The views and opinions expressed in the following feature editorial are those expressly of the writer of this piece and do not necessarily reflect those of HipHopDX.
We knew this was coming. Many prayed for this.
In the aftermath of his 2007 sales shallacking (courtesy of image antithesis, Kanye West) for the first time, “Bulletproof 50” exhibited commercial vulnerability. Not to sleep on the 691,000 units Curtis moved in its first week -- essentially the platinum equivalent in today’s crap-tastic retail environment -- but ironically, Fiddy’s self described “artist album” was artistically years past his prime. Clearly, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ it was not. No need to waste words, but lyrically-aspiring tracks like “A Baltimore Love Thing” or “I Don’t Need Em” on The Massacre eclipsed any semblance of artistry Curtis supposedly offered. Instead, the buying public was treated to Omaha Steak-style manufactured beef and false proclamations of retirement if out sold. The gimmicks were too gimmicky, grossly outpacing the product. Curtis, at its best, was a passable LP loaded with Pop-centric guest appearances, generic bump and grind raps and gun music. At worst? At worst, it represented the last grasp of commercial viability from a soon-to-be-fallen album sales titan.
That was then...
In 2009, as we all witnessed (some more jubilantly than others), Fifty’s Before I Self Destruct self destructed on the charts, moving an embarrassing 160,000 units in its first week, declining consistently each week after.
While the warning signs leading up to this official sales calamity were more obvious than those leading up to 9/11 -- numerous delays and rescheduled release dates, slumping music sales environment, ineffective lead single, tiring gimmicks that proved more polarizing than profitable, digital leakage a month prior to release -- the idea that Brand50 would ever produce such a meager SoundScan showing, leak or no leak, seemed more like a wish from one of his laundry list of detractors than an actual reality. 50 Cent was still 50 CENT, after all. Surely an artist that’s sold over 20 million solo albums in six years, amassing upwards of $150 million (pre recession) through diversified business ventures, and lived in Mike Tyson’s house could crack 200,000 in his first week. Especially if he’s tossing in a free DVD or two...Right?
Well, as Jay-Z not so subliminally jabbed during the 2009 American Music Awards, “Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t.”
Just like that, Fifty’s -- “a.k.a. Ferrari F-50” -- Teflon-tough sales record was sidelined by reality’s Sidewinder. The super gangster persona and dicey industry maneuvering that propelled him into Hip Hop’s power position were now stunting his growth, imprisoning his popularity. He wasn’t gaining new fans. He wasn’t maintaining old ones. He didn’t move units (at least not to the same degree as previously experienced. Numbers don’t lie, remember? Jay said it so it must be true. Thats how it goes, right?). The public had spoken -- His public had spoken -- they weren’t buying Five-Oh no mo’. Fifty and the mighty G-Unit empire finally fell off.
“And the crowd goes wild. As if Holyfield has just won the fight...”
If only an ending could be so simple.
While Internet thugs, “Hip Hop purists,” Curtis haters and rivals World Wide Web wide rejoice in Goliath’s downfall, 50 is in the midst of an eyebrow raising media blitz, pushing BISD, The 50th Law, and his cologne “Power By 50” like he’s still back on the block in Southside Jamaica, Queens, targeting anyone with two eyes, two ears, and a sense of smell. Naturally, he’s made his way through the urban circuit, hitting XXL magazine, Smooth magazine, The Tim Westwood Show, etc, looking and sounding much like the Fifty of yesteryear -- ready made responses to recent events in the clip, subliminal shots in the hole.
But whats most interesting is his revamped public presentation during the non-urban stops along this press tour. In the past three months since the release of BISD, 50 has hit Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Tonight Show, The Tavis Smiley Show, The Tyra Banks Show, That German Show Where The Host Drank 5-0’s Cologne, and several others looking more like a Huxtable than a Hip Hop artist. Goodbye G-Unit Tees and wife beaters. Hello blazers, and button downs, and Kenneth Cole-looking dress boots. The invincible, uber-gangster that “they say walks around like he got an ‘S‘ on his chest” is no longer front and center. It's no longer what he is selling holistically, rather lurking in the background like a menacing not too distant memory. Vicious underground attacks on Rick Ross and Jay-Z are reserved for just that; The Underground. Under the bright lights he’s Eddie Winslow with a bullet tooth wound.
