New Yorkers know. Hip-hop fans know. Black folks definitely know.
If you’ve seen rap music grow from indie street culture darling to a billion-dollar stock option, you’re not at all surprised by 50 Cent voting for Donald Trump, since “I don’t want to be 20cent.” History is a shifty liar and betrays truths but for so long. The real estate mogul turned dictator and the rap star turned media provocateur have a lot in common:
Donald Trump spits bars with the best of rappers, hyperbole his signature move. His stump speeches pound out rhymes that play to his own jingoistic beat. 50 Cent is a lot like Donald Trump as host of The Apprentice, a tyrant and a jokester at the height of his powers styling stagecraft for low-brow television and simpering sycophants. They are sons of Queens, an inimitable but also-ran county desperate to catch up to Manhattan chic and Brooklyn grit. They both want to silence estranged baby mamas with gag orders and counter-rumors. They plaster products with their names so there’s no mistaking the founders and no room for hangers-on, offspring notwithstanding. They’re both slick, successful, and transparently insecure. They deride perceived enemies and bulldoze threats to their power, rumbling until there is only dust left behind (see: Ja Rule, Jeb Bush).
Then, there's hip-hop: an apt metaphor for President Donald Trump. Few art forms lionize the individual voice like rap music. Few people have embodied the archetype rich-is-as-rich-does like the gold-toilet-throned King of America. What could be more apple pie and tax break than scratching and clawing your way to the top, leaving only a gaggle of haters and envy in your wake?
Before hip-hop became the stomping ground for the richest, it was a beat and some rhymes married in perfect syncopation. As the marketplace selected for individuals over groups, it mirrored other industries, propelling the greediest, sneeriest patron saints of dog-eat-dog to the top. In a twisted bit of social Darwinism, anyone willing to abandon the greater good to cruise a yellow brick road of Bentleys and Maybachs could outlast their peers. They’d go on to carve out small fortunes playing TV cops and movie dads.
When I first saw 50 Cent in person, at the Viacom office where he was producing a variety sketch show, he seemed more like a very contented man named Curtis Jackson. To celebrate the premiere episode, he did what few stars would: descended from above to greet the people, his fans in the cubicles. He made sure to flirt with every female staffer in a unique way: “Nobody told you to be looking so good in that dress, sweetheart,” “Put your number in my phone and I’m calling you as soon as I leave here and it’s not a HR issue,” and so on. He walked his live social media broadcast through three floors like this, glad-handing starstruck thirtysomethings and slanting his smile just so. It wasn’t just charming; it was Trump-like. He knew the content of his compliments mattered less than that he seemed to mean them. He made you believe you were special. He ordered bouquets of flowers for the women and elbowed the men in the ribs as they took selfies.
Look at 50 Cent’s second brush with fame, the sun long set on his Billboard hits and acclaimed albums, when he had the number one drama on cable, according to him, and he wanted more. In an interview promoting a second show, called 50 Central, on BET, he made sure to remind the network's that he wanted to beat Irv Gotti’s premiere week, or otherwise crush his long time rival’s show into oblivion. Gotti, the co-founder of Murder Inc., Ja Rule’s label, was set to release an episodic musical show, remaking classic rap songs into 30-minute soap operas.
Both shows quickly folded, but the Queens rapper’s visit was instructive because it hinted at the pathos that now dominates rap music and American politics alike. The sleazy, unkind figures know how to play nice with admirers, luring them away from quality choices in favor of feel-good guff. 50 Cent stops at nothing to berate and ridicule everyone from the lead actress on his show, Power, to his doppelganger son. He asserts his power by keeping all of the attention, money, and fame to himself. The only accessory he’s missing is a bright orange pompadour.
50 Cent joins Ice Cube and Kanye West as the middle-age rappers who became sad examples of how hip-hop’s solo acts cling to an outdated, broken code of ethics. The bluster that made Trump a larger-than-life demagogue could extend a rap phenom’s half-life by another decade. While that’s all fine and good for sneaker deals and golf courses, it’s worrisome when one of the most poignant genres in counterculture becomes a mouthpiece for supervillains. It’s not supposed to be so eerie when the mic drops.