50 Cent was, for a period, the most dominant rapper in the game.
Not the best, per se, though he was good. You can’t deny he was good; any pretentious dismissal here ignores that he entertained. Besides, 50‘s period of pre-release work (50 Cent is the Future, Power Of The Dollar) are two classics and must-listens that preceded the still great Get Rich Or Die Trying.
But sometimes talent sits behind persona.
50 Cent was good but more than that, he was a bully. He was merciless, a Game of Throne villain, uncomplicated in his dominance. From his early stage, this was magnetic. Masterful. An unknown 50 Cent dropped “How To Rob,” detailing, by name, how he would rob every rapper in the industry.
It was a risky, unbelievably confident move and it paid off. Out of nowhere, 50 Cent had our ear, and it was good and exciting enough to keep us hooked.
And, importantly, he kept swinging.
He rapped with brutal hunger against circumstance and rivals, real or imagined. He was a brutal poet, and both parts are crucial. He wasn’t vague in his menace. 50 Cent was precise, beautiful, spooky and haunting in his proclamations. Many rappers threaten and boast, but when 50 Cent did, he sounded disdainful, cruelly confident with-well earned malice.
Borrowed secondhand, it was a drug for listeners. I loved it. It encompassed all the bravery I lacked, presented theatrical and double-jointed. It was plain enough to be accessible and good enough to be savored.
Simplicity is and of itself, not a knock. There was an elegance and depth to 50’s menace and skill. 50 Cent was a perfect steak, a perfect ice-cream flavor. He was elegant in his station, uncomplicated by such Drake-isms like “emotion” or “pity.”
The man was consistant. 50 Cent was a warrior through and through, brutal to his enemies and friends alike own. On “Like My Style” ft. Tony Yayo, Tony Yayo’s only contribution is to say “Fif, you need some help?”
To which 50 Cent replies “Chill Yayo, I got this.”
That is how he treated his allies. His employees. On his debut album, his own crew member got half a bar to be publicly dismissed.
50 became, through swagger and cruelty, the epitome of tough menace. His lyrics growled. He reduced Ja Rule, a previously major player, to a clown. “You sing for hoes and sound like the cookie monster,” is funny, sure, but it was an ether-level burn.
The message was clear. Ja Rule, a rapper with R&B staples was over. 50 Cent took him.
He was unstoppable, vicious. He had the backing of a white-hot Eminem and Dr.Dre while keeping the iconoclast strength and swagger that made him who he was. And, when he was shooting for Jay-Z- already weakened by Ether, not yet challenged by the dripping genius of a syrup’ed Wayne- the question wasn’t if 50 could win.
It was how he couldn’t.
America loves newness.
Jay-Z, at that point, was ready to retire in the wake of The Black Album. If 50 Cent had kept his momentum, the throne would’ve been passed over to him. 50 Cent was new. He was fresh, and we’d have announced him as the next in line, if only he’d wait in line a moment more.
50 Cent was a dynasty ready to be crafted, and all he had to do was wait for us to give it to him.
But he didn’t. And neither did we.
To wait for the inevitable was never in 50 Cent’s heart. And, instead, he attacked. He attacked Jay-Z. Fine; many have. It was a rite of passage for many aspiring greats. But then 50 Cent attacked Kanye, promising to retire if Kanye outsold him.
Suddenly, America saw the bully in definition to the bullied. And Kanye, artistic and fresh, seemed more appealing, more universal, more us.
Out-toughing 50 Cent was impossible. But open, honest creation won out.
50 Cent lost. But he didn’t retire, recoup or recalibrate. A defeat in battle does not mean a loss in war, and 50 Cent could’ve adapted or evolved in any direction.
But he didn’t. He kept swinging.
50 Cent dissed Lil Wayne and Birdman. He dissed Jay-Z again. He got wrapped up in a beef with Game, his own protege, and wasted energy and effort
By the time 50 Cent tried to battle Rick Ross, a walking, rolling punch-line and former correctional officer, we’d grown exhausted of the schtick. And, impossibly, Rick Ross survived a man who once threatened to upend the rap universe.
The bully, so to speak, had peaked in high school.
Today, 50 Cent has pivoted out of rap. He’s in business, diversified into into sports. You might know it from his – you guessed it – fights with Floyd Mayweather.
50 Cent is- or was- an unparalleled fighter. But that didn’t make him a ruler. Within spitting distance of the thrown, he turned and returned to war instead.
There’s something beautiful in that. It’s just not in his current music.