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The lead actor then went a step further and swift-boated his opponent, posting an interview with Tia Kemp, the mother of Ross's son. In the clip, 50 eggs her on as she disses Ross in multiple ways, even touching on his law-enforcement past, a sore spot for a rapper who now portrays himself as a lawless gangster. Later, 50 took Kemp on a shopping spree, fitting her for a fur coat. (Tia has since announced that her tell-all book, Tia's Diary: Deeper Than Rap, will steal not only Ross's album title, but also the record's release date: April 21.)
"Fans loved the comedy of the shopping video," Miss Info says. "I did a spit-take myself when I realized that Stevie Wonder's 'Isn't She Lovely' was playing in the background while Tia was trying on fur coats! That gal had a look on her face the whole time like she was Lil' Orphan Annie meeting Daddy Warbucks. And the audience ate it up. They couldn't believe Fif would find Tia, fly Tia, hotel Tia, sit down and interview Tia, go shopping with Tia, and bond with her. This was a whole new level of war-face that we've never seen happen in real-time."
To be sure, Ross didn't stand totally flat-footed in response. Aside from pleading his case in interviews across the Web—and unleashing a few more diss records—he also offered a cartoon titled "Gay-Unit Workouts" and his own 50-mocking site, thisiscurly.com. But in other ways, Ross made himself an easy mark for such back-channel tactics. For months, he refused to acknowledge his corrections officer past, even after thesmokinggun.com posted official documents and photos. Soon, he was lambasted as "Officer Ricky," and in hip-hop, being a cop is barely more desirable than being gay.
"With that whole Officer Ricky shit, 50 turned him from a CO into a cop," Saigon notes with a chuckle. (Though he was once at odds with 50 Cent, the rapper is not taking sides in this battle.) "It's entertaining, but you gotta draw a line somewhere, because shit can go too far. If I was to get into a rap battle with somebody, and they dug up dirt, and it started to affect my lifestyle—like 50 did to Ja Rule—I'd be looking for that nigga to this day."
But 50 wasn't done, and many onlookers feared that his next move crossed that line. He somehow acquired a homemade sex tape starring Ross's second baby's mother, narrating in his high-pitch Pimpin' Curly voice: "I want you to watch this on your tour bus, Ricky," etc. But his most controversial act was a spooky video called "A Psychic Told Me," wherein 50 seems to stalk the mother of Rick Ross collaborator DJ Khaled. The camera lingers on what's alleged to be her house, and then captures footage of the woman herself sleeping behind a desk at her job, slowly panning over to the video crew sporting thisis50.com T-shirts.
In an interview with Miss Info, 50 said he resorted to stalking Khaled's mother because Ross's camp posted a barely seen Photoshopped image of his son Marquis's face pasted onto a monkey's body. (Both the image and video have since been removed.) "After I talked to 50, I understood why he did it," she says. "His son was being lampooned. To me, that still didn't excuse the extreme nature of his reaction. I said it created a real-life danger for Khaled's mom—I heard she had to be moved because her house was included in the video. But I no longer felt like 50 was just going from comic-lampooning level to Sicilian-vendetta level without a reason."
Reached by the Voice, Ross maintains that he's unfazed by all these Internet shenanigans: "That's stuff we would have done in middle school. When you're dealing with degenerates on this level, it's something you have to deal with. Did we think it was a threat to Khaled's mother? Of course not." He pauses, and then the man dubbed Officer Ricky attempts his own counter-punch. "That's what these dudes do: They put on wigs, they buy dildos, they put it in they mouth, they do stuff like that. We all moving forward. We all got projects, and our careers are soaring. It's a difference."
It's not hard to figure out 50's motive for taking every battle to extreme proportions. Like Ross, he's got his own upcoming album, Before I Self Destruct, to promote. But his last feud tied to a record release—2007's far less volatile conflict with Kanye West—led to Kanye's Graduation outselling 50's Curtis by 200,000 units. And while this new psychodrama has kept rap fans rapt, many are asking if the use of new technology is moving the culture forward or degrading its tradition of lyrical jousting. "There was a whole lot of music in there, too," Broadway says, in defense of 50's attacks. True, a handful of actual songs passed between them, but none created the excitement generated by the diabolical Tia Kemp interview. "If you listened to what 50 said, he said, 'I'm gonna fuck your life up,' " Broadway adds. "He didn't say, 'I'm going to lyrically battle you.' "