Follow the money

50 Cent's new album devalues his skills to pay the bills

Even before you rip open the packaging on 50 Cent’s new album, “The Massacre,” you’ve got a pretty good idea of where he’s going to take you.

The rap kingpin strikes a shirtless pose on the CD cover, his chest and biceps almost popping through the plastic casing. On top of the photo, though, are sketched pencils. It’s as if his corporate bosses at Interscope Records had designers not only outline the position they wanted 50 standing in on the cover but also drew up the rapper himself.

At this point in his career, this might be the best way to engage 50. He is the rapper as a commodity.

There’s no doubt 50 is talented – and human too. He wasn’t just whipped up in some corporate boardroom. He came from the streets, equipped with real skills and a hard-knocks back story to match. But discussing him as simply a gangsta rapper isn’t enough anymore.

We could talk at length about the misogyny and violence that pervades his music. Most people don’t do enough of that. We could also talk about the reasons why 50 is misogynistic and violent. Most people don’t do enough of that, either.

With “The Massacre,” though, buying into 50 as anything but a commodity becomes tremendously hard, especially when the rapper himself is endorsing this arrangement.

Most telling is his now infamous diss track, “Piggy Bank.” Over a crushing beat, he takes shots at, most notably, Fat Joe, Jadakiss and Nas. While his ongoing beef with Ja Rule goes beyond music (it started in the streets), 50’s new targets are simply business opportunities. What’s alarming, though, is how up front 50 is with his money-making scheme.

The chorus of “Piggy Bank” goes like this: “Clickity-clank, clickity-clank/ The money falls into my piggy bank.” At first, the sound of 50’s bank account swelling seems out of place on a diss record. But because these new rivalries are seemingly meaningless, it actually makes all the sense in the world.

Rap wars sell records. So maybe 50 should be commended for being so honest.

What 50 is forgetting, though, is that his hands aren’t the only ones dipping into his piggy bank. Jimmy Iovine and the suits at Interscope get a piece of the money 50 will make off his new war of words. And then there’s parent company Universal Music Group, whose own piggy bank grows bigger and bigger as 50’s new beefs only further the conglomerate’s corporate empire.

50 ends the song with, “This is chess not checkers, these are warning shots/ After your next move I’ll give you what I got.”

This man can deliver devastating lyrics and flow better than most MCs. But in his present position, what more does he got than a big barcode stamped on the back of his neck?