Seems like gangsta rap has come a long way since the days of Casiotone beats and Jheri curl hairdos. But really, things haven't changed at all. Take 50 Cent, who last week rereleased his so-so The Massacre not six months after its initial March launch. The new version features DVD videos for each song. "I'm the king of originality," 50 declares in the album's press notes.
Not so much, actually. Practically everything in 50's short, storied career is a carbon copy of the gangsta rappers who came before him. Of course, the original gangsta rapper came straight outta Compton with Eazy-E. Hopefully, the seven children Eazy had with six different mothers will get a piece of the g-rap windfall with the release of Eternal E: Gangsta Memorial Edition, a retrospective CD/DVD that hit shelves the same day as 50's rehashed Massacre.
Unlike gangsta rappers who grew up in gated suburbia, Eazy and 50 came from the streets fo' realz. Way back in the mid-'80s, when rappers didn't curse or kill people, Eazy set a whole new standard. He was a South Central drug dealer who used his wads of coke cash to bankroll his own record label, Ruthless. Eazy hooked up with Dr. Dre by bailing him out of jail; in exchange, Dre produced Eazy's records. They sold their albums at the local swap meet, formed the group N.W.A, and begat the entire gangsta rap phenomenon.
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50 Cent, and Eazy E
A decade later, 50 Cent appeared on the scene from the ghetto of Queens, New York. He came from a broken home, had been raised by his grandmother, dealt crack, was stabbed once, and had been shot nine times before hooking up with Eminem and Dre. He's since become a magnet for media aggrandizement and fan adulation and sold a zillion records.
Neither Eazy nor 50 is a particularly gifted wordsmith, but both have their charms. Eazy's raps were sleazy, cocksure and violent, introducing a hard-core, I-don't-give-a-fuck attitude to hip-hop. In comparison, 50's boasting is a safe PG-13. His appeal is all about slick, cruising-with-the-top-down melodies and swaggering club anthems. But the lyrical template is exactly the same: guns, ho's, money, and ganking muthafuckas. By sticking to that formula, both rappers became ridiculously rich, with bitches falling out of the windows of their mansions. In 1995, Eazy-E ended up dying of AIDS-related causes at the age of 30. Thanks to acolytes like 50 Cent, gangsta rap has survived, moving off the streets, onto the airwaves, and into the club. As long as it pulls down more dollars than U.S. Steel, it's destined for at least a few more years.