Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Does 50 Cent Have A Point?

As is well documented on this blog, I am not a 50 Cent fan at all. I think that he is part of the reason that hip-hop is getting a bad rap from its detractors and fans. But, today, I came across an interview that 50 did with XXL where he makes an interesting point about "conscious" rappers. From the article:

What percentage of MCs in hip-hop do you think are actually intelligent?
You have different kinds of people. You have people that are extremely book smart that lack common sense so they don’t know what’s going to affect their audience. They have more information than me based on reading. For instance, Nas is a really smart guy. He reads books constantly. We were around him on the Nastradamus tour. He was almost weirder than me ’cause we would go to breakfast and he’d be there reading a book. Conceptually, I think that’s what made him drift away from what his initial audience enjoys from him and why he’s not hot right now.

Because he reads too much?
Yes. He’s feeding you too much information in the music and they don’t actually want it. He’s like a teacher. I was in love with KRS-One when he came with “Criminal Minded” and “The Bridge Is Over.” That was theme music to what was going on at that time. And when he started teaching, he lost them. ’Cause it was like, “What is he talkin’ about?”

The point that 50 makes here is fairly obvious: you try to educate, you only alienate fans. The proof is in the pudding on this one. KRS-One lost a lot of the street when he started talking intelligently. Nas talks about Kush and ancient African empires, but cats don't feel him. Neither of these top ten rappers have major record sales anymore, as they wish to go platinum while 50's routinely going multi-platinum pushing Diamond (10 million plus sales).

Even though 50's right on this point, does it really make it a good thing that kids aren't up on rappers who actually try to put a little bit of knowledge in their rhymes? Personally, I'm going to hedge this question. I like intelligent rappers. I like rappers who have a sense of self-awareness as well as cultural awareness and can reference something other than the street. BUT, and there's a huge but here, I don't like rappers who preach over beats. KRS-One started preaching over beats. This is what alienated a lot of his old-school, BDP audience. This wasn't a problem for me because KRS-One, even while preachy, can slay about 97% of the rappers out now. On the other hand, I don't think that Nas is a rapper who preaches over beats. Nas does make intensely academic references such as the one to Kush, but this is not his fault. Nas is literate, as 50's willing to admit. But, as the interview would later go on to say, 50 thinks that this education is a literal fault within their music:

But they’re still getting information from you.
Right, but in different ways and in pieces. Anything [that] changes too fast is no good—[the audience] isn’t sure what’s going on. It’s like you watching an actor portray a character in a film that you really enjoy. Then afterwards, he sits on the couch on a talk show and this guy is so artistic that you’re not sure if you [really] fuckin’ like him.

Why, ’cause they’re acting?
Yeah. They’re doing something that’s totally… That may not even be a small portion of their actual character. And then when you see them after the fact, they give you something that’s so artsy.

50 seems to imply that actors who aren't their role are in some strange way false, fakes. As a film person, I think this is bullshit. Actors' job is to pull you into the role. An artist, which an actor is, can make you believe that they are that person. This is their job. Nas does this very well as he is one of the few rappers who can actually pull a listener into an alternate world where he is the narrator to a street saga. Nas spins street tales. That's what he should do as a rapper. Nas doesn't boast about how amazing he is. He raps about what he sees and what he knows and is a storyteller of the streets. This is what any good rapper should do. And Nas does it with great flair and style.

This factual point brings up another question to be answered: if people are so averse to conscious rap coming from legends like Nas, what will become of the hip-hop game? There is only so long that you can listen to rappers talk about how much money they make and how many dudes they've killed, especially when you, like myself, are doing neither. I'm not saying that every rapper needs to become dead prez or something like that, but I do think that a diversity of topics is a positive for the rap game. Unfortunately, heads try to act like this derivation from the money, guns, hoes, and blow rap formula is the worst thing on the face of the planet. Rapping isn't always about selling records, as 50 would want you to believe. Don't get it twisted: making money is nice, but also having a lyrical supremacy over all comers is important too. If you ask any rap fan, rapping is about loving the form and wanting to see it and its participants thrive. Nas and KRS-One want this. Chamillionaire wants this. Little Brother wants this. Many on the underground and many in the mainstream want this too. I would think that, for his long term success, 5o Cent would want this too. Unfortunately, this interview shows that he doesn't.