This new image runs contra to the overtly aggressive content Fifty’s actually pushing on Before I Self Destruct, which raises the question behind the choice to undergo a visual transformation at all. If BISD is a return to the gritty 50 because he “had a negative response to...[Curtis]” as he stated during his interview on The Tavis Smiley Show, then why not consistently market himself in that fashion similarly to the way he marketed himself for Get Rich Or Die Tryin‘ and The Massacre? His core fan base, those most offended by his previous offering, would certainly feel more realness if the curtains matched the drapes. Considering the fact that he appeared G-Unit-geared-out during similar stops along his 2007 media tour promoting the Curtis album and “Power By 50”, its doubtful that he’s pandering towards the cologne-buying market.
No, this is intentional. There’s more to this.
If there’s one take away from the Curtis Jackson story, its that 50 Cent constantly moves with reason. There are always premeditated motivations behind his actions. There is always a purpose.
When he kicked in Hip Hop’s door by negatively name dropping any one of any worth on the now classic “How To Rob,” there was a purpose behind it. When he wanksta’d Ja Rule, putting him on blast for singing too much then bait and switched his entire career, there was a purpose behind it. When he flipped Cam’ron’s “Curtis” tirade on The Angie Martinez Show into the title of his next album, there was a purpose behind it.
There is always a purpose behind Fifty’s actions. Some solid. Some shady. The question is why would someone who coined himself “New York City’s own Bad Guy” -- then precede to sell 13 million copies of that first album -- present himself in any other way? Why discount, or alter, the brand? Whats the purpose behind the shift?
Maybe this is it:
“50 Cent is a person I created. Soon it will be time to destroy him and become somebody else.” - 50 Cent; The 50th Law
Although the music side of Brand50 has lost its luster, the business side is still bling-blaow, and growing creatively in several directions. Releasing a self-help book aimed at dispelling internal fear while the nation wallows in a recession was absolute genius and landed him on numerous Best Seller lists. His website, ThisIs50.com, is one of the premier social networking sites, and he’s actively thinking of ways to expand (perhaps by adopting Brady Bunch-style video chat service, TinyChat.com, as mentioned in the Dec/Jan issue of XXL). The movie Before I Self Destruct was written, produced, and directed by 50 Cent and is arguably more compelling than the album itself.
The point is this: Fifty is aware. He saw what happened with Curtis and sees whats happening with BISD. He knows the industry is different. He understands his super gangster image and industry maneuvering are now his gift and his curse; preventing him from earnestly competing with rapidly changing buying trends. He understands the environment now just as he understood it at previous points in his career. So he’s doing what those who have amassed the level of success that he’s amassed in this industry or otherwise does when the landscape changes: evolve.
As Before I Self Destruct continues its meager chart movements, and his detractors continue to bask in its irrelevance, Fifty continues to shape shift, transitioning into a new space. A space where he’s no longer locked into the image he created for himself. A space where people view him without first thinking of those nine infamous bullet wounds. A space where he doesn’t have to rap to have a rep.
A space less like Jay-Z. And more like Diddy.
“Now was not the time to get complacent or have doubts about the future. He would have to transform himself again. He would have his signature tattoos removed; perhaps he would also change his name again. He would create a new image and myth to fit this period of his life -- part business mogul, part power broker, slowly withdrawing from the public eye and flexing his muscles behind the scenes. This would surprise the public, keep him a step ahead of their expectations, and remove yet another barrier to his freedom. Reinventing himself in this way would be the ultimate reversal of the fate that seemed to await him...” - The 50th Law
Justin "The Company Man" Hunte is a music and culture writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Follow him on Twitter @TheCompanyMan.