Ghosts vs. Boasts | Music | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
Loading...

Ghosts vs. Boasts 

Thursday, Mar 13 2003
Comments
Photo by Sacha Waldman

Jaded Hip-Hop-Purist Insight #1: You cannot spit in the wind without being hit by 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson ran two presidential campaigns sloganeering "I am somebody" to a rainbow coalition of captivated masses during the 1980s. Meanwhile, the youth of that hip-hop golden age were confident not only that they were "somebody," but that they were the greatest somebodies imaginable: the best. The art of the boast has been a staple of hip-hop culture since its 1970s Bronx beginnings, and countless MCs have devised thousands of braggadocious metaphors and similes to get Jackson's sentiment across. During that landmark '80s decade, hip-hop history was too young to have established a standard for the best. Eddie Cheeba begat Kurtis Blow; Run begat L.L. Cool J; Rakim begat Big Daddy Kane. Yet and still, hip-hop subscribed to no one standard-bearer of quality.

"Take some Big and some Pac/And you mix 'em up in a pot/Sprinkle a little Big L inside/What the fuck do you got?" Eminem asks over his own apocalyptic production on "Patiently Waiting." The answer has been on the lips of the hip-hop community since the 1999 underground anthem "How To Rob (an Industry Nigga)." 50 Cent — the 26-year-old Queens MC born Curtis Jackson — is proof that Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. have achieved the "unassailable standard" status in hip-hop accorded to, say, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in rock. Wherever you turned these past few weeks, the excitement and anticipation behind the release of 50 Cent's debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin', was compared to the Bad Boy Entertainment heyday of Biggie, leading even Sean Combs to admit, "I love the 50 Cent album; I've never really felt anticipation on an artist like that." Nas and Jay-Z, in their bickering over the King of New York crown these past couple of years, reduced themselves to convincing record buyers that each was the Second Coming of Shakur and/or Biggie. Can't be shit these days without invoking these barely-cold-in-the-grave kings of rap, it seems. This means what, no MC will ever come into his/her own prominence without the specter of these two looming overhead? Interesting.

Related Stories

  • 20 Best Rap Songs 36

    Picking hip-hop's greatest songs is an incredibly difficult (and incredibly fun) undertaking, considering the various styles that have splintered the genre every way imaginable. Now 40 years old, hip-hop no more belongs to Bronx originators than it does to today's kids; its popularity has stretched to all corners, and the...
  • Tupac's "California Love" Story

    Chris “The Glove” Taylor has deep roots in the L.A. hip-hop scene. He was Ice-T ‘s DJ on the electro-rap song "Reckless," which the two performed together in the '80s cult classic movie Breakin’. Taylor later became a collaborator with Dr. Dre on quite a few of the good doctor’s...
  • Best Songs About L.A. 43

    Let other cities have their feel-good, celebratory theme songs — their "Philadelphia Freedom," their "Empire State of Mind." Here in Los Angeles, we like our urban anthems dark. Sure, we're the land of endless sunshine and Hollywood high rollers. But we're also the birthplace of gangsta rap, the sleazy home...
  • Best Gangsta Rap Videos 6

    Gangsta rap, where have you gone? About 20 years ago at this time we were in the middle of an unprecedented run of gangsta rap greatness, with Death Row, Bad Boy, Ruthless, Rap-A-Lot and others all functioning at high levels.  And while the songs and albums from this era continue...
  • The Zelig of West Coast Hip-Hop

    You've likely never heard of A.W., but he's a Zelig-like figure who was there every step of the way during the West Coast hip-hop glory years of the '80s and '90s. The man born Anthony Williams knew Ice-T "when he was stealing cars," palled around with Dr. Dre in his...

 

Jaded Hip-Hop-Purist Insight #2: Nothing sells like African-American spectacle.

One cannot critique 50 Cent without the back story, because the back story is (at least) half of what the brouhaha is about. Biggie Smalls came into his deified standing by being one of the most talented rhymers hip-hop has seen. The appeal of Tupac Shakur, God bless the dead, was less about his mic skills and more about the spectacle: being shot and (the first time) surviving; being imprisoned for sexual assault with his latest album atop the Billboard chart; his beef with B.I.G. and association with the instigating Suge Knight.

"From the last shootout, I got a dimple on my face/It's nothin', I can go after Mase's fan base," 50 rhymes on "U Not Like Me." He can afford to make light of his situation now, since signing with Eminem's Shady Records label for $1 million and posting the biggest opening sales for a debut artist ever (besting Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle of 10 years ago). But in May 2000, 50 was shot nine times — once in the face — outside the Queens home of his grandmother; two months prior, he was stabbed in a brawl that allegedly stemmed from static with rapper Ja Rule. Earlier that year, 50 was dropped from Columbia Records, his Power of the Dollar never seeing the light of day. (Bootleggers, nudge and wink here.) As a child, his drug-dealing mother was murdered. He's scrambled crack cocaine. He's been jailed. So when 50 Cent raps in his distinct drawl, "Now it's clear that I'm here for a real reason/'Cause he got hit like I got hit, but he ain't fuckin' breathin'" (on "Many Men [Wish Death]"), he rhymes from an authentic perspective that most gangsta rappers can't.

Jaded Hip-Hop-Purist Insight #3: Yeah, okay, 50 Cent is dope, but . . .

50 Cent has a lot of woodshedding to do before he lives up to his hype machine. His flow isn't nearly as appealing as Snoop in his prime, much less Biggie. But he is appealing. Get Rich or Die Tryin' is full of dramatic action-movie atmosphere, production from Eminem and Dre (including the superlative "In da Club" and the Ja Rule dis "Back Down"), and witty lines. Hip-hop is famously supported by a 70-percent-white fan base; it's largely the suburbs that make rap platters multiplatinum. As they continue to eavesdrop on the black CNN, nothing, obviously, could be more captivating than an MC produced by Dr. Dre, who has beef with popular MCs (Ja Rule, Ghostface Killah), who's been a drug dealer, shot, stabbed, jailed. 2Pac set that standard. 50 Cent will live up to it or die tryin'.

50 CENT | Get Rich or Die Tryin' | (Shady/ Aftermath/Interscope)

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets