Seriously, WTF (Cam’ron portrait by Grant Siedlecki)
I’m going to go ahead and say that 50 Cent almost certainly does not read Status Ain’t Hood; I’d be utterly flabbergasted and completely amped if he did. But at least to me, the most interesting thing about the still-gestating Cam’ron/50 Cent beef is the irrefutable evidence that someone in 50 Cent’s camp has looked at Status Ain’t Hood at least once. For a while, my friend Grant Siedlecki has been contributing occasional drawings to this blog. Last year, I went to see Cam’ron’s movie Killa Season in its extremely limited theatrical engagement, and I asked Grant to do a drawing of Cam for the entry I wrote about it. Grant knew I hated the movie, so he did a completely awesome photorealistic pencil drawing of Cam with a gun to his head, the implication I guess being that Cam had totally shot himself in the head by putting out this piece of shit. When I saw the quickie video for 50’s “Funeral Music,” the Cam dis he sent out into the world this past Friday, my jaw just about scraped the ground. The video is mostly standard-issue post-Uncut Youtube rap video stuff: guys with bandannas on their faces standing on top of ATVs, girls in lingerie fondling diamond-studded guns, 50 looking smug. There’s also a short and mean-spirited cartoon of Cam’s Lamborghini getting shot up in DC and a clip from Killa Season where Cam offers to snitch on some people, which proves that someone in 50’s camp also had to sit through all two and a half hours of Killa Season. But just as all this is ending, the video fades out on Grant’s drawing, now with an epitaph for Cam’s career etched underneath it. Grant and I exchanged completely bemused e-mails yesterday, which is the sort of thing you do when the drawing your friend did for your blog ends up in a music video made by the biggest rap star in the world. 50 didn’t quote my review in his lyrics or anything, so he certainly doesn’t owe me any royalties. Maybe he should break Grant off something; I have no idea how this stuff works. In any case, for anyone who was wondering, this is Status Ain’t Hood’s biggest and probably only contribution to rap. You’re welcome.
As far as the beef itself goes, it’s all pretty silly: yet another example of sensationalist attention-grabbing that has more to do with 50 Cent and Cam’s desire to keep their names on people’s mouths than to any genuine hostility between the two men. The chances that this thing will produce another “Ether” are exactly zero. The only thing about it that’s really surprising is the speed with which it came into being. Last Thursday, my hard drive crashed, and on Friday morning I left to spend a weekend out of town. I was off the internet for less than four days, and when I came back, the gossip surrounding this beef had already pretty much played itself out. You know things are weird when rappers are responding to this stuff faster than bloggers. Cam’ron released his response to “Funeral Music” on the same day the video hit the internet. That means Cam had to hear the song and watch its video, write his response, run to the studio, record it, post it on the internet, and send it to radio stations, all in about the same amount of time it took me to load up my rental car. That’s certainly industrious, but it also means we end up hearing whatever loose rhymes Cam had bouncing around in his head rather than any sort of vicious, planned-out response. Cam told Kay Slay the other day that this beef might last 120 rounds, but it used to be that rappers would save all their best material and then end everything in a round or two. Nobody needs to hear 120 songs’ worth of Cam’ron and 50 Cent sniping at each other. Maybe the internet has ruined rap beef forever.
Of course, the issue started in a pretty ridiculous way. A week or two, 50 was on Hot 97 talking to Angie Martinez, and he made some sort of offhand comment about how Koch Records is a graveyard and he can shut down any Koch project. I’m pretty sure Cam has never actually released a record on Koch and never will, but a few of the Diplomats have. Cam was apparently hanging out in the Koch offices with the label’s general manager, and the two of them decided decided to call the station to argue with 50. The exchange between the two of them, which has been all over the internet for a while now, was stupid: two rich men arguing about who’s richer. Cam wanted to know why 50 let Prodigy release a solo album on Koch if Koch was a graveyard, a fair question, and he pointed out that Jim Jones has sold more records on an independent label than Lloyd Banks has sold on a major. He also got all emotional, screaming at 50 and generally acting the fool until Angie cut him off. 50 stayed calm and measured, repeatedly warning Cam not to turn this into something else, but he also came off like a complete asshole, stating matter-of-factly that Cam seemed to think he could compete with 50 and that he should think about that for a while. 50 seemed to get the better of the argument, but a few days later, a video emerged on the internet of Cam on the phone, laughing like a ninth-grader who successfully prank-called his science teacher. Cam, at least, didn’t think he’d lost.
