Gangsta Rap is as dead as disco.
It was killed by Kanye, the Barack Obama of hip-hop who over the past decade has made hip-hop the most prominent modern genre. It was killed by the Frank Oceans, the Drakes, and the Kid Cudis who sang about their emotions, instead of experiences in the streets. It was killed by Kendrick exposing the gang for what it really is, an exploitative organization that makes false promises of glory, but gives destitution. It was killed by Chance, Action Bronson, Odd Future, Childish Gambino, Mac Miller and others who are taking rap in different directions. It was killed when Jay-Z got old.
If Gangsta Rap were to have an end date on it’s obituary, it would be September 11th, 2007 when Kanye released Graduation and 50 Cent released Curtis. 50 famously stated that he would end his solo career, if ‘Ye outsold him. The rest is history, Graduation dominated the sales and quickly became a classic hip-hop album, perhaps the first hip-hop album made for all of America. It had Coldplay contributing a hook, it had a Daft Punk Sample, it was hip-hop arena rock. It’s a timeless album that we will be listening to decades from now.
Curtis on the other hand, came in second to mixed reviews, releasing 50′s stranglehold on the rap game. “Ayo Technology,” “Straight to the Bank,” and “I Get Money” had their radio time, but little lasting impact. 50 took back his promise to end his career, but it didn’t matter. His rap career, like an elderly Eskimo walking out onto the ice to die, simply faded away. Not in the triumphant blaze of glory like ‘Pac and Biggie before him, but in a slow death caused by our gradual abandoning of his fairly stagnant style for newer, shinier, and more relatable artists.
But I did not come to bury 50, I’ve come to exhume him and praise him for all that he’s done.
50 was first and foremost a gangsta. He was raised on the streets, dealt drugs, and got shot. But he was a very talented gangsta, making hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit, an impossible task for anyone but a musical luminary. His effortless flow, sneaky good singing voice, and funky yet hard-hitting production made him a star.
50 could hit you with all sorts of angles. He could get ruthless like on “P.I.M.P.”, seductive like on “Just a Lil’ Bit”, sweet like on “Best Friend”, sad like on “When It Rains It Pours,” and triumphant like on “Hate it or Love it.” He was a multi-dimensional gangsta. His mega-watt smile, intelligence, and talent showed us he was more than just his tough guy persona. When the news told us that gangstas were irredeemably evil men, 50 showed us they were people.
In this way, 50 is emphatically anti-establishment. The media and politicians labeled black men as thugs to weaken the black community, but 50 embraced the image, used its strength and made us love him. He made many youth desire everything the prior generation despised.
For people of my micro-generation, 50 was the epitome of cool. He had the bitches, the whips, the chains, the style, the toughness, the body, the talent, and above all the attitude. He didn’t try to be cool, he set the standard for it. He was the first superstar that I desperately wanted to be. Partially because of him, middle-class white kids, like myself, stopped digging white rockstars and started putting black men up on our walls. If I played his music really loud, and closed my eyes, I could escape and pretend that I was him, and for that moment, I felt really fucking cool. I even convinced my mom to buy me a pair of G-Unit jean shorts that extended well past my knees, just so I be a part of his movement. He was a crucial link that took hip-hop from the fringe to the mainstream.
Now, 50 is far removed from his humble beginnings. He is a savvy business man who made an estimated 100 million when Coca-Cola bought Vitamin Water. He stars in movies, makes cameos on the Simpsons, and writes books. He sits court side at Knicks games next to Meryl Streep. He hangs out with Money Maywhether. He has a couple charities and even may partner with NASCAR. He is now just another obscenely wealthy, boring celebrity with a ridiculous case for their iPhone.
But this boringness of 50 shows us just how far we have come. There was a time when a man who embodied the culture of the street like 50 does, would never be allowed within shouting distance of mainstream culture. Now? Our culture eats, breathes, and lives hip-hop. The music that used to represent everything wrong with us, is now our identity. 50 was a part of a cultural revolution that left the old white guys on the outside looking in and him taking their spots as boring.
Hell, in another few years he may be so successful that everyone will call him Curtis Jackson.
But to me, he’ll always be 50.