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50 Cent’s Plea

Brent Staples recently slammed 50 Cent, the Rap/Hip Hop lyricist, in an article in the NY Times. Mr. Staples accused 50 Cent of being a discredit to his musical genre by promoting misogyny, materialism and murder.

I have been informed by my older sister, a sociology professor at one of the colleges that did not erupt in violent protest over Bush’s illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, that Staples is wrong on two counts. He does not understand that Rap/Hip Hop “is the center of lots of sturm und drang. But there is excellent analysis of the genre which places it in historical context and in relationship to other musical genres that are “violent” but white.”

Nor does Staples understand “50 Cent’s hidden ironic meaning.”
Not being familiar with Mr Cent’s art, I decided to analyze, from the point of view of a literary critic, one of his popular songs. I chose his lyrically haunting, autobiographical ode to the horrors of armed robbery, rape and murder, “Ski Mask Way.”

In “Ski Mask Way,” Mr Cent explains that the protagonist, his alter ego, is trying to “catch me sumthin.” In the chorus we learn that sumthin is a watch, or chain, or them nice earrings. The alter-ego entreats the person who has these nice ornaments to “Take that shit off, move I’ll break you off properly.”

Mr Cent’s alter-ego, the capitalist exploiter of blacks, minorities, and working class people everywhere, gets his “the fast way, ski mask way.”

Mr Cent mocks this individuals de-humanized materialism, saying:

“Make money
Make money, money, money
nigga if you ask me
It’s the only way
Take money
Take money, money, money.”

In Verse Two, Mr Cent vents his alter ego’s wrath on the music producers who control his industry. He warns the owner of the label he’s currently contracted with not to try to commercialize his art. He tells how “the last nigga that tried” to do that “Got hit, keeled over, and bled ’til he died.”

Mr Cent, having lived this experience, quotes the metaphorically murdered corporate executive “little sister” (whom we understand to be the shareholders in the company), who is now financially “hog-tied” with her “momma in the livin room” (a not to vague reference to the historical link between oppressed black women working as servants in white households), as having seen the inherent stupidity in her brother’s brash actions.

Indeed.

Mr. Cent savagely attacks the “house nigger” blacks in the Bush Administration, neo-cons like Colin Powell and Condi Rice in this verse, saying that they make money from robbery (obviously an allusion to the invasion and occupation of Iraq) and selling drugs, a direct reference to the CIA’s cocaine sideline in Colombia. Mr Cent, like his spiritual guide and fellow Baltimoron, Edgar Allan Poe, finds solace in smoking marijuana by the kilo. Like Ginsberg and Landau, he uses his body as a metaphor for modern America; that body is infused with the CIA’s poison and only when he uses the sauna, by which he means engages in his artistry, does the coke comes out his pores, cleansing us as well as him with a flush of poetic grace.
Mr Cent doesn’t give the system a break, repeating over and over again,

“I get mine the fast way, ski mask way
Make money
Make money, money, money
nigga if you ask me
It’s the only way
Take money
Take money, money, money.”

In Verse Two, the story takes a sudden sad twist. Apparently, upon becoming the new Che Guevara, Mr Cent has been mercilessly but, happily, ineffectually pursued by federal agents. The feds are obviously unaware of the historical context of his Mr Cent’s actions, as he describes them above. Nor have they read the available excellent analysis on Mr Cent’s inevitable behavior, as he so wonderfully and beautifully expresses in his art.
The federal authorities do not realize that in the proper historical context of freewheeling capitalism, “This towns one big pussy waitin to get fucked.”

Mr Cent preaches communist revolution through the mindless repetition of the chorus:

“the fast way, ski mask way
Make money
Make money, money, money
nigga if you ask me
It’s the only way
Take money
Take money, money, money.”

Obviously, we are charmed by his sense of irony, the way he mocks the capitalist system. In that same vein, I have written a playful “beef” reply to “Ski Mask.” I hope no person of color is offended by my Bad Rap/Hippity-Hoppity song, “50 Cent Plea”

“50 Cent Plea”

White boy made me do it.
Why’d ya make me do it?
White boy made me do it.
Why’d ya make me do it?

Yeah, I shot dat nigga
When he try to take my shit.
Yeah, I shot dat nigga
When he try to take my shit.
But white boy you must acquit
If da historical context fit!

White boy made me do it.
Why’d ya make me do it?
White boy made me do it.
Why’d ya make me do it?

Yeah, I sold dat dope.
Da dude he need his fix
Yeah, I sold dat dope,
Da dude he need his fix.
But nigga you must acquit
Cause da historical context fit!

White boy made me do it.
Why’d ya make me do it?
White boy made me do it.
Why’d ya make me do it?

Yeah, I fucked dat little bitch
(Here we refer to the one that was hog-tied with her momma)
Made her beg for more of it.
Yeah, I raped dat little bitch,
Made her beg for more of it.
But nigga you must acquit
Cause da historical context fit!

White boy made me do it.
Why’d ya make me do it?
White boy made me do it.
Why’d ya make me do it?

(Here the syncopated music stops and Mr Cent’s alter ego breaks into a free verse passage, as we imagine he would spoof Bush and his abuse of working class America.)

Yeah, I’m a pimp and a player
Unnerstan!
Dey calls me 50 Cent
Cause I got fifty white women,
All star bitches,
Unnerstan!
I lines the bitches up in the morning
And makes ’em drop their drawers for inspection,
And there’s one bitch down at the end of the line
Smiling up at me.
So I takes out a roll of stick matches
Strikes ’em across her teeth,
Lights a big cigar
Blows da smoke in her face and says,
“Bitch, don’t you ever smile at me
Unless you got money in your hand!
Unnerstan!
If youse got to turn one trick
Every hour every day for a week
Don’t smile at me unless you got money,
Unnerstan!”
Cause I’m a pimp and a player.
Is got Cadillacs and El Dorados and Broughams
Unnerstan!

Thus ends my ode to Mr 50 Cent piece. In the spirit of “beef” I’d like to say to him, in my opinion,

“You are capitalism’s poster boy of the week, not society’s child.
You know you’re only half a buck.
And if this white boy gets you alone,
You I will not acquit
Cause in my historical text
You a pile of shit.”

(I’m sure Mr Cent will appreciate the pun on his silly name. God, he should grab his 38 Special and shoot hisself in his empty head for giving hisself such a ridiculous nickname. How do he come up with that shit?)

DOUGLAS VALENTINE is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, The Phoenix Program, and TDY. His fourth book, The Strength of the Wolf: The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1930-1968, is newly published by Verso. The Strength of the Wolf, has received the Choice Academic Excellence Award and is being published in Russia. Tthe sequel, The Strength of the Pack, is being published by University Press of Kansas in December 2005. For information about Mr. Valentine, and his books and articles, please visit his web sites at www.DouglasValentine.com and http://members.authorsguild.net/valentine

 

 

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