“Funeral Music,” 50’s initial assault, doesn’t seem particularly damaging. Lyrically, it’s mostly composed of vague gun-threats that he probably had lying around for months, and he only specifically mentions Cam a couple of times. Plenty of critics have already pointed this out, but the best part of the song comes on the outro, where 50 stops rapping and just generally talks shit, saying that Jim Jones is now the boss of Dipset and twisting Cam’s lyrics around to make fun of him (“Computers putin’, boopity-boopin'”). With its eerie music-box beat, “Funeral Music” might actually be the best 50 Cent song since “I’ll Whip Ya Head Boy,” but none of its attacks register as anything more than bored, lazy swipes. Cam’s response is even less scathing: a quick, unfocused run-through of all the standard things that everyone mentions when they dis 50: he lives in Connecticut, he took his name from a real Brooklyn gangster, none of his acts sell anymore. Maybe in an attempt to recreate the brutal devastation of his “you look like Joe Camel” line from last year, he tells 50 that he looks like “a gorilla with rabbit teeth.” He also attempts to clarify which members of Dipset have which meaningless honorary titles (“Jimmy ain’t the president; he the CEO”) and shouts out Kenneth McGriff, the guy who probably had 50 shot all those years ago. Cam’s outro continues the weird-but-funny fashion fixation from last year’s Jay-Z dis: “Whoever let you sign off on them G-Unit tank tops is stupid, just like your dumb ass! Them is brassiere tops!” But the only potentially damaging thing on the record is Cam’s taunting “Curtis” yell.
Talking to Kay Slay, Cam bragged about all the battles he’d already won against Jay and Nas and Mase. All of those claims are debatable at best. The truth is that Cam’s lazy word-obsessed rap style isn’t particularly well-suited for battles. The only emotion he ever really conveys is a sort of flat, bemused contentment that occasionally turns into fond regret, as on nostalgia-haze remembrances like “Harlem Streets.” One of the things I like about him is how calm and easy he sounds, how willing he is to shut out the world and get lost in his own words, a tendency that won’t serve him well when he needs to muster spite and fire. 50, for his part, actually has ended the career of at least one major rapper (and holy shit, I heard “Put It On Me” on the radio a couple of days ago; he really did us all a huge favor). But 50’s a few years and a few hundred million dollars removed from his heated younger self; these days, he’ll trot out a couple of lame little laugh-lines at some less-famous rapper whenever he gets worried that people are forgetting about him, which is almost certainly what he’s doing here. After bashing Jadakiss a couple of years ago, he said he wouldn’t mind signing Jada to G-Unit; Jada didn’t seem to understand that beef is never anything more than business for 50. Kay Slay seemed to understand as much when he was talking to Cam: “I don’t really feel like it’s personal with both of y’all.” It’s not. It’s just something to do.
Still, both of these guys know how to rap, and it’s not entirely inconceivable that the either of them could come up with a passionate and eloquent broadside. For a while, I’ve had an idea for a slow-day column where I’d compare the landscape of mid-00s NY rap to mid-90s pro-wrestling: Roc-A-Fella and Def Jam as the WWF, G-Unit as WCW, Dipset as ECW, D-Block as maybe like Ring of Honor or something. I haven’t written that column, mostly because it’s a terrible idea. But this could turn out to be the equivalent of when WCW signed Mike Awesome when he was still ECW World Champ, the attempt to push smaller competitors out of business altogether that backfired and stirred all sorts of shit up in the process. In “Funeral Music,” 50 used the Cam thing to fire a quick shot at Jay-Z (“Word on the street is 50’s not Jay / And Cam better stay out his way”). This could all get really interesting really quickly. More likely, though, Cam and 50 will just hack each other’s MySpace pages.