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50 Cent’s 21 Questions

 

By Mtume ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

 

It must be hard for a girl to love a rapper. If she somehow survives everything that comes along with him being him — his homies, the groupies, the ego, the emotional distance, the physical distance, the psychological distance — she’s still going to have to come up with a satisfactory answer to the one question every rapper seems to have for every girl: “If I wasn’t a rapper, would you still love me?”

How can a girl answer a question like that? Why do so many rappers ask it? Imagine these same cats calling home from on tour:

    Woman’s voice: “Hello?”
    Rapper: “Hey, Mom. It’s me.”
    Woman: “Hi, son. How are you?”
    Rapper: “I’m alright.”
    Woman: “That’s good.”
    Rapper: “Mom, can I ask you a question?”
    Woman: “Sure, honey. Anything.”
    Rapper: “If I wasn’t your child, would you still love me?”

When the rapper gets around to asking the girl The Question (and sooner or later, he will), she must of course answer ‘yes.’ It doesn’t matter if she has a few questions of her own.

 

Questions like, “How would I know?” Or, “If I wasn’t pretty, would you still love me?” Or, most obviously, “You are actually a rapper, aren’t you?”

 

Not that her ‘yes’ will placate him anyway. Any man who is a) paranoid, b) insecure and c) rich enough to ask a girl a question like that won’t be satisfied by anything short of blood. Or maybe a limb. Or two.

Which is the genius of 50 Cent’s “21 Questions.” Instead of being satisfied with merely asking the question once, 50 re-phrases it 20 times, each statement carrying with it varying degrees of complexity and transparency.

 

Essentially, it’s a paranoid inquest, a wild goose chase, a winding road leading to nowhere. But 50’s methodology turns what could have been a garden-variety interrogation into the hip-hop equivalent of a high stakes game show. And just like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, some of the questions are laughably simple.

 

Like the penultimate question: “Could you love me in a Bentley?” There’s an easy ‘yes’ if there ever was one. The ultimate question is a little tougher: “Could you love me on a bus?” Before she answers that one, the young lady might want to ask for a lifeline or help from the audience or something.

To an extent, 50’s paranoia and insecurity are understandable. He’s young, he’s famous, he’s rich. So much of his identity is tied into not who he is but what he does. He is 50 Cent, rapper. As such, he must wonder about every encounter. If he were Curtis Jackson, bus driver, he’d never have to wonder whether a girl is into him specifically or bus drivers generally. Then again, he wouldn’t be rich and famous either.

 
It’s no coincidence that 50 begins his love song (if that’s what it is) with a shot-out to both
New York City and to himself. (“New York City!” he calls out. “You are now rockin’ with 50 Cent. You gotta love it!”) For the girl, the inevitable conclusions are: he’s always on stage and always in the spotlight. She’d better get used to it.

She’d also better get used to illogical, asymmetric and outrageous requests. In less than four minutes, 50 finds a way to ask his girl to be ok with sudden loss of wealth, chronic infidelity, occasional body odor, and of course, a potential 25-year prison term.

 

And then there’s that thing he slips in about her being an accessory to murder. Talk about small requests!

Mtume ya Salaam is a published writer and an expert on contemporary Black music. He lives in New Orleans, USA and can be reached at mtume_s@yahoo.com.

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