Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I Actually Like: The 50 Cent/Rick Ross Beef

I remember back in 2007, Slate had an article about how YouTube was ruining rap beef. The basic idea was that rappers were spending all their time making low budget video disses instead of writing classic songs like "Takeover" or "2nd Round K.O.". There was some truth to this, especially in the 50 Cent-Cam'Ron feud where the most memorable moments came from a schoolyard taunt ("Curtisssss") and Cam'Ron in a video standing in his backyard in boxer shorts with an unexplained black eye.

But what the article completely misunderstood was that beef is never really going to be about skills ever again. Sure, a feud might pop up here or there (say Joe Budden vs. Saigon) where the whole point is who is a better rapper, but overall, beef is now about total and complete humiliation, both personally and professionally. Clever insults are antiquated; what works best is dirt.

Old pictures, court documents, ex-girlfriends, what some dude told some chick who told some dude--all of this is fair game. Beef has become like a mutant mixture of a comedy roast and tabloid journalism.

Nobody does this kind of beef like 50 Cent. It would not be an overstatement to say the man's true talent is being an asshole. His videos making fun of Rick Ross are funnier and more entertaining than the entirety of the Curtis album. To a degree, this makes perfect sense. For a multi-million dollar rapper like 50 Cent, making an album has probably become a chore, because all your energy and talent has to be spent trying to make an album that will appeal to absolutely everyone. It's possible the man doesn't even like making music anymore, as pretty much everything he's done post-Curtis attests. Making fun of people probably lets him let off steam from having to make dozens of lame decisions (a reality show? another autotune chorus?) just to stay afloat as an artist.

And who's easier to make fun of than Rick Ross? Even if he didn't have a past as a corrections officer, the guy would be a joke. The reason condescending hipsters couldn't get enough of the guy circa Port of Miami was because he's a walking parody of coke rap. He can't rap, he makes impossibly inflated boasts that not only sound stupid but ring false to even the most basic sense of how cocaine distribution works, and he doesn't have even a sliver of self-consciousness. Any joy in his music comes purely from the fact that he's charismatic and that it's endlessly amusing that he expects anyone to believe he's some kind of cocaine kingpin (I've read other bloggers who write that his songs about girls are full of great, everyday details, but I've yet to investigate this).

The actual substance of the feud is quite thin. Apparently Rick Ross saw 50 Cent at the BET Awards and tried to talk to him, but 50 Cent gave him a dirty look and ignored him. So Rick Ross got on some radio show and complained about the incident. That's it--that's how the incident got started. As many bloggers have astutely pointed out, there is something pretty junior high about the whole thing, but it's the juvenile aspect of the whole thing that makes it entertaining.

Unlike Jay-Z vs. Nas or Kanye vs. 50, this isn't one of those feuds where which side you choose says something about you as a person or a rap fan. Neither artist here has been making great music as of late and neither of them have even remotely sympathetic personalities (their treatment of the mothers of their sons pretty much speaks for itself), so the fun in the beef mostly comes from seeing two millionaire blowhards tear each other apart.