tries to do anything about it. He spits out the mouthguard and over the course of a five-minute montage learns how to rap all over again. That’s the stuff myth is made of, and the real 50 Cent will need a similar jab in the ribs if he wants to win back his hero status. He can keep up the hustle — it’s what got him here in the first place — but if he wants to avoid turning into Puff Daddy ("Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks"), he’ll think twice before putting his name on any more half-hearted garbage.

Issue Date: November 18 - 24, 2005
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