Gunshots and thuggery end in 'shalom'

Israeli fans of rap superstar 50 Cent revel in his 'gangsta' persona.

50 cent 88 298 (photo credit: AP)
50 cent 88 298
(photo credit: AP)
Gunfire ripped through Ramat Gan Stadium for 90 minutes Saturday night - or so one might have thought listening in from outside. In reality, however, the sound of gunshots simply proved to be the favored sound effect of 50 Cent, the US rap colossus who performed his first Israeli concert at the northern Tel Aviv soccer field to a crowd that made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in size. With tickets to the show as much as NIS 299, the concert appeared to have been prohibitively expensive for many Israeli music fans, who filled only about a third of Ramat Gan Stadium despite the rapper's local popularity for songs like "Candy Shop" and "21 Questions." The roughly 10,000 rap enthusiasts present for the show did their best to compensate for the empty seats and standing space, joining the 30-year-old rapper for the chorus to songs like "P.I.M.P" and "In da Club," the breakthrough 2003 single that remains a weekend favorite at dance clubs and bars across the country. If he was offended by the turnout, however, the rapper didn't let on, telling the crowd, "I didn't know there was so many pimps in Israel" - a compliment in the terminology of the hip hop giant. The remark was in keeping with the rest of the evening's scripted onstage banter, which featured one of the rapper's back-up performers at one point asking the crowd, "Any of you all smoke weed in this here motherf-?" Nothing but a bit of cigarette smoking appeared to be taking place inside the stadium, where security guards confiscated even bottles of water before letting ticket holders enter for the night's show. Israeli hip hop artists Keleh 6 and Subliminal warmed up the crowd as the sun went down, with the latter ending his set on a high note with "Toro," the ingenious, Spanish-influenced new single that is currently ascending local music charts. After a brief interlude featuring a recording by 50 Cent mentor Dr. Dre, the man himself took the stage wearing a New York Mets cap, oversized jeans and enough diamond-encrusted jewelry to put Elizabeth Taylor to shame. The 90-minute set was preceded by a rapid fire video recounting the official biography of the rapper, who was born Curtis Jackson in Queens, New York, and was raised by his grandmother following his mother's murder when he was 8. In addition to reminding fans of the performer's staggering commercial achievements - his album Get Rich or Die Tryin' had the highest-selling debut in history, his second sold a million copies in its first four days - the video also rammed home the unusually violent components of the rapper's story, including the 2000 drive-by incident in which the rapper was shot nine times in the face, hand and thighs. His seeming indestructibility played a central role in many of the songs 50 Cent performed Saturday night, though other lyrical sub-themes emerged relating to his considerable wealth and prolific success in the bedroom. Large screens on each side of the stage showed what could have been outtakes from the rapper's lascivious MTV videos, with scantily clad, occasionally topless women performing dance moves that would have made the teenage Britney Spears blush. (They were joined in the effort by a small minority of the crowd's female members, some of whom may have been exhausted by the next morning when they returned to the fifth grade.) 50 Cent both played up and made light of his thuggish image over the course of the show, with many of the night's songs punctuated by pre-recorded gunshots and the sound of handguns being cocked. The rapper has boosted his notoriety - and record sales - by publicly feuding with other members of the American rap elite, and he enlisted the Ramat Gan audience's help in ridiculing former musical prot g The Game, gleefully instructing crowd members to raise their middle fingers in the air. Concert-goers' hands would get an additional workout later in the performance, with the rapper and his onstage collaborators instructing onlookers to "put your trigger finger in the air" for one of the show's closing songs. His carefully cultivated tough guy persona didn't stop the rapper from parodying himself just a bit near the end of the evening, with the "Love It or Hate It" performer mocking the global media for making him famous and then complaining about his sex-and violence-laced persona. The mostly teenage and 20-something crowd obediently followed the rapper's suggestion that it rap the phrase, "What we gonna do tonight? Smoke weed, get drunk, get [six-letter expletive starting with 'f']." 50 Cent then chastised his audience for making such a declaration - which he correctly predicted would be noted in press reports of the concert - then insisted that audience members admit, "I said it, too." The rapper again veered from his thuggish persona during the audience participation portion of the concert, smiling comfortingly at a young girl near the stage who, he said, wouldn't join him on stage because "she must be afraid of me." He went easy on one young boy who did join him on stage, waiting patiently as the kid second-guessed himself before reporting his name as "Joseph" (intended, no doubt, as a helpful English translation of Yossi or Yossef, provided for the foreign performer's benefit). The tattooed, muscle-bound rapper then put the show on hold another moment to help Joseph down from the stage, gently gripping the boy's upper body in a manner that looked, just for an instant, downright paternal. It was back to business - literally - for the end of the concert, with the rapper throwing a pair of shoes and a t-shirt into the crown while speaking about the many fashionable items offered of his own expanding clothing line. Having performed his big hits earlier in the evening, the rapper had nothing to perform as an encore. That didn't mean, however, that there was no audio accompaniment for the very end of the night. The rapper concluded his Israeli debut with a "Shalom, everybody," then left the stage in a hail of pre-recorded gunfire.