- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2005

FROM PIECES TO WEIGHT: ONCE UPON A TIME IN SOUTHSIDE QUEENS

By 50 Cent

MTV, $23.00, 240 pages, illus.

REVIEWED BY A. G. GANCARSKI

Curtis James Jackson III, better known to rap fans as 50 Cent, is no stranger to putting out commercially viable product. With over 20 million record sales worldwide to his credit, 50 Cent may be the most significant rapper of this new century. At one time, he had four separate entries in the Billboard Hot 100 — making him the first artist to do so since The Beatles in 1964.

Like any savvy entrepreneur, he has extended the 50 Cent brand to a dizzying array of commercial interests ranging from video games and casual clothing to mineral water. It would be possible to max out a credit card solely on material linked to 50 Cent, affixed with either his name or that of his crew, G-Unit. Given the artist’s demonstrated willingness to extend his brand, it’s fair to ask what took so long for MTV Books to release this memoir. After all, the publisher dropped a press release in May 2003, saying that the book would be out in time for the holiday shopping season that year.

The original concept for the 50 Cent memoir sounded like the sort of thing that could be read in an hour over coffee at Borders: “The book will cover the rapper’s life in detail, including how he overcame his history of drug dealing activities and surviving numerous attempts on his life. It will also feature poetry and lyrics taken directly from his personal scrapbooks. Rapper 50 Cent will also take Polaroid photos — one a day for 50 days — for the book.”

The finished product, released late this summer, sadly lacks certain of the elements teased in 2003. The Polaroid gimmick failed to make the final draft and the book also lacks said poetry and lyrics. MTV Books is best known for releasing books light on substance and heavy on recycled content. Releases like MTV’s “Jackass: the Official Movie Companion Book” and “TRL Photobooth: an MTV Overground Book” are every bit as insubstantial as their titles sound; the latter title, according to thepublisher’s website, offers “Over 200 celebrities. 61 sunglasses. 44 tongues. 28 goofy faces. 14 blown kisses. 12 heavy metal signs. 8 threesomes. The MTV studio photobooth has captured today’s biggest celebrities as they’ve never been seen before.” After surveying MTV Books’ list, it’s hard not to conclude that the publisher agrees with P.T. Barnum that a sucker is born every minute, so why not cash in while possible?

So why the delay? It undoubtedly would have been possible to cobble together the book described by the 2003 press release in a timely and profitable manner. But it appears that 50 flipped the script on his corporate masters. They wanted an ephemeral cash-in. Instead, 50 Cent wrote a serious book, one that is as relevant to the current era as “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” was decades ago. At a time when hoodrats, thugs, hustlers and gangstas seem desperately in

need of some sort of moral guidance, 50 Cent provides some here in this ultimately readable and useful volume.

The book shines not so much for the quality of the prose, which often is pedestrian, but for the sharpness of its insights. When 50 discusses his experiences selling crack, framing them in terms of “supply and demand curves” by way of making the provocative arguments that poverty breeds addiction and that prison really is a finishing school for criminals, it’s hard to argue with him. He is a reliable narrator and a proven commodity, and his insights into crack dealing are what Henry Kissinger’s are to statecraft. “You make money moving product. Moving product makes money go through your hands,” 50 asserts at one point, when arguing why street hustlers are always “grindin’” to sell as much as possible.

“From Pieces to Weight” is imbued with many starkly existential insights about the nature of fame, the difficulties of “getting over” in the rap game and, ultimately, the uncertainty of life in our nation’s teeming ghettos. Biggie Smalls, a rapper of a bygone era, once rhymed memorably that “If I wasn’t in the rap game, I’d probably have a key knee deep in the crack game. Because the streets is a short stop. Either you’re slingin crack rock or you got a wicked jumpshot.” 50 Cent’s memoir indicates that things haven’t gotten much better in the ‘hood, and suggests that things may get much worse before they get better.

A.G. Gancarski writes from Jacksonville, Fla.


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