50 Cent was once shot nine times.
Wait -- you knew that already? Well, then I guess you can skip 50's new autobiography, "From Pieces to Weight," because the oft-told story of Curtis James Jackson III's run-ins with weaponry takes up a hefty chunk of narrative.
50's book is another in a long line of rap confessionals, which any casual follower of hip-hop knows have become more and more prevalent in recent years, as new bling-laden superstars continue to burst. Perhaps we can call it the "from rags to bitches" genre. But while 50's stab at a memoir is not without its occasional moments of interest, the reader is left staring at a surprisingly vacant, airless text, one utterly lacking in the freshness of language and spirit of confrontation that colors the most powerful hip-hop tunes.
That is not to say the book lacks humor; however, many of the lighter segments are unintentional. Here is 50 on the media obsession with his violent past: "Every time I sit down for an interview, I'm asked, 'Well, 50, how did it feel to get shot nine times?' Honestly, it didn't feel good.' "
Hardly a shocking discovery. Here is more on "the shooting":
After I got shot nine times at close range and didn't die, I started to think I must have a purpose in life, like, I have to be here for a reason. I was wondering, How was this nigga standing over me this close, bangin' off nine times and can't finish? All that fancy footwork; he's like Allen Iverson going to the basket, shakin' niggas but he can't get the basket in. There was a bullet wound in my face, but it didn't stop me or change me or nothing. It was just a tooth missing.
That's certainly evidence of a glass-half-full philosophy. But 50's constant return to getting shot seems hypocritical when coupled with his frequent wonderment at why everyone cares about these detail of his past: "I haven't shown my scars on television to sell records. I haven't let journalists feel the hole in my gum because it sells records. I've shared my reality because these are the real situations that happen where I come from . . . That's what I'm the poster child for. And I'd like to be nothing else."
This is undoubtedly a sincere request. But maybe the way 50 can halt the discussion of his wounds is by, perhaps, not bringing it up so much, or writing about it, or re-creating the scene in videos, etc.
Also rather humorous is 50's brief history of drugs: "Opium was around before Jesus. It was big in Asia, Europe and the Middle East -- they used it as medicine. . . . Cocaine's been around a long time, too. But it hasn't always been treated the way that it's treated today. In 1863, Italians used cocaine to make a wine that even the Pope loved so much that he raved about its ability to 'spark the divinity of the soul,' or something like that."
It is the "something like that" that boggles my mind. "Something like that?" Couldn't co-writer Kris Ex have chopped off the lazy wording and spared us the inconclusiveness? This is a wonderful example of what makes this rather short book seem like a rush job.
But this is not necessarily 50's fault. I would place more blame on the proud mantle of MTV Books, whose list of gems includes MTV's "Jackass: The Official Companion Book" (I'll be the first to admit there is some warped sense of genius at work in "Jackass," but who would care to read about it besides Johnny Knoxville's grandmother or Bam Margera's old man?) and the spine-tinglingly stupid-sounding "TRL Photobooth."
Back to 50. The book's most touching moments and the sections that hard-core fans might feel the closest connection to are the stories of Curtis' childhood, especially its revolving list of colorful characters.
One is Old Man Dan, an arms dealer who "used to walk around with dark sunglasses, a large cowboy hat and matching boots. He drove a big, bright red Cadillac that had Indian feathers hanging from the rearview mirror. He said he was a cowboy because blacks used to be cowboys. Although no one ever really speaks about black cowboys anymore, they were real, according to Dan. As his way of keeping the legacy of the black cowboy alive, Dan purchased guns out of state and sold them in the 'hood for twice what he paid."
That's one way of making history come alive. Also memorable is Sergeant Napparan, who 50 met while serving time at Monterey Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility (sounds like a fun place, doesn't it?) in upstate New York, which 50 calls "a place staffed by a group of former military drill instructors who felt that the armed forces' short training sessions didn't give them enough time to properly mind . . . people."
Napparan "stood all of 5 feet 2 inches. His body was 140 pounds of pure muscle . . . And (he) was in charge of my platoon." 50 became Napparan's most despised inmate, but he emerges from their battles alive and hardened. In fact, it is clear that it is events and figures such as these that led to where he is today.
Those familiar with 50's story know his controversial rise well -- meeting the late Jam Master Jay, taking the name 50 Cent, putting out underground mix-tapes, his rivalries with Ja Rule and his fortuitous meeting with the Batman and Robin of hip-hop, Dr. Dre and Eminem, followed by smash singles like "In Da Club" and two of the most successful albums in rap history, "Get Rich or Die Tryin" and 2005's "The Massacre."
Besides that album, this year has also seen 50 appear in Buffalo on the Anger Management Tour, and will soon see his own shoe line and video game, and now, his book.
It's a shame that "From Pieces to Weight" is such a snooze, because 50 himself is clearly not. His interviews are often remarkably candid and show a colorful personality and an ability to poignantly contemplate his triumph over poverty, violence and hopelessness.
This is what makes the possibilities for 50's upcoming bio-pic, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," so fascinating. While the film's trailer does not look particularly groundbreaking, there is reason to hope it will be more "8 Mile" than "Cool as Ice."
From Pieces to Weight
Once Upon a Time in Southside Queens
By 50 Cent
240 pages, $23
Christopher Schobert is a free-lance Buffalo reviewer.