Literacy in the the hood!

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Recently I heard that 50 Cent has made a come back, not just with a new album but with a “business bible” (self-help book) on how to make things happen by conquering your fear and embracing the dog-eat-dog world of the hood… It all makes sense now: drug dealing, like rap artistry, is about entrepreneurialism, and Fiddy is the new Ophra… Of course, as its title and co-author suggest, this is not entirely Curtis Jackson’s baby – it is actually Robert Green’s, with Fiddy as the fall guy. Green’s famous The 48 Laws of Power has been reworked with a touch of bling by adding hip-hop to the mix. The result is an interracial buddy book about how to be a man in the shark infested world of the street or the boardroom – an existential treatise on self-fashioning that pursues masculinity as something of an authentic masquerade, about being yourself and about impersonating others.

Whether this will spawn a legion of imitations is yet to be seen, though that might happen, given that rap is about extending one’s brand into new lines of commodities. If so, we might get more dope advice from DMX, Eminem, Ice T and P Diddy, or better yet Jay-Z, Dr Dre or KRS-One. Such rappers may well have something more interesting – but perhaps less useful – to say about changing your life than Paul McKenna.

Certainly, Fiddy’s book marks a new incursion in popular music history, because this is a music star explicitly asking you in writing to role model yourself on him, rather than just asking you do something he would like you to do (“Share my pain”, “Vote green”, “Buy my record”, etc).

Strangely, its hard to decide whether ‘The 50th Law’ is a love song to black embourgeoisement or the kind of distillation of ghetto attitude that commentators like the BBC’s Mark Easton might detest. When its author talks about “black gang culture” and “shiny-faced young children”, Easton’s blog echoes the stereotypes long ago forwarded by blackface. It reminds me of the old times when concerned Salvation Army founder William Booth made forays into the squalid hovels of London and wrote them up as his 1890 bestseller ‘In Darkest England and the Way Out’. Over a century later, the same questions may just have a different answer: forget welfare and get an education, then transfer your hustling skills from the street to the office.

Of course the book’s achillese heel is its Neo-Manichean, even Neitzschean view of life: smack ’em first, before they have a chance to fight back; tough it out, keep fronting; grab what you desire, because nobody will offer it you on a plate… Is this riding on the entrails of the Thatcherite project to destroy society and leave capitalism in its wake? If so, just where is the love? Can’t masculinity be about altruism, seeing the bigger picture, acting responsibly and making bonds of love with your fellow travelers on this planet?

What seems clear is that there is a very interesting study to be conducted here about popular music, Foucaultian care of the self, explicit role modeling and ‘The 50th Law’ – both as an exposition of the dictum “Get rich or die trying” and as a treatise on being (and becoming) a man in an age where celebrities represent icons of social success: artistic spectacles and entrepreneurs, heavenly bodies and commodities.

So what is ‘The 50th Law’ ultimately about: celebrity endorsement, masculine therapy, business advice or existentialism? All of them and more. Its really a legal discourse with Fiddy in his role as judge and jury, rebranding himself in executive chic, and taking on the likes of rapper Alan Sugar in da bookstore. Now I bet you’re fired!