“Now if you don’t sell five mil, they’ve had enough of him / Let me find out hip-hop’s turning Republican.”
-Joe Budden, “Dumb Out”
Budden’s line comes in the context of “Dumb Out,” a staggering seven-minute mixtape rant. Budden is pissed that no one seems to know what label he’s even on, that no plans seem to be in place to put out any of his music, that his career is maybe over after his first album sold badly. He’s bitter that a guy who showed great promise but didn’t sell too many albums the first time out wouldn’t get a second chance, as he should be. But Budden’s line takes on a larger significance with this morning’s news that 50 Cent has defended George W. Bush against Kanye West’s criticism, telling Contactmusic.com, “The New Orleans disaster was meant to happen. It was an act of God … What Kanye West was saying, I don’t know where that came from.”
50 Cent is a smart guy, and he knows exactly why Kanye said what he said. He almost certainly knows that money was diverted from the construction of levees in New Orleans, that the toady Bush installed to run FEMA proved to be woefully incompetent. So why is 50 defending Bush against another rapper? Is he turning Republican?
Now that rap is big business, now that Jay-Z can buy shares of basketball and soccer teams and appear on the cover of Fortune, now that successful rappers are basically expected to become business moguls, doesn’t it make sense that rappers would take on corporate politics as they enter the corporate world? If 50 Cent loves his money as much as Kenneth Lay does, doesn’t it make sense that he’d hate paying taxes just as much? 50 may have been poor, but is that any indication that he wouldn’t become Republican after getting rich? He wouldn’t be the first to do so.
Or is it a publicity stunt? Eazy E once attended a Republican fundraiser luncheon, explaining that the $2500 he spent on the luncheon bought him a million dollars’ worth of publicity, that he didn’t even vote. With 50’s movie about to open and his video game about to hit stores, he’s in the midst of a huge publicity push? Why wouldn’t he say something to get the exurban white public on his side? If it makes him money, why should he give a fuck?
But the real reason for 50’s defense of Bush probably has more to do with the epic, unspoken beef that has dominated East Coast rap for at least a year, 50’s boardroom feud with Jay-Z. It’s no coincidence that 50 has signed Mobb Deep and M.O.P. and Mase, all guys that Jay has had problems with at one point or another. And Jay’s guest list at last week’s “I Declare War” show included plenty of guys who don’t like 50: Nas, D-Block. Jay had announced, of course, that he was going to be going after someone, and the whole night seemed to be gearing up for an attack on 50; it’s not hard to believe that a last-minute phone call might’ve been all that kept their mutual animosity from coming out into the open. Jay seemed to be massing his army (Nas, Kanye, Diddy, Beanie Sigel), drawing a line between his people and 50’s. And even if nobody mentioned 50 Cent by name, it wasn’t hard to figure out who Nas was talking about when he said “a lot of niggas is making money and still fucking mad at the world.” 50 has even taken shots at Kanye before, claiming that people were looking for something “nonconfrontational” after his success and releasing Tony Yayo’s bullshit album on the same day. But 50 doesn’t seem to care much about Bush or Kanye. He cares about taking another shot at Jay.
The feud began years ago, when 50 was going at everyone on mixtapes and Jay fired back. It began again in 2003 when both rappers did a coheadlining tour and 50 took shots at Jay from the stage. But there’s a philosophical difference at work as well. Jay-Z is certainly flashy, but he takes rap very seriously. His own work is full of loaded details and intricate phrases and deft little allusions. 50 is a strong rapper, but subtlety isn’t his thing; “Candy Shop” might be the dumbest song to hit #1 this decade, which is saying something. Jay works with people outside his camp, superstar producers like Timbaland and the Neptunes and legendary veteran rappers like Scarface and Bun B and indie-backpack types like Talib Kweli. He seems to enjoy pushing himself outside of his comfort zone. Other than Dr. Dre, 50 doesn’t generally work with star producers; he prefers journeymen like Hi-Tek and Denaun Porter. And he rarely collaborates with people who aren’t close to him; the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ soundtrack album doesn’t include a single verse by anyone unaffiliated with G-Unit. His world is more insular, less cosmopolitan than Jay’s. And unlike Jay, he seems to see rap as a means to an end. He said earlier this week that he’d be willing to work with Jadakiss despite openly beefing with him earlier this year. If it’ll make him more money, he’ll put aside a beef that never seemed to mean much to him anyway. After that, it’s not a big leap to defend George W. Bush. Everything is business, nothing is personal, and the more I think about it, 50 Cent is George W. Bush to Jay-Z’s Bill Clinton. Hip-hop’s turning Republican.