50 Cent‘s video for “United Nations” takes product placement to a low not plumbed since a frenzied Keri Hilson licked a door in her joint with Rick Ross. Unlike Keri, Fiddy manages to contain his excitement over his new range of headphones, SMS Audio, for which the whole video is an overlong advertisement. Indeed, he’s barely entertaining himself as he paces the desert intoning how rich he is, UGH.
He’s been on ‘paycation,’ also known as a United Nations sponsored trip to the Horn of Africa. The UN’s beneficence had substantial returns: after ‘life-changing’ visits to Somalia and Kenya, Curtis Jackson vowed to provide 1 billion meals to schoolchildren over the next five years as part of the World Food Programme. 10 cents from the sale of each of his new energy drinks will buy a meal for a Somali schoolchild. Hence the overblown claim, “finna end world hunger, goddamn” (cf. Nina Simone? Discuss).
Setting aside objections to the UN’s method of courting potential donors by flying them into NGO-Africa in front of tons of cameras, it bears noting how this year-long episode debunks that tired argument that celebrity involvement at least generates ‘awareness’. Since he went to the Horn, 50 has earned the dubious moniker of ‘Hip-Hop’s Bono’ and the embrace of liberal media – literally hugging it out with Oprah. In February, the UN Dispatch declared Fiddy a “Humanitarian Genius.” With the release of his fifth album coming up and a year of free publicity, we’re more aware of 50 Cent than ever.
That said, both Fiddy the entertainer and Curtis Jackson the person are products of our time, and if his boasting on this track sounds crass, it’s only because it diverges from the purist terms of celebrity humanitarianism which prefers to prosletyze about the change that can occur as you look into the magical eyes of African children.
On “Money“, another track from the same mixtape, Fiddy spits some truth about global inequality and US culture’s contribution to it: “I’m eating, I get money, I shit money / It smell like Benjamins, it boosts my adrenalin.” The video makes excess look as dull-eyed and compulsive as it is but the lyrics I shit money make clear that the cash Curtis Jackson is donating is a surplus he/we can afford to excrete. Fiddy’s promised $100 million is just a fraction of the sum Americans can afford to spend on a drink possessing little nutritional value.
What the song doesn’t reference are the people shut out of global markets so that (some) Westerners can live the good life. Like the larger culture, it doesn’t occur to Fiddy that he might need a more balanced diet, a leaner American Dream, to effect significant change. Before the US lauds another “humanitarian capitalist” it needs to come to terms with its own culture, which feeds off and depends on the economic and physical malnurishment of many others.