I Talked My Way Up Out the Hood

Mobb Deep [ft. 50 Cent]: "Pearly Gates"
G-Unit Radio Vol. 20

Haze cautioned me not to make too big a deal out of this one. It's tops on Blood Money but nothing controversial or groundbreaking--the Infamous have spit buckets full of goddamning nihilism by now, and 50's out-washed NYC rapstar rehab program is nothing but still in effect. "So don't go pulling another Heathcliff on us," adds Haze. Haze, so we're clear, has listened to a lot of rap music; he's probably listening to it at this very moment.

Let's hurry slowly then and see what happens. At the 43second mark, right in the middle of 50's verse, Whoo Kid shouts out Amadou. Just his name, no location, which is smart; both Big Mike and Cutmaster C tend to include his corner, and I see an angry spot-blown Amadou eventually putting Junior on their ass until they cut the shit out. The drop fits like this:

    "It's been a long time coming I done paid my dues/
    Now every time I turn around it's like I'm back in the news [WK: Amadou!]"

Intentions irrelevent, the timing is perfect. Amadou, or at least the spirit of Amadou, helped the young 50 pay his dues on the mixtape circuit. 50 paid other dues too obviously--slinging rock, getting shot, living in the projects, getting his bike stolen a lot--and as character-/myth-building qualities they, ahem, get their due. They're all but necessary anymore really, since the gap between person and persona continues to collapse; I've seen prominent Mix Hut scribes waste away time arguing over how soft Jeezy's hands are and whether he's technically harder than, who was it, Witchdoctor? Sorry, I think I was by the beerstand sending text messages to myself.

But the dues 50's talking about on "Pearly Gates" directly pertain to his come-up, to learning how to write, developing a voice, getting his name out there. In the end (i.e. death), this is what's going to save him:

    "Homie if I go to hell and you make it to heaven/
    Just get me to the gate and I'll talk my way in/
    Got a gift, I'm special with the flow, I'm good/
    Shit, I talked my way up out the hood."

These last two lines confuse the fuck out me. I don't want to get hung on "Heathcliff, just because 50 says it doesn't mean 50 says it," as if person/persona isn't my bread/butter, but nothing suggests to me 50 has ever thought he talked himself out the hood before. The 50 myth, his own, is that he grinded, threw himself in hi-risk hi-return situations, got knocked down then decided hip-hop was a safer, easier money-making alternative. He learned to rap quick, worked his ass off self-marketing, got where he needed to be and maybe a lot further.

"This shit is so easy," too many of them say, but I don't think 50's ever come out and explained that said shit is easy because he's "got a gift." It's a bad look --antithetical to his hardworking image--and undermines his archetypal rags-to-riches American Dream promotion and inherent appeal: If you work hard like 50, you can get out too. "Around the same time KRS was writing 'Black Cop'/ I was busy trying to pump crack to the back lots," he floats out there on the verse, and the KRS/50 contrast says a lot. This game tends not to reward geniuses on arrival anymore; customers aren't inspired by what they can't do, but by what they can. The scheme is a cheap dirty trick, of course--50 does have a gift, you don't--but as it stands rags-to-riches sells better than mere riches, and the market perpetuates itself on the everyman ruse of 'you can do it too', audience artists ads and all. Just saying, there's a reason Sly's "You Can Make It If You Try" feels so sad and cruel.

Now I'm going to make a big deal. Despite Mobb's divine spite, this song is awe-inspiring. 50's triumph is he's literally in eternal shit (i.e. hell), but insists he can pull himself out because the rules don't apply to him. He's a genius, and I don't mean this in the 'spells all the challenge words right' sense--just that he is above the rules, operates on a level exclusive to himself. His is a position of privilege not afforded to, literally, the rest of afterlife-going humanity; whoever made 50 want to go public with this tidbit, I bet he scored at least a 4 or 5 on the AP Euro exam.

So what, except that 50 needs to go to hell precisely so he can show that he can talk his way into heaven. The underdog is on top, always; confer Game, then Hegel. It's not rags-to-riches, not even rags-or-riches, wherein the rags merely anchor the riches in cred and zero sum but are crucially in the past. Rather, it's rags and riches, concurrent and symbiotic, not to mention a billion times more compelling than the other two verses here, Havoc's pathetic "did so much dirt I'm trying to clean my slate" and P's reactionary fuck-god woe-is-me. It ain't where you at, but now it ain't where you from either.