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Two sides of the same 50 Cent at MTV show

During a taping, the rapper continues his ongoing feud with label mate the Game.

October 29, 2005|Chris Lee | Special to The Times

Here's what you won't hear rapper 50 Cent say from the stage on the new MTV special, "The Life & Rhymes of ... 50 Cent": "I just want to know how many of you listen to Game's album. It was great, wasn't it? It was great because I wrote it!"

The Game is a popular Compton rapper and the album is "The Documentary," one of the year's hottest CDs.

MTV's idea was to present rapper 50 Cent as everything he usually is not. Confessional instead of combative. Stirring up nostalgia instead of trouble. A kinder, gentler gangsta in place of the most in-your-face artist in hip-hop. MTV got more than it bargained for -- and network execs say 50 Cent's dis of the Game won't make it on the air.

It's all part of a different tune for MTV. For years, sister channel VH1, with franchises such as "Storytellers" and "Behind the Music," has focused on programming that is, as they say, "about the music." MTV, in contrast, may be better known for showing the reflection of its fans and pop culture with non-music shows such as "Real World" and the currently white-hot "Laguna Beach." MTV has always been able to do celebrity. This is part of a push to also do art.

The setting earlier this week was a Glendale soundstage with 50 Cent atop a circular stage surrounded by screaming devotees. The night was constructed so that he would perform some of his hits and tell stories about his musical inspirations, just as Bruce Springsteen, Alanis Morissette and other rockers have done on "Storytellers."

And through most of the taping, the bullet-scarred rapper kept to his best behavior. He flashed his shy smile, bantered with and hugged fans.

"You haven't seen him in this forum," the show's co-creator and executive producer, Michele Dix, said before the show. "The idea is that he's going to respond to his setting and explain his music and his life, lyric by lyric."

And so he did in the program, slated to air Nov. 12. Yet the rapper (real name Curtis Jackson) couldn't resist the temptation to discredit one of his hip-hop rivals, the Game -- and thereby antagonize the local crowd.

Regional pride is one of hip-hop's driving forces -- some of the Game's hometown followers began to boo.

"You buy his records, you make me rich," 50 said.

The feud between the two label mates began early this year when 50 Cent accused the Game of being disloyal. In February, a member of the Game's entourage was shot outside New York radio station Hot 97 around the time 50 Cent was making an in-studio appearance, but the assailant remains unknown and police reported that 50 Cent was not involved in the dispute.

The MTV outburst was textbook behavior from 50 Cent, who legendarily survived being shot nine times in 2000 and who set the tone for his career -- and created some lasting enemies -- with his single "How to Rob," a satirical primer about sticking-up and brutalizing hip-hop hit-makers including Jay-Z and Lil' Kim.

Moreover, 50 Cent's current "beefs" with nearly two dozen hip-hop artists, producers and media mandarins have helped him define a public persona even as he's racked up a string of party-minded hit records, achieved household name status and amassed earnings last year estimated at upward of $50 million.

The timing of 50 Cent's latest remarks about the Game strike a refrain common in hip-hop: a controversial comment or incident occurring on the eve of the release of a new album, movie or TV show. In this case, 50 Cent's "Get Rich or Die Tryin' " movie, based on his rough-and-tumble upbringing in Queens, N.Y., is being released Nov. 9 by Paramount Pictures. In keeping with the spirit of its star, the movie is already under fire: Paramount has taken down some billboards after protests over the image of the brawny rapper with a gun in his hand.At the outset of "The Life & Rhymes..." the rapper said he would offer "something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue" -- the kind of framing device more likely to have been cooked up by an overzealous MTV producer than a guy whose idea of a fashion statement is a bulletproof vest.

In this case, the wedding custom was adapted to refer to song selection. The "old" song was "In Da Club," one of his first mainstream hits. The "new" song was "Hustler's Ambition" from the "Get Rich" soundtrack. ("Get Rich or Die Tryin' " is also the name of his 2003 album.) "Borrowed" was 50 Cent's cover version of Boogie Down Productions' 1987 classic, "The Bridge Is Over." And his "blue" track was "A Baltimore Love Thing."

Each performance was followed by the sound of a gunshot.

The audience sat rapt during his terse explanations of each song's history and rose to its feet several times as he performed abbreviated versions of them, backed only by his DJ, Whoo Kid.

In contrast to most rap artists' assertive posturing, 50 Cent's stage presence was downright minimalist -- with small, staggered dance steps, subtle hand parries and comparatively quiet vocals.

The decision to reawaken his most celebrated rivalry arrived suddenly, just moments after 50 Cent had performed "Many Men (Wish Death)," a song detailing the violent end awaiting his foes.

After asking who in the crowd enjoyed the Game's album and taking credit for its success, 50 Cent demanded that DJ Whoo Kid cue up the instrumental of Game's No. 1 single, "Hate It or Love It," a duet on which 50 Cent appears as a featured artist.

Pointedly, he rapped the Game's segment of the chorus:

Go ahead, envy me. I'm rap's MVP

And I ain't going nowhere so you can get to know me

Amid some boos and hesitant applause, 50 Cent appeared momentarily unsure. MTV executives may have been groaning backstage as the rapper said, "I don't want this to turn into a bashing session."

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