Hip-Hop: Publicity Stuntin’ 101?

Hardly any recent story in Hip-Hop has buzzed quite as loudly as what some are now calling an overblown rift between rapper 50 Cent and G-Unit recruit, The Game. In a move that surprised observers, 50 Cent publicly dropped The Game from his clique on New York radio station HOT 97 in early March – the very same week his sophomore album, The Massacre, was slated to drop.

As soon as it occurred, many felt Game was a sacrificial lamb in 50’s unwavering drive to drum up sales. However, after one man was wounded by gunfire some questioned whether or not this was a press stunt or not. Nevertheless, The Massacre skyrocketed to the top of the charts, boasting sales of 1.1 million units in just four days.

Following a tried-and-true method, 50 Cent publicized his “Piggy Bank”, a track that disses Nas, Fat Joe, Shyne and Jadakiss. Initially, 50 got the public’s mouth watering for the song when he apparently attempted to premier it on the Hot 97, but DJ Funk Master Flex refused. However, as time passed and the release date neared, Flex bowed and played the song and even offered the scorned rappers the opportunity to call in and respond.

According to Fat Joe, he told 50 Cent almost three months prior that there were no problems between the two, and he says that 50 Cent was waging a press stunt. “[50 Cent] went on the radio and made a crazy move. He’s definitely a publicity stunt, no doubt about it.” Fat Joe added that he doesn’t know about The Game situation, but he said that he felt used, like 50 tried to gain additional credibility dissing him when they could have handled the situation differently.

In stark contrast, ‘hustler/rapper’ Cormega spoke with AllHipHop recently, and voiced the skepticism he shares with many of his rap peers about the whole ordeal being contrived. “[The beef] was three days old, but if it escalated any further, it could’ve gone to years of despair,” said Cormega. “You got a dude gettin’ shot downstairs at a radio station. You got a dude that’s affiliated with street people in the West, and a dude that’s affiliated in the East. It could’ve gone further.”

As the old adage goes, “there’s no such thing as bad press”, but some believe the media’s propensity to sensationalize disagreements within the Hip-Hop community has led to bi-coastal street clashes and even conflicts within crews – most having little to do with music and more to do with clout.

Case in point is the still unfolding Lil’ Kim story. Just days ago the controversial female rapper was found guilty of two counts of perjury for lying to a grand jury about her knowledge of a high profile shooting outside Hot 97 four years ago. Kim’s efforts to duck the case’s media spotlight may have caused a riff within her Junior Mafia family, resulting in testimony against her and possible incarceration.

Still, there are artists, while they might not admit it, who are perceived to be readily seeking out the spotlight – and some of them choose to air personal problems or grievances over the airwaves and on CDs for more attention. Cormega said that another glaring example of artist hype is when rappers do things like give out turkeys on Thanksgiving. “I hate that s**t,” he fumed. “When people do good things for credit, that’s a publicity stunt.” Perhaps publicity isn’t entirely credited to violence.

Many of today’s popular rappers aren’t strangers to crime and violence – stories of their arrests for charges ranging from gun clapping to assault to drug possession are fixtures on the evening news and in magazines. Publicity about beef between artists is just as prevalent in the media – one needs only refer back to Eazy E vs. Dr. Dre, Common vs. Ice Cube, and Biggie vs. Tupac for proof.

According to journalist Adisa “The Bishop of Hip Hop” Banjoko, violence is a commodity. “It’s cheaper for these rappers to get publicity for having a gun in the car or starting a fight than to pay a marketing company $200,000 to make a comprehensive marketing campaign,” he explained. “Nothing sells in Hip-Hop like toughness. The more times you’ve been shot, stabbed or in prison, your stock rises.”

As far as 50 Cent and The Game are concerned, Cormega feels like more credit should be given to the two for squelching what could have turned ugly. “I think for people to say that it was a publicity stunt, it just shows how far we haven’t come in Rap,” he says. “These two [rappers] of epic proportions in the Rap game just squashed a beef.”

In today’s record company frenzy to sell millions of units, an artist’s well-timed or well-exposed drama can translate into another platinum plaque on the wall. It’s not surprising that AllHipHop found some intriguing correlations in Hip-Hop – other rappers whose openly televised street theatre may have helped to lift them further into notoriety:

Back in 1999, Rap icon Jay-Z was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon for the stabbing of music executive Lance “Un” Rivera. Just three weeks later, this seemingly outrageous act involving Jay-Z helped draw attention to his CD Volume 3: The Life and Times of S. Carter , which Jay-Z had accused Rivera of bootlegging long before its release. Rivera later stated that his altercation with Jay was some type of business arrangement, but not quite a publicity stunt. “[The altercation] was business,” Rivera stated in a previous interview with AllHipHop.com. “You know what I’m sayin’? Even in Hip-Hop you need hype to sell records. Back then I was known for the hype. Business people got alone and figured out how to sell the Hard Knock Life 2 album. At the time Jay-Z faced 15 years in jail. How likely is the notion that he’d risk all of his success for a press stunt of this legal type?”

Rapper Eminem made headlines in June 2002, just two weeks after the release of The Marshall Mathers LP, when he was arrested and charged with brandishing a weapon against members of the rival Insane Clown Posse. That same night, he was charged with possession of a concealed weapon and felony assault for pistol-whipping a man in a Detroit club who was kissing his wife.

In 2003, 50 Cent made his disrespect for Ja Rule known on the track “Beg for Mercy”, blasting Rule mostly for his lack of street credibility. The ensuing war of words culminated in a call for mediation by the Nation of Islam’s Minister Louis Farrakhan in November of that year. 50 Cent refused to sit down with the two, calling Ja Rule’s talks with the minister a “publicity stunt” in connection with the release of his CD Blood In My Eye.

Farrakhan isn’t the only Black leader to step into the center of a potential rap war involving 50 Cent. The recent 50 vs. The Game incident prompted Reverend Al Sharpton to lay blame on the record companies that produce and market their music. “He threatened to boycott some of the labels,” said Rap legend Diamond D. “He had a meeting with the FCC, and I think [the label’s figured, ‘F**k it, let’s just squash it and move on.”

Banjoko tends to agree with Sharpton about the labels’ involvement: “They may not explicitly tell a rapper to go start some drama…but they’ll do as little as possible to curb the violence and facilitate peace between rappers. They bank on beef.”

Though some feared that the media photos of crime scene tape and police cars outside Hot 97 a few weeks ago painted an ominous picture of what might come next, 50 Cent and The Game surprised everyone by calling an early truce to their battle. At a press conference held at New York’s Schomberg Center for the Research of Black Culture, the two reluctantly shook hands and The Game offered an apology for the hoopla they had caused.

“As far as past publicity stunts, I really don’t know of any,” said Diamond D, who also isn’t willing to concede that the actions of his peers weren’t genuine. “Hip Hop is like the streets. Nobody plays with nobody like that – we cool or we not.”

As the peace treaty was being declared between 50 Cent and The Game, signified with larger-than-life fat checks donated to the Boys Choir of Harlem and music programs for kids in California, announced via radio stations across the country. Perhaps Cormega’s point resonates. Is the record industry machine capable of burning our curiosity with beef, then soothing our consciousness with the charitable olive branch? Regardless of your opinion, and the intentions of the artists, it’s a proven trait – if you can get your name in the headlines close to drop date, you can’t go wrong.

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