Cutting the Beef: Rappers unite as 50’s marketing ploy fails

As 50 Cent vainly attempts to flog another album on his label with a tired round of beefing, Adam Narkiewicz looks at how a new generation of rappers are re-introducing a spirit of community and collaboration to the genre.

50 Cent has a new album out this week. A G-Unit album, no less. I know, ‘cos dude’s name has been all over the internet for the past month. Nothing to do with music, mind. I cannot bring to mind one single track off of this record, G-Unit’s second long player, Terminate On Sight (it was going to be called Shoot To Kill, but 50 changed it when he realised gun-flogging Yank super-chain Wall Mart might not be fucking with so explicit a title). No, 50 has been making waves the one way he really knows how – picking fights with rappers.

You might remember 50 first made a name for himself on 1999 cut ‘How To Rob An Industry Nigga’, which detailed 50’s intentions to rob musicians in an amusing fashion ("run up on Timberland and Missy with the pound / like, you, gimme the cash and you put the hot dog down"). That record earned him industry-wide notoriety and got him a spot on a Nas tour. His first record when dropping under Eminem and Dr Dre was the Ja-Rule-mocking ’Wanksta’. Ever since, the announcement of a new 50 cent project has been followed up by some fight-picking fuckery – he started on Fat Joe, Nas and Jadakiss for his second album, went on radio to sack G Unit member The Game when his album dropped, took shots at Cam’ron, Lil Wayne and Kanye for his third, and, for this latest record, 50 released a recorded conversation of recently dismissed crew member Young Buck crying on the phone, and called T.I. a snitch.

Battling was always a part of hip-hop, but Curtis Jackson took it to a whole new level. A wave of imitator’s followed 50’s lead – rap in the noughts has looked like one big wrestling match. But it seems the bully boy tactics are starting to grate with consumers, and 50’s stock has been on a downward slide since The Massacre. His last album, 2007’s Curtis got trounced by Kanye West in the charts and G Unit albums from Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo, Young Buck and Mobb Deep failed to recoup. This week’s release is unlikely to make much of an impression, certainly not when compared to former glories. Meanwhile, a new wave of emcees have started to take 50’s spot in the rap pantheon, and none of them have used beef as their main point of sale. Rappers like Young Jeezy, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne are dominating the charts and airwaves, having keep their buzz growing between albums not by fighting with each other like children, but by – shock horror – making records together. DJ Khaled-led posse cuts like ‘We Takin’ Over’ and ‘So Hood’ raised the profiles of all the rappers involved last year, and the rappers preceded to show up in each other’s videos and big each other up in interviews. Super-sized coke-rapper Rick Ross, who had a hit with ‘Hustling’ in 2006 was predicted to flop on his follow up, but he kept in the public eye with a slew of collaborations, leading to his second album, Trilla, hitting the top of the charts this year.

Rap’s new prince Lil Wayne took two years between Tha Carter II and this month’s million selling Tha Carter III, but found his fanbase growing exponentially with every mixtape collaboration and guest feature. The lil’ dude was goaded by innumerable emcees (including 50), but refused to take the bait and lower himself to their level, reaping the karmic rewards when his album finally dropped.

America’s biggest influence on British rap music has been Beef Culture, called clashing over here. Emcees have traditionally made their name’s by going at the scene’s bigger emcees, leading to the likes of Wiley getting in a new clash seemingly every week. But it should be noted that none of this silliness has sold anybody any records – the scene’s biggest moments to date have been 20-odd strong crew So Solid’s ’21 Seconds’, and Lethal B’s mega-collaboration, ‘Pow’. Divide And Conquer works only for the few. For the rest of us, the lesson is clear – we find our Strength in Unity.

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