Thursday, March 10, 2005

50 Cent & the Game: the politics and price of war and peace

Here I was, ready to write about the 50 Cent-Game war going on and then they themselves had the nerve to call a truce! I mean, don't they realize how much moralizing all of us in the media were gearing up to do over this? Can you imagine all the scolding and hand-wringing that you won't be able to read about now? Do they really think that peace is more important than the media's outrage over their actions? Won't some brave soul from the 4th estate start a rumor that their truce is just another publicity stunt?

But seriously, folks...

Note two good articles about the whole ruckus: this Village Voice story written before the truce and this Daily News story written after it. Jarrett Murphy's thoughtful Voice story does a good job with looking into all angles of the story but noticeably spends a lot of time bashing and blaming the media, radio in particular, for the whole thing. As we've seen with previous East/West coast rivalries, there are other parts of the media where these battles can be waged- i.e. print, TV- so that even if the radio stations behaved, don't believe that would carry weight elsewhere.

In the Lil Kim trial that's happening now, one of the witnesses expressed disbelief that two rivaling sides were scheduled at radio station Hot 97 at the same time, leading up to another incident. With 50/Game, they weren't scheduled at the same time but you have to wonder why the Game's crew happened to pick Hot 97 as the place to settle a score, as if a precedent had been set. "Come to Hot 97 to settle your differences!" Basically, it's sounding like the Jerry Springer show, only more violent.

Since the timing of 50/Game incident was so close to the release of 50's new album (which just topped sales of 1 million), no one needs to scratch their head wondering about another coincidence. That's why I don't buy how some people in the Voice story (i.e. Russell Simmons) are so quick to let the rappers off the hook and just blame the media for all of the problems there. They flamed some flames here for sure but these guys have backgrounds where beefs are not always settled peacefully. To make them out to be innocents who are just manipulated by the media is not only totally disrespectful to them but also pretty damn condescending. I'm almost go so far to say that some of their defenders might be so worried that this would taint the whole genre and that they want to deflect blame. I don't want rap to get a bad rap but I also don't want knuckleheads who make it bad for everyone else getting a free ride for their misbehavior- that doesn't help the style at all.

Which is why the words of XXL editor Elliott Wilson are so interesting in the Daily News story. He notes that the reasons that the two sides came together are not the most altruistic ones (i.e. setting a good example): "I think the press conference (where they declared a truce) was forced by the mainstream media's reaction to the incident. They don't benefit on a business level to be associated with violence." In other words, this time the media forced their hands again but this time making them realize that they had to cool it. Also, the rappers saw that it was going to hurt their bottom line. I don't know if I'm as cynical about this- I really would like to think that both of them saw how stupid and pointless this was- but at the same time, I'm not ready to fully discount Wilson's take on this.

But what I wonder now is this: if Wilson's theory about being bad for business is right though, how does that jibe with the cynics who say that this whole conflict was done to boost 50's sales? On one hand, you have album sales boosted by the feud but then you have both sides coming together to say it was the wrong thing to do. In the end, it's going to take time to see which of these lessons becomes more persuasive.

I actually worry about this so much that I seriously thought that this little war was the reason that Toyota pulled out of sponsorship for De La Soul's college tour/symposium, maybe worrying that being associated with ANY rap wasn't good PR right now. Writer Jon Caramanica assures me that they pulled the plug on the tour long before that- I'd still like to know why though.

Still, I wondered why it was hard to generate interest in coverage of a story about this unique, provocative tour De La was planning, where they would have a dialog with college students around the country about hip hop- many publications just weren't interested in it, mainly it seems because the band hadn't been hot for a while, have been around too long and won't do anything as revolutionary as 3 Feet High and Rising again. If it had been 50 or the Game doing the college rounds, you know it would be a different story and any music pub would fall over itself to send people to cover it. I guess De La's problem is that they don't start any violence rivalries with other rap groups. That's some pretty sad priorities but it's true. Maybe the media is to blame after all...


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