Sunday, November 3, 2013

Get Rich Or Die Tryin : The Epistemology Of Egoists in Rap Music Part 1

It's been 10 years since Get Rich Or Die Tryin propelled Curtis (50 Cent) Jackson from mixtape obscurity to multimillionaire cultural icon. The autobiographical nature of his writing delivered an authenticity die hard rap fans and casual listeners gravitated to. "Fifty's" story was so full of doubt, sorrow, and hopelessness that risking your life to escape it seemed like a reasonable choice.

"Get rich or die tryin" wasn't a new proposition. It was the articulation of the desperation necessary to subscribe to this mantra. 50 wasn't a pioneer; he just made his declaration outloud for the world to hear. I've compiled lyrics from the song "Many Men" to show how this mindset is cultivated and ultimately accepted as a creed. Society's mistake in trying to understand this type of music is best summed up by a Wesley Snipes line from the movie White Men Can't Jump: They listened to the music but didn't hear it.

Here's a quote from "Many Men":

 Many men, many, many, many, many men
Wish death 'pon me
Lord I don't cry no more
Don't look to the sky no more
Have mercy on me
Have mercy on my soul
Somewhere my heart turned cold
Have mercy on many men
Many, many, many, many men
Wish death upon me

The catharsis in these lyrics are drowned out by the violence that surrounds them. The message loses its meaning when violence sticks out so much further than pain. Again, a quote from the same song: 

50's cries for help are pushed aside for the kind of proactive justice that can be found on the streets. 50 isn't a deist in the traditional sense; he believes in a God who watches from above, but never blows his whistle on the foulness of life. He isn't waiting for miracles; he doesn't believe in them. The idea that he could be a pacifists and a killer is hypocritical or paradoxical depending on how you read this song. Growing up without a father and having his mother killed when he was a child hardened his heart. 

There's a verse in this song that does a better job of appropriating his existential angst than I can:

For the niggas on lock, doing life behind bars

Most people cringe at the thought of dying young, yet Fifty embraced the proposition as a way out of a hard life. He understands that pain is a component of life, but feels as if he has had more than his share of rainy days. This is the confession of a tired soul. 50 doesn't want to be a gangster, but doesn't see another way to survive. This is rational egoism at its best. He acts in a way that allows him to survive. "Get Rich" wasn't successful because of  beats or a marketing strategy. People identified with the message. For a segment of society this was the truth of their life; for others, it was a glimpse into a world they could only visit through song.  

Most who come from a different time, socioeconomic background, or culture completely misread the problem of inner city crime. One of the conventional wisdoms is that these kids don't value life. The scarier reality is that these kids do value life, but at a lower price than most of us would be comfortable with. Over the next few weeks I'll be breaking down rational egoism in rap music and its much more dangerous brother psychological egoism.