There it sits, enthroned behind the counter (check there first, seriously) at your friendly neighborhood chain bookstore, looking regal—biblical, really—with its black leather cover and faux-gilded pages, the spine initially a bit stiff so you don’t open it too wide and risk the prying eyes of your sworn adversaries. It is The 50th Law, the long-threatened collaboration between self-help-guru-to-the-hip-hop-stars Robert Greene and, yes, 50 Cent. Like the Shins, this book will change your life. It will shoot you nine times with bullets of pure wisdom. It will quote Malcolm X, Miles Davis, Sun Tzu, François de la Rochefoucauld, Machiavelli, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Thucydides, Dostoyevsky, Charlie Parker, and Baron de Montesquieu. Its thesis, conveniently printed right on the back cover (in both English and Latin, with a drawing of a sword in between), is “Nihil Timendum Est,” or “Fear Nothing.” What lies within is nothing less than the Capitalist Manifesto.
Here, an attempt to summarize The 50th Law‘s dookie ropes of wisdom.
Be more like ___________.
Greene’s calling card is 1998’s The 48 Laws of Power, a sort of Art of War for the boardroom (or street-corner) set hailed as pure cynical, conniving, maniacally ambitious genius by Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, Dov Charney (!?), and so forth in a famously dry-witted 2006 New Yorker mega-profile that details a boardroom meeting between the geek-casual author and devout fan 50 Cent, to discuss the hip-hop-themed sequel that The 50th Law would eventually become. (Very dry-witted. “50 Cent shook his head and said, ‘It must be amazing to hang out with you. All kind of shit must fall out your ass, in passing.’ “)
Power illustrates its 48 mercenary koans (“Crush Your Enemy Totally,” “Create Compelling Spectacles,” “Do Not Commit to Anyone”) by citing the life lessons of myriad historical figures. The 50th Law does much the same, cross-referencing with the rapper’s own mythic backstory. Upon being shot nine times—an obstacle likened to Napoleon crossing the Alps in the spring of 1800—50 faced a turning point, and, apparently, “At this moment, he did as Frederick Douglass did.” (Got pissed, basically.) Be a realist, like Abraham Lincoln. Adapt, like Mao Zedong. Experiment, like Leonard da Vinci. Create a sense of destiny, like Joan of Arc. (Do not die like her, though.) If you are marooned on a desert island, train feral cats to be your protectors and companions, like Alexander Selkirk. Also:
Be a tyrannical dickhead, like famous director John Ford, but also warmly encourage collaborations, like famous director Ingmar Bergman.
Ford once pushed the archduke of Austria into a ditch, a rad power move that earned him much respect and adoration. But Bergman surrounded himself with feisty collaborators who brought their own thoughts and experiences to a project, and that’s powerful, too. No word on which member of G-Unit is supposed to be Max von Sydow.
Choose your Machiavelli quotes carefully.
Seriously, leave “Fortune is a woman, and if you wish to dominate her you must beat her and batter her” for the book Chris Brown hopefully never writes. No means no, Machiavelli.
Craft your own personal origin myth, and repeat it incessantly.
Unless 50 is awfully fond of writing about himself in the third person (don’t rule this out), The 50th Law is largely Greene’s undertaking, with only occasional quotes from the rapper himself: “The greatest fear people have is that of being themselves,” goes the endearingly namby-pamby thesis. Ten chapters expand on this idea (#5: “Know When to Be Bad—Aggression”), beginning with brief autobiographical lessons from 50’s sordid past before moving into the be-like-Lincoln shit. Have you forgotten that he was shot nine times? (50, not Lincoln—Lincoln was just the once.) Fear not. You will be reminded. Repeatedly.
Greene occasionally seems to be typing out these seedy, prurient hood tales with one hand, praising drug-dealer-era 50’s decision to slash a would-be assassin’s face with a razor blade (“just deep enough to send him screaming to the hospital, and to leave nice scar for a while”) as the bold stroke of a brilliant leader (“And those in his crew were duly impressed with his sangfroid”). That sangfroid comes at a price, alas, given The 50th Law‘s other great lesson, namely:
Everyone is out to get you. Especially your friends.
This book is actually kind of sad, in the bleakness of its cutthroat, shoot-nine-times-or-be-shot-nine-times worldview. Trust no one. All praise is insincere and manipulative. Bergman’s example aside, partnerships are really nothing more than “momentary entanglements.” (Sorry, Tony Yayo.) Also, “You are more alone than you can imagine.” Making friends is nowhere near as important—or gratifying—as making enemies. And then, as previously directed, crushing those enemies. Totally.
In addition to cultivating your inner 50 Cent, search for your outer Ja Rule, and then theatrically annihilate him.
50’s feud with poor Ja is summarized in three pages and a few hundred words, the last of which is “oblivion.” Ouch. Rick Ross is never addressed at all—indeed, with the exception of exactly one paragraph about Obama, the book’s timeline stops sometime in 2007. As someone who holds 50’s latter-day regimen of Internet chicanery in high esteem—that video of people injuring themselves listening to Fat Joe’s new album because it’s so terrible is actually pretty hilarious—I find this disappointing. Though online matters do come up, obliquely, in the book’s strongest section, which posits that:
Drug addicts = blog commenters = chimpanzees.
You see, hood-era 50 gave free drugs to select fiends who helped him with quality control, which is just like when he shelved that G-Unit song after the Internet talked too much trash about it, which is just like when Jane Goodall went to live among the chimps. This actually made a lot of sense.
Overcome your fear of death and embrace the, uh, Sublime.
The 50th Law‘s daffy, bizarrely new-age-ish final chapter, alas, makes no sense whatsoever, inviting us to embrace death, which only leads us to the Sublime, which is “a kind of mental orgasm.” The great Candy Shop in the sky. Really goofy way to wrap this thing up. But overall, this is a compelling spectacle indeed. Buy it for your loved ones. And then cease to love them.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 13, 2009