(In this series, I put my digital music collection on random, and skip to the 33rd song, and try to find something to write about whatever it is)
In a 2012 interview, 50 Cent said that his favorite of his own lyrics is the line that opens “In Da Club” - “Go Shorty, it’s your birthday.”
I mean, okay. It's pretty much the perfect opening, but it’s just not the line you expect a rapper to pick. 50 Cent is not the kind of rapper that gives a shit if we’re impressed by his rapping.
I’ve always loved the hip-hop lineage of “laid-back to the point where it’s intimidating” (Slick Rick, Snoop), and I was mostly fine with the more recent vibe of “I don’t need to be super good, because I’m friends with Biggie” (Puffy, Ma$e), but in the early 2000s I wrote 50 Cent off. I decided that he was just bad at rapping.
At the time, my thinking about what’s “good” used some boxes like this, with only the upper two boxes rating.
But no, I don't really think 50 Cent is doing something easy. Think of all the rappers that do the “difficult” kind of rapping. Picture MF Doom or Eminem pulling off “go shorty, it's your birthday.” They couldn't, not without it reading as sarcasm. Nas is way too self-serious. Kendrick seems like he can do anything, but I’m not so sure. A few could swing it, Andre 3000 and Method Man, maybe.
50 Cent is outside these boxes. He’s in a box I’d call “Doing What You Do and Trying Not To Get Too Caught Up In It.”
So, “Get In My Car.”
Like 50’s rapping, the track (by Hi-Tek) isn’t too concerned with itself. The drums are barely there besides the open-close disco/house hi-hat thing. In place of a snare, a couple offset handclaps at the far edges of your headphones. A couple snare rolls (or machine gun fire?) here and there.
The guitar is a tiny melody played in sets of two. The first time, each note is picked separately. The second, there's a slide from the first to second note, like the guitar player was trying to decide which way to phrase it and the producer chose both.
It almost sounds like this recording exists because the tape was running as the guitarist warmed up to record "21 Questions” I haven’t heard "21 Questions" in years, but I can instantly recall that little guitar thing. The tone, the exact phrasing. It’s perfect. I've been listening to "Get In My Car" on and off for a couple days, and I can never bring the guitar part to mind.
The bass follows a pattern that doesn't feel like a pattern. Like the guitar, you get the sense that the musician was trying some stuff out, and someone said "cool, we got what we need." The instruments seem to channel 50, doing whatever, knowing it’ll be fine.
50 Cent is exactly right for the track. His tone, the way he glides over the music, is the vocal equivalent of knowing that no one will ever try to fuck with you. The sonic embodiment of not being worried about it.
Lyrically, there are some different vibes.
He runs through his major themes- he’s a badass and the only reason he’s not doing crime right this second is because rap money is still coming in. Then it switches to the main topic: girls want to have sex with 50 Cent.
The title is weirdly a step removed from its context. He never says “Get In My Car” directly to a woman in the song, he tells us, the listeners, that “get in my car” is a thing he says.
It’s 2017, not even a month into the new presidency, and it’s hard to not think of Trump when hearing 50 brag to strangers that women will do whatever he wants.
But 50 doesn’t come off as a sexual predator. He’s only interested if they are. Anything more would be admitting he has to try. I feel like if 50 Cent asked you to hand him something, he would take it from you in a way that made you extend your arm a little, or get up out of your chair, or come around to his side of the table.
But he does (kind of) want love (maybe). He says “First it's pain when you lust for love.” He’s been thinking about it ever since it was Shorty’s birthday, “they like me, I want ‘em to love me like they love Pac.” At the end of “Get In My Car” random sex in the back of his Jeep leads to fantasizing about ending up in the woman’s home, in her bed, in her life. Something’s missing.
At another point he sets us up for a personal revelation, “Look into the windows of my soul, the eyes never lie,” but he just wants us to see that his eyes are bloodshot. He’s high. It’s a funny fake-out that still sounds lonely.
The type of hustling 50 Cent grew up with must be one of the more hellish levels of wax-on wax-off repetition. He’s escaped that, and he’s trying to find some fun in all this, but it’s still kind of a grind. He knows he should be happy, but he’s just… I don’t know… fine?
It's all already boring for him. He doesn't really care about the partying, the sex, the drugs. He doesn’t care that it’s not even really Shorty’s birthday (which is the actual best part of the “In Da Club” opening). And his favorite of his own lyrics? He didn’t even write it, exactly. Luke from 2-Live Crew sued him (unsuccessfully) for how close it is to lines from “It’s Your Birthday."
But none of it matters. He’s doing what he does, and not worrying too much about it. Imagine how impossibly low the stakes must feel at this point, he’s escaped poverty, crime, actual violent death. Compare “Get In My Car” to “Life’s On The Line” from his first album. Listen to how hungry he sounds, how hard he’s working. If the music route didn’t work out, 50 Cent knew what he’d be going back to. The title is literally true.
In “Life’s On The Line,” 50 Cent says “I’ma say this shit now and never again, we ain’t buddies, we ain’t partners, and we damn sure ain't friends.” Then, one album later, on “Get In My Car,” he says it again, “we ain’t buddies, we ain’t partners, and we damn sure ain’t friends.”
50 Cent made it, he’s fine, his life is no longer on the line. At this point, for him, it’s just like we heard in the presidential debates, “It’s just words, folks. Just words.”
(Now to press skip 33 times and… up next, “Little Honda” by Yo La Tengo!)
Letters of Recommendation - A weekly recommendation of new or old music, art, film, theatre, or writing.