I’m not the only person who finds 50 Cent a fascinating figure. His landmark album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, is one of the top ten best selling albums in rap history, and is perhaps the only rap album ever to have a feature film made of it. While living in Belize during the summer of 2005, I stumbled upon a middle-schooler’s yearbook in a house I was doing construction on. Nearly every child’s yearbook quote was either a line from Get Rich or Die Tryin’, or from Eminem’s then current album. While Eminem’s popularity endures (he was the most frequently chosen musical artist by my sociology students last year, when asked to analyze rap lyrics), 50 Cent’s popularity has faded.
Still, the title Get Rich or Die Tryin’ encapsulates the capitalist ethos better than any I’ve ever come across in any genre. It states that poor people are not just worth less, but are worthless. From a public policy perspective, this isn’t too far off. In post-welfare-reform America, the Protestant work ethic is all that stands between many people and starvation.
Ironically, 50’s net-worth is now in the red, due to him losing nearly $25M in lawsuits. This hasn’t stopped him, however, from posting photos of himself posing with stacks of cash to Instagram. When a federal judge called 50 into court over these photos, 50’s lawyer argued that the pictures are a vital part of 50’s marketing strategy.
If I were 50’s lawyer, however, I would go one step further. In college, I wrote a paper about the cultural significance of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ in serving capitalistic hegemony. I would send this essay to the judge, and argue that 50 is actually doing a public service by posting these photos. Capitalism has, according to one survey, recently become less popular than socialism among American youth. If the capitalistic system is to endure its looming moral bankruptcy, it must support those struggling artists who do so much to promote it.