The gangstas are dead.

Column: Hip Hop #06

That gangsta shit is just dead. We all know it, right? People just don’t want to hear it, and it isn’t selling. It isn’t so much the music – Raekwon’s big return to glory last year essentially revolved around it, but the posturing. It all depends on the artist, but the average consumer and, increasingly, hip hop heads have tired of all the big talk. It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact moment this all began, but for my money, I’d say it was when former super-platinum giant 50 Cent went and embarrassed himself in that Kanye sales war. He said he’d quit rap over it, and while I like Before I Self Destruct enough to be glad he didn’t, his words didn’t turn out to mean anything. Not that this was new for hip hop, but people finally seem more sensitive to the bullshit.

Despite all the talk, comparatively to past events, everything in hip hop has been relatively stable this past decade. Dre leaving Death Row created shockwaves that last to this day. There was a time when no one would’ve believed that he and Snoop could have possibly been separated on a cut, let alone on different labels. Now Eminem is Dre’s right hand rapper. The biggest upset we’ve had in comparison is G-Unit crumbling. Not all that grand. Yet, the aftershocks are finally catching up with everyone.

After G-Unit imploded, Game probably fanned the pointless flames of the beef more than anyone. He finally seems to be seeing how little everyone cares. He’s recently switched his tune from “fuck 50 Cent” to declaring that he wants a truce with him, to then saying G-Unit dividing hurt every member, and that they could have sold millions of records together. Finally, he’s gone all out, declaring his hopes for a G-Unit reunion, “Bring it back full circle and make some motherfuckin’ money…I wasn’t opposed to it… He got an ego. I got an ego. Ain’t nobody apologizing.”

Of course it’s not something Game wants to admit, but things simply haven’t been the same since The Documentary. When it finally dropped, consensus seemed to say that The Game was a decent-at-best MC that benefited from Dr. Dre’s production and 50’s pop savvy. Then he went and pissed everyone off, and was booted from the family. Or 50 was a bitch, and it’s his fault, whatever your perspective is – see, it all leads to a pointless argument that can’t be settled.

So a reunion – howabout it? To say the least, Young Buck was not keen on the idea, saying of 50, “If you want war, we gonna go to war and we gonna do this shit in a real street way until one of us dies my nigga. I’ll play that game with you. It’s only right, somebody’s gotta do this in a real way…Even if I lose my life in being a real nigga, one thing y’all motherfuckers know is that I was a real nigga…” Buck sounds like a Boondocks character every time he opens his mouth, and needs to stop acting like he’s going to go kill 50 Cent, I understand the egos, but come on.

In any case, the concept carries extended drama with it. 50 is currently a free agent, and it’s creating noise all over. So where is 50 going? Despite all the Shady talk, is he gonna stay loyal? It’s the LeBron situation, the two should kick it. Recently, Capitol Records claimed they’d signed 50, to which the rapper responded by calling the exec who made the claim an, “idiot.” So get this. Sha Money XL, once President of G Unit records, now a Def Jam exec, wants the Unit over at his new home. This isn’t exactly fresh news, so you probably know this. Think about it, though. Not only would this move potentially bring new life into Def Jam’s hip hop and simultaneously resurrect the Unit member’s careers, it would make for quite an odd setting. 50 moving into Jay’s old house after spending the past year dissing him. Dissing him alongside Beanie Sigel, no less. There’s gotta be some feathers already ruffled over there.

If you ask me, 50 will probably end up staying Shady/Aftermath, but who knows. If he does, that could go a bunch of different ways. Game is back on Aftermath, and he and Dre are putting out tracks. Beyond that, Dre certainly hasn’t been as closely associated with 50 during his fall, his presence was a lot less predominant on the last two records. For that matter, 50 didn’t appear on Recovery and when Slim was asked about 50 in an interview during the press extravaganza for that album, he didn’t seem to know what Curtis was even up to. That’s a far cry from “Gatman and Robbin.” Beyond this, Buck’s been talking shit, claiming Slim doesn’t agree with the way 50’s treated him. Em’s back with Royce (and speaking of gangsta shit, there’s talent in Slaughterhouse, but they’re gonna be a tough sell) and 50 seems both out of the circle and in desperate need of a return to relevance.

I’m not trying to fan potentially nonexistent flames, but a big shift in the industry doesn’t seem too distant. The reality that gangsta rap isn’t the thing is dawning on all rappers with brains. When G-Unit first came on the scene – as much as people seem to like to forget it now – they were the shit. 50 Cent is the Future was the mixtape, and along with 50’s persona, boosted them all right to record deals. G-Unit used to be interesting, essentially exiled to Canada while recording that tape, and so on. Now 50 is putting out a eurodance album. He might know what he’s doing, because if one were to ask if a G-Unit reunion would even be viable these days, the answer would probably hinge on their pop tunes. Even on his first album, alongside hard tracks, others like “21 Questions” were present. The group would have to pursue their dance tracks, and it’d likely sound silly in comparison to the young kids. The divisions previously persistent in rap are fading: Drake’s everywhere, “thugs” like Game who previously talked shit about him are adding him to their tracklists. Yes, Drake is (according to Game) set to appear on his next album. Beanie Sigel can curse Drake all he wants, and warn other rappers that “letting” him on their records furthers hip hop into hip pop, but it doesn’t matter. We may well be prepped for the first great shift in rap in quite some time, the gangstas are beginning to integrate. The game is changing.

Track Spotlight

With the spirit of this week’s column, I figure it’s a decent excuse to explore 50 Cent’s forward surge towards hate. Most don’t seem to think so, but 50 did a few things aside from get shot a bunch of times prior to signing Shady.

50 Cent – “That Ain’t Gangsta” – How 50 began to sell his gangsta pop – for those that don’t know, this is off his would-be debut that was canned by Columbia. This is a decent track for those who hate Fiddy plain and simple – it may be hard to want to recognize when it comes to a figure so easy to despise, but the man has some serious talent in him. Even his songs that sound like shit took a clever writer to latch into each and every dumb quip that the public would gobble up.

50 Cent – “Too Hot” – It may be hard to remember, but the drama surrounding 50 used to be interesting. Essentially blacklisted after “How to Rob”, 50 hooked up with Nas, touring with him. Seems pretty odd now, amIright? Both Nasty and Nature appear on this track, with Nas trying to prop 50 up to the fame he felt he deserved prior to Eminem stepping in. Considering their lack of efforts together since (and Nas’ relationship with Game) one has to wonder if Nas regrets his decision now.

G-Unit – “G-Unit” – Who said the gangsta pop was all bad? Once upon a time, 50 and his ilk took over for a reason. While they quickly faded into hollow clichés, and I would never claim there’s much substance here, their first record was at the very least highly listenable. Cuts like this one manage to be ferocious will consistently remaining feet-tappingly catchy. Along with this track see “Smile” for an absurdly catchy pop song. Makes one wonder how it all came down to Curtis.