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50 Cent

Get Rich or Die Tryin' (Shady/Aftermath Records)

The basic info about Queens, New York, rapper 50 Cent, whose major-label debut sold an astounding 800,000 copies in its first four days on the market: shot nine times, including a bullet to the face and another to the neck; a former crack dealer who, unlike Nelly, isn't willing to sugarcoat that fact; one tough motherfucker, which he tells you over and over on Get Rich or Die Tryin'.

The protégé of Dr. Dre and Eminem, 50 is a better rapper than the former but much less accomplished than the latter. The hits thus far, "Wanksta" and "In da Club," are staples of rap radio and destined to be classics, even if they're not particularly innovative: Both lack the bravado of Timbaland's or the Neptunes' beats, but they shine because they're so damn sturdy. The (seventeen!) other tracks, with few exceptions, are disposable not because they're no good but because, after a dozen songs about thug life, they're simply redundant.

Fifty's lucky that the bullet that went through his cheek didn't do too much damage to his pretty, pretty face. That smooth flow of his, kind of a cross between Biggie and Snoop, could have been silenced had the neck bullet hit his vocal cords. All the blood, though, proved a shrewd career move. With those bullets, the victim was transformed into a victor, a demigod of the dirty ghetto, the latest embodiment of Stagger Lee, the archetypical original gangsta so ferocious he can't be killed, who possesses evil's most powerful trait: immoral clarity.

But it's not simply because 50 Cent has been shot that he's considered so "authentic." It's because he uses his rhymes -- he's got a great ear for dialogue -- and tone and flow to examine the reality of the demons. When he says, with pure venom, of a tryst with an enemy's woman (probably Ja Rule's), "I fucked her, fed her fast food," the barb cuts to the bone. Is it a shock? How could it not be? He not only objectifies the woman but objectifies the woman for the sole purpose of humiliating her. It's fucked up, is what it is, but the truth often is.

 
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