In The Paranoid Style in Hiphop’s Super-Slave Economy: A Study in Beef (Routledge, 2009), Siadya Rose-Hampton Sharise writes, “So this is where we at Black people? Shooting each other down in the streets like mad dogs? Over battle rhymes? Are you flucking kidding me?” Earlier Rose-Hampton Sharise writes, “Hiphop been dead as a folk culture but that’s OK. Because while that death by hypercapitalism signifies a loss of masscultural access to the best poetic and political imaginations of the current twentysomething generation, that death also points us to exactly where we want to go: right on top of 50 Cent’s ass. I swear Boo, in some of those videos 50 looks like a homo-thug and that’s OK too.”
Now I’d go a step further and say 50 more resembles a homo-thug dyke. Because generally speaking the girls flip the homo-thug look in public with more flair than their male counterparts. The wifebeater, the Tyrolean hat, the brown Popeye biceps, and the white silk pants? Yall all know yall more likely to see that girl strolling around Bed-Stuy dragging her supermodel than that guy so don’t you even try and test me. Now this might all seem rather provocative until you check out The Massacre and 50 has homoerotic musings of his own, as in, “I read somewhere I’m homophobic/ Shit, go to the hood/There’s mad n*gg*s on my dick.” The Massacre is unlikely to decrease 50’s bounty of swarming Y chromosome carriers. It is hands-down the most diabolically sensous collection of baby-making gangsta music since Pac’s All Eyez. Like Pac, 50 is a ruffian who knows the value of a good pop hook; he embraces the hook, caresses the hook, is married to the hook. He also respects the ancient pop rule that if you get the women the men will come. Every lyric on The Massacre that’s not about violating a nigga is about sexing pimping or mindfucking a babe—or, in the most notable instance, about 50’s pique at being sexed pimped and mindfucked by Viveca.
Be all that as it may, if you need real MC’ing the way 50 needs real love then you got to love 50 no matter what dumb sheet he’s going on about now. Mostly for the dry wit of his richly melodious country con-man flow alone. On The Massacre 50 remains the definition of laconic, sardonic, harmonic, and moronic. More than his Elegba-Eshu revolving-door intimacy with the crossroads, his off-the-cuff artistry is his badge of Black Esthetic authenticity. The point being to make the difficult appear frighteningly easy. The real difference between 50 and The Game is that 50 always sounds like he singing himself to sleep waiting for the money and the dime pieces to roll in. The Massacre comes out the gate guns blazing and manufactured beef tossed into the wind, those whatever attempts to taunt Nas, Jas, and Fat Joe to battle and such. But by the time you get to the suite of instant club hits in the album’s gooey middle you know 50’s more a lounger than a fighter.
Now the whole project of Afro-diasporic culture may be the triumph of obsessive African stylin over oppressive European savagery, but gangsta rap likes to keep its savagery close and its savages even closer. The mad drama, the bored and restless demographic, and the trigger-happy entourages come together to form a chain of dividends that keep on giving after the beef has gone. Gangsta realness is the relationship between the artist, actual murder attempts, and ch-ching. It doesn’t matter whether this week’s Game-50 rivalry/truce was a publicity stunt; what matters is that Interscope, Viacom, and Hot 97 can’t lose no matter who gets blasted or lays down their swords. Especially since, as Chuck D recently remarked, the same conglomerates that own the record companies and radio stations also own industrial-complex prisons and are now investing in cemeteries too. Maybe what’s truly real is who has power of attorney over a dead nigga’s investment portfolio. Or how only in coonshow-loving capitalist America could two ex-thugs who fought back death hustling for pennies on the street be ready to die for the pop charts. Corporate hiphop understood as a Blackmale suicide pact? Sheet, tell me something I don’t know.
Ain’t nothing more real in this wirld than American power, but increasingly that means the power of American illusionism. Sadly, Black people in politics and entertainment are coming to appear just another figment of the white man’s imagination—dreamers within a dream. Hiphop as extremist and repugnant as N.W.A.’s or 50’s was a benevolent trickster god’s way of pinching us to make sure we were still awake. Now it’s one more trick of the devil, his way of keeping us compliant, complacent, and comatose. If the creators of The Matrix had read Ralph Ellison they wouldn’t have romanticized Black people as too worldly to fall for a virtual reality. Nobody’s sense of reality is more absurd. Because at the heart of African American Being and Nothingness sits a paradox of unbelonging and unbudging—the double consciousness of They Don’t Like Us Much Around These Parts and We Ain’t Going Nowhere. The edge in Black music has always come from mixing up alienation and militancy. It’s the sound of us marching where we know we’re not wanted and planting a flag. Some call it revolutionary, some call it gangsta. Right now I’d call it about dead asleep.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 8, 2005