Environmental Studies: Hip-Hop Star Pens Lucid Autobio

If what parents and congresspeople fear about gangsta rap is how it sells misanthropy, misogyny, and even the occasional case of full-on psychosis by hiding behind candy-coated beats and cartoon sound effects, they've got something bigger to worry about: gangsta rappers writing books. In the thoroughly readable From Pieces to Weight, a new memoir of his not-so-distant drug-dealing days penned with hip-hop critic Kris Ex, mega-platinum rap star 50 Cent manages to make urban warfare sound like appropriate fodder for a cheery Comden-Green musical—call it Slangin' in the Rain—in which a plucky young dealer beats back rival gangbangers and pesky gumshoes on his colorful interborough adventures.

Of course, this is what 50 does. Where his benefactor Eminem (who "made it all happen," 50 gushes) uses his music to get us to sympathize with the moral transgressions that give his songs their juice, 50 just wants us to like him. And we do: The Massacre, his second album, has sold over 4 million copies since its release last March. Weight's raison d'être, 50 writes in the prologue, is "to explain my environment to those who don't come any closer to it than the records they buy or the images they see on television." Virtually all pop star autobios fail to do that, but 50's succeeds. With Ex's help, he's funny ("If you're given a choice [about being shot], check the box that says 'No' "), but he's also surprisingly lucid in his explanations of top-down street-trade management, which are dangerously close to textbook ready. His charm is even more troubling.

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