50 Cent is 42, barely out bankruptcy and rich as sin. His pal Bitcoin turned 9 earlier this month; 17 million have been conjured from the ether (not to be confused with one of its cryptocurrency competitors), each unit currently “worth” north of $10,000. Extremely durable, 50 Cent was shot nines time in 2000—including in the face—and survived. Draining some 200 kilowatt-hours of electricity for each transaction, Bitcoin can’t even be seen, much less gunned down, as it flits around the energy-sucking Blockchain.
As for chains, blocky or streamlined, 50 cent was still sporting serious bling even after he declared himself insolvent in 2015, claiming that his debts of $30,000,000 outstripped his assets by a cool ten mill. Never mind that many observers estimated that he had enjoyed returns of nine figures on his investment in Vitaminwater, later bought for big bucks by Coca Cola. As of two-and-half-years ago, 50 cent could boast the paradoxical cred guarantees his membership in that most exclusive club of the monstro-rich: he was broke and worth millions.
Especially interested in the rapper’s bank accounts and glittering accouterments, was one Lastonia Leviston, former girlfriend of 50 Cent’s archrival, Rick Ross. Leviston had her hand out for payment of a six million dollar civil judgment sustained against the supposedly bankrupt 50 Cent (born Curtis Jackson III) for his leaking on Instagram of a sex-tape feature her and Ross, from whom—if reports are to be believed—50 Cent had bought the film. (As the faked Kanye West-Taylor Swift feud demonstrated, showbiz hostilities are often fabricated for the mutual infamy and shared financial gain of the supposed combatants.)
Similarly eyebrow-raising for his creditors were Instagram photos presented to the U. S. Bankruptcy court in Hartford in the summer of 2015 showing 50 Cent surrounded not by stacks of pennies, but heaps of large bills. The cash was fake, the rapper explained to Judge Ann Nevins. At another court appearance in Manhattan 50 Cent disclaimed ownership of the luxury he literally wrapped himself in: the jewelry, fancy cars, and swank suits were borrowed, rented, or leased. All was either an illusion or not really his in the first place.
Even before entering bankruptcy, from which he was released last February, 50 Cent understood the merits of financial diversification, not to say obfuscation. His restructuring was worthy of another master of recursive English speech patterns, relentless braggadocio (his word), and the art of bankruptcy: Snoop Donn-ald T.
Even if 50 Cent would never be virtuous, he could well make it to the virtual; if not heavenbound, he could at least land in a tax haven or kindred sanctuary that would keep the debt-collecting hounds at bay—though not at Jamaica Bay, Queens from whence the rapper hails, and where, once in control of his fiscal destiny again, he gave away 500 turkeys last Thanksgiving. It was also in South Jamaica that he was shot in front of his grandmother’s house nearly two decades ago.
Surrounded by a posse of accountants and lawyers (true, he ended up successfully suing some of them for malpractice) as nimble with numbers as he is with words, 50 Cent was not simply hiding his wealth. He was playing the corporate shell game of the powerful, implementing his strategy to join highest echelons of the global elite.
Way back in 2014, 50 cent already sensed it was time to encrypt, if not himself, then at least some of his money. That year he broke from his long-time record company, Interscope, and moved over to Virgin Records for the release of his fifth album, Animal Ambition. It is that product, ancient by the light speed of pop culture, that has now rocketed 50 cent back into the limelight this past week.
“Funeral,” a track hyping the 2014 album, was released as a preview on Forbes.com—an unlikely outlet that confirmed 50 cent’s ambitious not just for wealth, but for the prestige it can be bring. The synergy between 50 cent and Forbes pointed to an obvious truth: that, if one takes the lyrics at face value (admittedly the rapper is way beyond such antiquated notions), gangbangers love to talk about money even more than the boys at Forbes. After all, 50 Cent’s debut album of 2003 was called Get Rich or Die Tryin’. By the time of the artist’s bankruptcy that record had sold more than eight million copies in the United States alone.
One of the most illuminating, tracks on Animal Ambition, if only thanks to its mendacity, is “Chase the Paper.” In it, 50 Cent repeatedly declares his love of money even over the lures of the flesh:
You chase the hoes, I chase the paper
You a sucker for love, nigga, I’m money making
But by 2015, 50 Cent wasn’t chasing paper. He was chasing Bitcoin. 50 Cent agreed to be paid for the album in part with Bitcoin. For his labors he got 700 of them, then worth around $600 a pop. The crtypo-coin is now 20 times more valuable. This week 50 Cent claimed he remembered that he had the stash, currently amounting to between 7 and 8 million dollars. “Not bad for a kid from South Side, I’m so proud of me,” he wrote on Instagram a few days ago. Snoop has nothing on 50 Cent in the ego department.
No one believed 50 cent’s alleged amnesia, least of all, one can be sure, Judge Nevins and Lastonia Leviston. Not even a full year out of bankruptcy, 50 cent and Bitcoin felt enough time had gone by that they could safely launch their publicity stunt earlier this week, the former trumpeting his financial acumen and at the same time boosting the image of the latter, which has shed nearly half of its value since a Christmas craze took the price to 20K per piece.
You can bet 50 Cent had not forgotten about his buddy Bitcoin. For all its bluster about dedication to “real” money, “Chase the Paper” is really about the end of the affair. The track can’t escape the melancholic confinement of its aimless C minor riff and sluggish beat, these barren musical features paralleling the video’s shots of Bavarian roadsters, tricked-out motorcycles, and crazy motorized trikes spinning out on urban pavement—the visual analog of the ennui that seems to deaden the one-time greenback lusts of the self-proclaimed “super-ghetto” accumulator of wealth.
Once a bard of the seething poetry of the American Dream, 50 cent is writing a new gospel of wealth. Whereas Henry Ford delighted in fiddling on the Stradivarius’ violins he collected, and Andrew Carnegie built the world’s concert hall, 50 Cent loves money more than music—but it not longer takes the form of bags of cash.
He still raps about making money the old-fashioned way, as in his single “Major Distribution” of 2013:
I’m trying to move 1 one brick, 2 brick, 3 bricks, four, more
I’m trying to move 5 bricks, 10 bricks, 20 bricks raw
But even back then this was nostalgic claptrap from the Forbes crooner and soon-to-be Bitcoin speculator. 50 Cent’s loot had long been finding other ways to be won and moved.
“Major Distribution” was a collaboration with Snoop Dogg and Jeezy, whose “American Dream” of last year also professes to indulge in sensual thrill of cash:
I just want a big ol’ bag of money when I see my jeweler
Get a hard-on when I’m counting up that mula.
This sentiment is not specific to 50 cent’s South Side and to the greed-driven now.
In centuries past, musicians yearned to have Emperors present them with gold chains that 50 cent would eagerly have borrowed. J. S. Bach and his followers never forgot that he was cheated out of a 100 gold pieces after winning a keyboard competition in Dresden in 1717 against a Frenchman from way outside the hood. Monetary rewards from the powerful were often held to be proof of musical greatness that superseded even peer recognition.
50 cent still raps about real money when he of all people knows that the virtual is where it’s at. His “unexpected” Bitcoin payday revealed that he long ago moved from the Mean Streets to Wall Street and beyond.
(David Yearsley is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His recording of J. S. Bach’s organ trio sonatas is available from Musica Omnia. He can be reached at email@example.com.)