Should America be shocked by 50 Cent's violence? Chris Willman wonders if the lack of controversy surrounding the rapper's gun-praising album is a good or bad sign about our culture
50 Cent
Credit: 50 Cent Photograph by Phil Knott

Should America be shocked by 50 Cent’s violence?

Amid all the talk of musicians protesting the war in Iraq, there’s one battleground much closer to home that’s being largely ignored by mainstream America: the gun-toting inner-city world as depicted by rapper 50 Cent on his best-selling album, ”Get Rich or Die Tryin’.”

How does 50 Cent love the sound of automatic weapons and the sight of fatal gunshot wounds? Let us count the ways. ”I put a hole in a n—a for f—ing with me…./Better watch how you talk, when you talk about me/’Cause I’ll come and take your life away.” ”Turn your back on me, get clapped and lose your legs/I walk around gun on my waist, chip on my shoulder/Till I bust a clip in your face, pussy, this beef ain’t over.” ”Almost shot me, three weeks later, he got shot down/Now it’s clear that I’m here for a real reason/’Cause he got hit like I got hit, but he ain’t f—ing breathing.” ”You don’t want me to be your kid’s role model/I’ll teach them how to buck them .380s and load up them hollows.”

If you imagine that I’ve picked out the most sensationalistic lyrics, rest assured that nearly every song on the album is filled with the same numbing threats and gun worship. (The one real exception is — of course — the single, ”In Da Club,” the rare 50 Cent piece that settles for mere misogyny and homophobia and stops short of murderousness.) When other urban performers boast of making someone ”wet,” it’s usually in a sexual context; when 50 Cent uses the term, as he does more than once on this album, it’s fetishizing the sight of blood flowing from a fallen enemy’s noggin.

What’s most shocking about the 50 Cent album is that absolutely no one, as far as I’ve been able to tell, is shocked by it. Cultural conservatives got so burned out complaining about lesser iniquities years ago that they basically gave up on even paying attention to this corner of the culture. Moderates who might have a more reasoned view of pop culture’s excesses hide their heads in the sand, just hoping their kids, at least, don’t start singing this alternately violent and sexist imagery in the car. Liberals who might otherwise crusade for gun control give this Glock-glorifying stuff a pass on the patronizing grounds that it’s reportage from the ‘hood.

Reportage? That would be the old ”Dan Rather defense” that hip-hoppers who describe violence with such relish are really just journalists alerting a wider world to the inner city’s social problems. Then there’s the ever-popular ”Schwarzenegger defense,” which posits that if Ah-nuld can mow down hundreds of bad guys in a bad action movie and not invite the ire of aging white men, it’s hypocritical to decry a tune that imagines a righteous crack dealer doing the same justice to his rivals.

All of these defense strategies have been employed in the past to deflect criticism of violent themes in hip-hop –and sometimes even employed reasonably. N.W.A and Ice Cube DID present their nasty stuff in a more significant social context in which poverty and police brutality were realities. Eminem DID employ a certain amount of satire in some of his more outrageous rhymes. A good deal of gangsta rap over the years HAS served to awaken a drowsy world to the sleepless nights suffered in gang territory.

Yet somehow we got deadened enough along the way that a 50 Cent can come along — showing off his nine bullet wounds, preaching the values of barely provoked homicide, providing nothing that could even remotely be characterized as redeeming social value amid the slaughter — and no one among us can even manage a shrug.

Maybe that’s as it should be, because unlike some of the provocateurs that preceded him, 50 Cent doesn’t even seem to intend to shock his core audience of kids. They’re already hooked on hardcore violence, through Eminem and through videogames like ”Grand Theft Auto.” For this generation of adolescents, 50 Cent isn’t providing the thrill of an initial fix, he’s just helping them ”maintain,” to use the old addiction terminology.

You could argue it’s better that parents don’t make such a big deal out of this stuff anymore, that kids outgrow it faster when it isn’t so taboo. Still — and maybe this is just the nostalgist in me — I miss the days when there might have been at least one voice in the wilderness decrying an album that’s glorifying putting holes in people and breaking records in the process.

What do you think about 50 Cent’s album?

Get Rich or Die Tryin'
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