50 Cent's "How To Rob" proves that a knack for trolling was forever within his blood.
Before the popularization of the internet as we know it, the act of trolling required effort and dedication. With no Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, or forums to peruse and comment at leisure, trolls aspirant needed to find new and exciting ways to ruffle feathers. Short of renting blimp-advertising space and lining the dirigible with provocative messages, reaching the masses with one’s mischievous words required a degree of ruthless ingenuity. In that regard, 50 Cent was always destined for greatness.
On August 10th, 1999, 50 Cent released his notorious “How To Rob,” a lyrical equivalent to “get the strap” if ever there was one. Selected as the lead single off his debut (albeit shelved) album Power Of The Dollar, “How To Rob” revealed a rapper without fear of consequence of retribution. Calling out names in hip-hop was generally reserved for more personal beefs, yet 50’s single fired rounds indiscriminately, at friend and foe alike. Consider that Fif, as a relative newcomer in the game, had little to no rapport with the more established artists catching his ire; true, Power Of The Dollar featured acts like Noreaga, Bun B, and Destiny’s Child, but the ubiquity of Curtis Jackson truly popped off with the arrival of Get Rich Or Die Trying.
Still, “How To Rob” certainly put 50 on the game’s collective radar. Though the younger generation may attempt to lay claim to “clout chasing” as a way of life, “How To Rob” proves that history is truly a wheel. It’s hard not to see Lil Pump’s shrill cries of “Fuck J. Cole” as diluted fallout from the school of “How To Rob.” Likewise for the brazen tactics of Tekashi 6ix9ine, who called out The Game, Nipsey Hussle, Chief Keef and more, all while waving the newcomer flag. Perhaps it’s no wonder that 50 has taken on the rainbow wonder as somewhat of a protege, given their similarities in approach.
The legacy of “How To Rob” is well documented. With a mischievous tone and tongue-in-cheek deliver, the single skirted malicious territory, feeling closer to parody than warmongering. Yet the mere fact that names were put on wax made “How To Rob” undeniably provocative. In one brilliant move, 50 dared some of hip-hop’s biggest names to shine a retaliatory light upon him. In true double-edged-sword fashion, recipients of 50’s buffoonery risked coming off as easy targets if they opted for the high road. Conversely, responding in kind would be playing directly into 50’s eager hands.
A quick gander at “How To Rob’s” official Wikipedia page labels the complete list of victims, reading as follows: Lil Kim, P. Diddy, Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston, Brian McKnight, Keith Sweat, Cardan, Harlem World, Mase, ODB, Foxy Brown, Kurupt, Jay-Z, Case, Trackmasters, Slick Rick, Stevie J, Big Pun, Master P, Silkk The Shocker, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Joe, JD, Da Brat, DMX, Treach, DJ Clue, TQ, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, RZA, Sticky Fingaz, Fredro Starr, Canibus, Heavy D, Juvenile, Blackstreet, R. Kelly, Boyz II Men, Michael Bivins, Mike Tyson, Robin Givens, Mister Cee, Busta Rhymes, Flipmode Squad, and Kirk Franklin.
All of them, with the (surprising) exception of R. Kelly, are called out by name. A notion difficult to fathom in the era of subliminals. Yet 50 Cent was right there, clowning to his heart’s content. Think of the cartoonishly diabolical images he’s putting forth. Kidnapping Lil Kim so he can ransom her to Puff Daddy. Putting the pistol in Keith Sweat’s grill. Chain snatching and outrunning Big Pun, while poking fun at his “400 pound” weight. Robbing Timbaland and Missy Elliott for jewel and hotdog alike. Ridiculing the otherwise menacing Sticky Fingaz over his boxing loss to skateboarder Simon Woodstock. Taking everything from Juvenile, including each individual golden tooth.
On paper, the provocations have an air of silliness to them, absent in hip-hop’s more scathing diss tracks. Yet the song most definitely caused a fair share of wounded pride. As Lil Pump’s “Fuck J. Cole” eventually yielded Cole’s “1985,” and 6ix9ine’s inflammatory comments had Nipsey, Game, and Chief Keef calling for his head, “How To Rob” had several targets getting familiar with their feelings.
On Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele, the skit “Clyde Smith" found Raekwon responding to 50, threatening to sic not one hundred, not two hundred, but five hundred wolves upon him. On Jay-Z’s Life And Times of S. Carter, the song “It’s Hot” finds Jay reciting “go against Jigga yo’ ass is dense, I’m about a dollar, what the fuck is 50 Cents?” Sticky Fingaz clapped back on “Jackin For Beats 99,” rapping “The real 50 from Brooklyn, God bless, he got outed, you just a fake clown that front and rap about it, I got a new deal for a few mil, shoot to kill, You fruity like Dru Hill, you spare change.”
Big Pun kept it gangsta on his response “My Turn,” simply stating “And to the 50 Cent Rapper, very funny, get your nut off, cause in real life, we all know I'd blow your motherfucking head off.” Kurupt got at him too, threatening to turn him to “10 cent” after fifty continuous beatdowns. Missy Elliot managed to laugh it off, later thanking Fifty for encouraging her to hit the treadmill. Mariah Carey was allegedly so upset about her original inclusion, she threatened to leave Sony records if her name was kept on the record; suffice it to say, 50 bowed down, instead setting sights on Case Woodard and Mary J. Blige. Still, the old threats have since tarnished, and the original version can be heard as 50 intended. Clearly, “How To Rob” proved a worthwhile stepping stone in validating an unproven talent, so much so that bonafide heavyweights found themselves rattled.
These days, were an artist dedicated to following in 50’s footsteps, they’d quite possibly forego the musical component altogether. Even 50 seems to have turned in the mic, opting to take his shit-talking expertise to Instagram; now, he keeps his wits sharp through the act of incessant trolling, firing off his “Get The Strap” as often as he once yelled “G-Unit!” In hindsight, it makes sense that ambitious artists might subconsciously draw from “How To Rob’s” blueprints, hoping such an abrasive and brash tactic may facilitate the transition from scrub to contender. Yet not every young artist is lucky enough to possess the charisma of 50 Cent in his prime, let alone the skillset. In that regard, 50 is a unique brand of bully, too comedic to truly hate, yet too ruthless to truly embrace. He kept the game on their toes back in 1999, and continues to do so even today, albeit through an entirely different platform. In the immortal words of Cosmo Kramer, “he’s the best, and the worst.”