50 CENT / “21 Questions” (DJ Crook Air Mashup)
And anyone who listened closely could hear another story between the lines: "I'm into havin' sex, ain't into makin' love," he rapped in "In Da Club," "so come give me a hug." A hug? On that first album, he betrayed this sheepishly innocent, even kidlike, side of himself most clearly in "21 Questions"—a song Dre didn't want on the record. "I love you like a fat kid loves cake / To make you happy I'll do whatever it takes.'' "Dre was, like, 'How you goin' to be gangsta this and that and then put this sappy love song on?' " 50 recalls. "But I told him, 'I'm two people. I've always had to be two people since I was a kid, to get by. To me that's not diversity, it's necessity'.''
It must be hard for a girl to love a rapper. If she somehow survives everything that comes along with him being him—his homies, the groupies, the ego, the emotional distance, the physical distance, the psychological distance—she’s still going to have to come up with a satisfactory answer to the one question every rapper seems to have for every girl: “If I wasn’t a rapper, would you still love me?”
How can a girl answer a question like that? Why do so many rappers ask it? Imagine these same cats calling home from on tour:
Woman’s voice: “Hello?”
Rapper: “Hey, Mom. It’s me.”
Woman: “Hi, son. How are you?”
Rapper: “I’m alright.”
Woman: “That’s good.”
Rapper: “Mom, can I ask you a question?”
Woman: “Sure, honey. Anything.”
Rapper: “If I wasn’t your child, would you still love me?”
When the rapper gets around to asking the girl The Question (and sooner or later, he will), she must of course answer ‘yes.’ It doesn’t matter if she has a few questions of her own. Questions like, “How would I know?” Or, “If I wasn’t pretty, would you still love me?” Or, most obviously, “You are actually a rapper, aren’t you?” Not that her ‘yes’ will placate him anyway. Any man who is a) paranoid, b) insecure and c) rich enough to ask a girl a question like that won’t be satisfied by anything short of blood. Or maybe a limb. Or two.
Which is the genius of 50 Cent’s “21 Questions.” Instead of being satisfied with merely asking the question once, 50 rephrases it 20 times, each restatement carrying with it varying degrees of complexity and transparency. Essentially, it’s a paranoid inquest, a wild goose chase, a winding road leading to nowhere. But 50’s methodology turns what could have been a garden-variety interrogation into the hip-hop equivalent of a high stakes game show. And just like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, some of the questions are laughably simple. Like the penultimate question: “Could you love me in a Bentley?” There’s an easy ‘yes’ if there ever was one. The ultimate question is a little tougher: “Could you love me on a bus?” Before she answers that one, the young lady might want to ask for a lifeline or help from the audience or something.
To an extent, 50’s paranoia and insecurity are understandable. He’s young, he’s famous, he’s rich. So much of his identity is tied into not who he is but what he does. He is 50 Cent, rapper. As such, he must wonder about every encounter. If he were Curtis Jackson, bus driver, he’d never have to wonder whether a girl is into him specifically or bus drivers generally. Then again, he wouldn’t be rich and famous either.
It’s no coincidence that 50 begins his love song (if that’s what it is) with a shot-out to both New York City and to himself. (“New York City!” he calls out. “You are now rockin’ with 50 Cent. You gotta love it!”) For the girl, the inevitable conclusions are: he’s always on stage and always in the spotlight. She’d better get used to it.
She’d also better get used to illogical, asymmetric and outrageous requests. In less than four minutes, 50 finds a way to ask his girl to be OK with sudden loss of wealth, chronic infidelity, occasional body odor, and of course, a potential 25-year prison term. And then there’s that thing he slips in about her being an accessory to murder. Talk about your small requests.
Balance that with 50’s sudden and unexpected bursts of—this is going to sound ridiculous, but there’s no other way to put it—sweetness. Lines like, “Are you my soul mate?” and “Tell me your dreams” and “Would you write back?” reveal Mr. Jackson to be, if not an outright romantic, at least a kindred spirit to whomever it is that ghostwrites all of those Harlequin romance novels. Then there’s everyone’s favorite line, the one about fat kids and cake. I remember one of the first times I heard the song, I was riding with my brother and some of his friends. When 50 said that line, Langston started laughing. “What?” I asked him. “I was a fat kid,” he said. “You know how much I loved cake?”
Technically, this track is neither a remix nor a cover. It’s a ‘mashup.’ Meaning, different songs have been ‘mashed’ together to form a new song. In this case, a German cat, DJ Crook Air, overlaid the instrumental track of Züri West’s "I Schänke Dr Mis Härz" with the vocal track of 50 Cent’s “21 Questions.”
I know nothing about Züri West or their song, but (as with most successful mashups) it’s both surprising and disconcerting to hear how well these previously unrelated pieces of music coalesce. And, as my sister Asante commented after hearing the original and the mashup back-to-back, “It [meaning, the mashup] makes 50 sound like a better artist.” I agree, although I can’t say why.
By the way, I downloaded the track from www.djcrookair.ch, but the site’s been down lately. As for Crook Air himself, he calls his 50 Cent/Züri West mashup "I Schänke Dir 21 Questions." Maybe someone with better German than me will write in to let us know what ‘I Schänke Dir’ means.
—Mtume ya Salaam
The 21 Questions:
1. Would you love me if I was down and out?
2. Would you still have love for me?
3. If I fell off tomorrow would you still love me?
4. If I didn't smell so good would you still hug me?
5. If I got locked up and sentenced to a quarter-century could I count on you to be there to support me mentally?
6. If I went back to a hooptie from a Benz, would you ‘poof’ and disappear like some of my friends?
7. If I was hit and I was hurt would you be by my side?
8. If it was time to put in work would you be down to ride?
9. If I ain't rap 'cause I flipped burgers at Burger King would you be ashamed to tell your friends you’re feelin' me?
10. In bed, if I used my tongue, would you like that?
11. If I wrote you a love letter would you write back?
12. Would you leave me if your father found out I was thuggin'?
13. Do you believe me when I tell you, you’re the one I'm loving?
14. Are you mad ‘cause I'm asking you 21 questions?
15. Are you my soul mate?
16. Do you trust me enough to tell me your dreams?
17. If I was down, would you say things to make me smile?
18. If I was with some other chick and someone happened to see and when you asked me about it, I said it wasn't me would you believe me or up and leave me?
19. How deep is our bond if that's all it takes for you to be gone?
20. Could you love me in a Bentley?
21. Could you love me on a bus?
Now that’s he rich, is he afraid of getting robbed?
It was after 11PM. We were sitting in the car on Treme Street, the CD player pumped down to maybe seven or eight—wasn’t trying to wake the neighbors. I was laughing. Mr. Al, who is a few years my senior, was just chuckling. We were listening to a track on The Madd Rapper's CD. The track was “How To Rob An Industry Nigga” featuring a guest spot some newly-signed youngster who was trying to make a name for himself by making fun of rap stars. I thought it was hilarious. The lyrics were wickedly witty. So now that this young thug got rich, I wonder, does he ever wonder about some younger thug coming up and applying to him the same reasoning he...?
Folk who don’t know me well are constantly amazed about what all I listen to. Well, if you don’t know, you can’t call it, and if you don’t listen, you’ll never know.
And that’s my two cents on 50 Cent.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, December 4th, 2005 at 1:03 am and is filed under Contemporary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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