Some day, there are going to be documentaries made about the 2000s, and then that documentary will provide the stylistic template for some award-winning movies.
One of those documentaries will be called “Get Rich or Die Tryin'”. How do I know this?
Because the 2000s represented the culmination of thirty years of a new American civic religion that treated the working class lifestyle as something objectionable and maybe immoral, and wealth, or its apparent trappings, as the sole measure of a person’s success; it is when we all became consumers rather than citizens. It is when appearance rather than substance became the way of valuing something.
50 Cent’s debut record, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ sold nearly a million records in its first week, and finalized the gradual transformation of hip hop music, the dominant musical style of the decade, from stories about poor and working class life in America’s crumbling big cities to pure bragadoccio about individual success and ferocity. Gangsterism took over one of America’s most precious cultural products at about the same time it took over the U.S. economy in the form of high finance bubbles and credit schemes that sold off the manufacturing base and then redistributed billions of dollars upward.
Working class life and dignity was erased from the popular culture, our stories and music became populated by elite cosmopolitans, professionals, and the rich and famous; at the same time, the economy stratified more rigidly, between the super wealthy and the insecure, and the stability and peace of working class life evaporated.
I hate 50 Cent’s music. I’ve been a hip hop fan since I heard Eric B. and Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” in a movie; but I was never a backpacker type. Nas, Mobb Deep, Biggie, Wu-Tang, and Ras Kass were my favorite groups and MCs as a teenager; so crime stories, battle rhymes and stories about sex and partying don’t offend me. But when Nas talked about the criminal lifestyle, even in his Nas Escobar persona, he was storytelling, creating a character. Even Mobb Deep, who pioneered the East Coast gangster style, don’t “glamorize” violence: listen to their classic The Infamous, and you get lost in a terrifying, high-stakes world of violence and poverty. Who would listen to the life Prodigy describes in “Shook Ones Pt. II” or “Drink Away the Pain” and think that life would be preferable to the cushy existence of the record executive who produced the record?