Monday, June 27, 2005

Shot at Stardom

To the average person, being shot, specifically, being shot numerous times, is a bad thing. Bullets probably hurt and, with rising insurance costs, the hospital bill can prove to be formidable. However, in the game of mainstream hip-hop, getting shot is, quite possibly, the best thing that can happen to a young upstart.
Take New York City’s 50 Cent, for instance. 50 (born Curtis Jackson) endured a rough childhood and apparently sold lots of drugs. After numerous run-ins with the law, 50 began to turn away from crime as he met with the Trackmasters, a New York production duo. When 50’s single, “How to Rob,” turned few heads, his future as a rapper seemed uncertain.
Then, on May 24, 2000, an angry gunman attempted to kill 50 by shooting him nine times. Everything changed. After spending a year detailing the incident on various mix-tapes, a major-label bidding war began over the rapper. 50 finally signed with Eminem’s Shady/Aftermath imprint and, after the success of the “Wanksta” single, 50’s debut, “Get Rich or Die Tryin,’” sold a ludicrous amount of copies. The follow-up single, “In Da Club,” became the highest selling single of all time.
That’s fine. The guy made lots of money. Good for him. But think back to 2002; what did you hear first, one of 50’s singles, or that there was a rapper out there who’d been shot nine times?
Since his ascent to the top of every chart, 50 has proven to be quite the businessman. He’s introduced his crew, the G-Unit, as a platinum selling entity unto itself, made careers for his friends (like Lloyd Banks) and even sponsored a sports drink. A movie about his life is in the works.
In terms of business, being shot was great for 50 Cent.
The same applies to Compton’s The Game, a member of G-Unit. After a childhood similar to that of 50 Cent, The Game (born Jayceon Taylor) sold drugs to get by. Then, during a home invasion on October 1, 2001, Game was shot five times by rival drug dealers. After recuperating from his wounds, Game began to rap for the first time.
Perhaps he understood the commodity he’d become.
Both of these rappers have gone on to be huge, working with the most talented artists in the business. However, 50’s talents as an MC are often questionable and sometimes laughable (he has a song called “Gatman and Robbin’”). The Game’s debut, “The Documentary,” has more shout-outs to industry big shots than memorable rhymes.
Not to say that hip-hop, as a genre, is flawed. In 2001, before 50 burst onto the scene, the biggest rapper in the game was Jay-Z. Jigga had done what only the Beatles had before: he was not only the most successful, but also the best in the game. And he was never shot.
Instead, the problem lies in how hip-hop is marketed. Record labels seem to have forgotten that hip-hop is music and have started selling it like cinema. Instead of focusing on songs (remember those), hip-hop is all about scenery. Before I heard The Game’s first single, I heard that there was a new rapper from Compton. Who’d been shot five times. Game’s heritage is so important to his handlers that his website is comptongame.com.
Of course, The Game didn’t sell nearly as much as 50 Cent. And, for those keeping track, 50 was shot four more times. Thus, according to what seems to be the logic of major label brass, a rapper who’d been shot, say, thirteen times would be a gold mine.
Please don’t buy his albums. It’ll only encourage them.

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