730 Column: The End of the 50 Cent Era?
Remember when all 50 Cent had to do to turn an entire fanbase against an artist was snicker in his, or in Ashanti’s case, her direction. Those flinchingly loyal fans all of a sudden had to burn their CDs, trash their mp3s, and deny any positive feelings they may have had for said artist at any time. Back in the day, and it makes me feel old that I can write like that now, 50 launched an all-out assault on this cat named Ja Rule, who was absolutely killing the game at the time. Not only did every single he drop strike radio gold, but he had a solid team around him, and, more valuable than all of that, Ja had perfected the rap and R&B crossover that 50 would soon take for himself, minus corny J.Lo cameos.
50’s assault on Ja Rule was rapid-fire and wicked. From songs like “Wanksta” to disses on the G-Unit mixtapes, Ja went from being a less-scary version of DMX to a less-popular version of DMX. 50 made it cool for fans to all of a sudden see Ja as a rap imposter, as “Jeffrey,” and compared his singing to that of the Cookie Monster.
Ja’s credibility was in question, so what’d the man do? He fired back with Blood in my Eye, a hastily-thrown together album that prominently featured Hussein Fatal, one of 2Pac’s Outlawz, in an attempt to remind fans who he was. And then there was “Clap Back,” which was one of those songs that me and my boys loved, but we weren’t about to admit that to no one. Then Ja releases “New York,” an absolute banger, featuring Fat Joe and Jadakiss, and Fif not only attempts to shut that down but he starts a beef with Fat Joe and D-Block because now they’re down with Ja.
The message was clear. Don’t mess with Ja Rule or you’ll suffer the same fate. Fat Joe took a hit. Not a major one, as he’d continue to have commercial success for a little while longer, and D-Block was fine. Their formula has stayed pretty much the same over the past 15 years or so, but they weren’t looking too cool for a minute, especially ‘cause they kept responding to 50 like it was mandatory.
Fat Joe and D-Block survived. 50 got bored with them and moved on. Ja faded into obscurity until ish not related to Curtis got real and he landed in prison. Through these moves, though, 50 Cent solidified one thing in his game – he was on top and he wasn’t afraid to go nuclear on anyone stepping out of line.
There was a half-hearted attempt to go at Nas, and though we all knew Nas could tear 50 apart lyrically, you gotta respect that invincible, or reckless, mindstate. Maybe it was a little bit of both, but Curtis is lucky the greatest MC alive didn’t feel compelled enough to cook up another “Ether.”
And then there was Game. Not only did the former G-Unit rapper challenge 50 when he was a part of the group, but he dedicated a huge chunk of time to trying to ruin all of G-Unit, from his G-Unot campaign to his freestyles, some of which spanned 36+ hours, all aimed at his former boss. Whether it was out of boredom, being worn down by all of Game’s freestyles like a kid asking for cookies for an hour straight, or the fact that Game really is a decent rapper, some fans turned on him, but most rode with Game, especially thanks to hits like “One Blood.”
Even though 50 was making money off Game’s success, it was a huge chip in the bulletproof vest that Game was able to stay relevant and popular without the magic G-Unit wand. As Game solidified his spot in hip-hop as a formidable solo artist, Fat Joe hit with “Make it Rain,” all the more impressive because it was on the indiel label EMI, and D-Block continued their formula with a string of releases.
50’s business sense has always been great, except when it came to G-Unit Records. He signed M.O.P and Mobb Deep, two groups that embody what New York hip-hop should sound like. Just let them do what they do, right? Get Billy Danze and Lil’ Fame with D/R Period and DJ Premier, see if Just Blaze is down for a song or two, and drop that album. With Mobb, just lock them in the stu with all of their QB brethren and some E&J and you’re gonna have a fire album. But somehow that didn’t happen and those projects bombed. You know it’s bad when all fans can talk about is if Prodigy really hates God and what was he trying to say on “Pearly Gates.” And for the record, the Blood Money record wasn’t wack. It just wasn’t as hot as everyone expected something with the G-Unit logo to be. We’ll skip over the G-Unit solo projects for now. That’s a whole ‘nother column in and of itself.
And then Officer Ricky happened. Not only had Rick Ross become one of the more popular rappers in the game, he was rapping about a life most fans knew he had never lived. All that came to a head when pictures of a young Boss working in jail as a C.O. surfaced.
Game, set, match, right? 50 had constructed much bigger beefs out of nothing but a snare and a hi-hat. This was “Nautilus” on vinyl. Just loop it and drop it for a hit. From his call “Officer Ricky” to a cartoon, 50 tried everything he could to ruin Ross’s career. It was funny. It made Ross look silly. But it did little to slow down his career the same way it did to Ja Rule.
Now, Ross is bigger than ever despite his extreme musical limitations, and there’s not a whole lot 50 can do about it. He even posted a picture of Ross and Diddy in a super-close embrace and tried to insinuate that they may be more than friends before doing the same to Diddy and Steve Stoute, only to pull the image down and delete it from his account.
Hold up. 50 lobbed a grenade and then caught it before it could explode? I don’t know if anyone realizes how significant this is, but to me, it feels like the end of an era. 50 doesn’t pull punches, even when he’s in a battle he’s most likely gonna lose, like the time he said he was gonna outsell Kanye’s Graduation. Even though he’s declined in sales and his commercial records don’t have the same kind of impact, Fif is still a monster in the booth, one of the best businessmen in the world, and hilarious to boot. So it doesn’t make sense that he would just pull back unless a) some real ish happened, b) some real ish happened, or c) some real ish happened.
Perhaps the other disappointment in this whole ordeal is that 50 resorted to cheap homophobia for laughs. The fact that Curtis’s sense of humor is getting stale may be the hardest thing to grasp.
What happened behind the scenes we will probably never know. Why the picture came down is anyone’s guess. But 50 Cent pulling down a picture off his own account is bigger than Ross surviving Officer Ricky. It’s bigger than Game having a successful solo career. It’s bigger than Kanye outselling 50. Whenever 50 decides to release music, because let’s face it, he can never drop another verse and his great-great grandkids will be straight, we’ll still bump it like it’s 2002. But it’s not. It’s 2014 and things done changed.