Queens rapper 50 Cent rhymes on two of the summer’s biggest hits–Lil’ Kim’s “Magic Stick” and his own “21 Questions”–and if you listen to the songs together you’ll hear the dilemma facing today’s superstar MCs. On “Magic Stick,” 50 invokes his dick’s mesmeric power, claiming “I know if I can hit once, I can hit twice” (though this is overshadowed by Kim’s boast that she can fellate a can of Sprite). But on “21 Questions” he grills his current honey, wondering whether she’d be with him if he had no loot. So which is it: Is 50 Cent famous because we love what he does to us, or do we love what he does to us because he’s famous? The ease with which the carnivalesque keyboard of his breakthrough single, “Wanksta,” dominated his petty disses of Ja Rule was a bad portent, but on Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope), 50’s first legit release (after a crateload of best-selling bootlegs), he’s rarely muscled out of the spotlight by the production of Eminem, Dr. Dre, and their accomplices. The inescapable “In Da Club” is powered as much by 50’s trick (copped from Tupac by way of Master P) of emphasizing the last vowel of each line (“I’m into having sex / I ain’t into making luuhve”) as by Dre’s orchestral synth bursts. And while I wouldn’t call his persona three-dimensional, he does temper a grisly imagination (“I’ll split you leave you lookin’ like those Michael Jackson jackets with all those zippers”) with disarming asides like “I love you like a fat kid love cake.” Also on the bill are Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Sean Paul, and Fabolous, who’s secured a slot on the radio by reworking the “sensitive thug” shtick with mixed results–“Can’t Let You Go” is a standard-issue plea to keep it on the down low, but “Into You” is a mildly touching farewell to the playa life. Wednesday, July 16, 6:30 PM, Tweeter Center, I-80 and Harlem, Tinley Park; 708-614-1616 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sacha Wildmon.