As 50 Cent's star keeps rising, the fallout from his ascendancy keeps growing. The Queensbridge rapper responsible for the year's biggest album, Get Rich or Die Tryin', has just released his first DVD, The New Breed, an odds-and-sods collection featuring videos, a short film, and two behind-the-scenes documentaries (for "Wanksta" and "In Da Club"). But the real action can be found in the articles, rumors, and music produced in the wake of his long-running beef with rap label Murder Inc. and its star rapper Ja Rule.

50 Cent has made his share of enemies over the years, most notoriously after the campaign for his 1999 hit single, "How to Rob," backfired when Jay-Z, Ghostface Killah, and a host of other top MCs recorded some vicious answer tracks. 50 Cent's beef with Ja Rule is well documented, too, but it escalated shortly after he signed with Eminem's record label Shady Records last fall. On October 30 of last year, Jam Master Jay, legendary DJ for Run-DMC and a mentor to 50 Cent, was mysteriously murdered. Rumors immediately began to circulate that Jay's death may have served as retribution for 50 Cent's adventures as a former crack dealer, or simply for a drug deal gone bad, which infuriated many hip-hop insiders (one New York activist, Charles Fisher, described it as "character assassination").

But in an article accompanying a cover story on 50 Cent, the April 3 issue of Rolling Stone asked "Who Wants 50 Cent Dead?" "Investigators [into Jay's death] are looking at whether Jay's killing can be tied to a long-standing feud between Murder Inc. and 50 Cent," wrote Ethan Brown, citing a federal probe surrounding convicted drug kingpin and Murder Inc. executive Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff as proof. Meanwhile, random shots were fired at the offices of Violator Management this past January 15 and, a month later, at an SUV that belonged to rapper Busta Rhymes (who was not in the vehicle). Chris Lighty, owner of Violator, manages 50 Cent; Busta Rhymes is a friend of the rapper. Around the same time, Murder Inc. president Chris "Gotti" Lorenzo was shot in the leg by an unknown assailant.

Is Murder Inc. really trying to kill 50 Cent? After two decades of violence both real (Tupac and Biggie, RIP) and imagined (anyone remember that "beef" between Jay-Z and Nas?), it's difficult to tell, at least until someone drops dead (or pretends to -- see Tupac again). Recently, in a desperate bid for street credibility, Ja recorded a dis track aimed at 50 Cent, Eminem, and mentor Dr. Dre. "50, you going to get shot again," screams Ja, who then adds, "Eminem, what's the doo rag for?/You never gon' have braids/You'll never know black pain/But you could become the first white rapper slain."

50 Cent, who has often referred to Ja Rule as "the Cookie Monster," immediately recorded an answer track with Eminem, Busta Rhymes, and improbably, Lighty (who shouts "Fuck you Gotti!"). Disturbingly, Busta plays with the rumor that Murder Inc. was behind the shoot-up of Violator's offices. "If I recall, Violator used to manage you, nigga," says Busta.

Back in good ol' Miami, 99.1 Jamz (WEDR-FM) played a new song, "21 Answers," by local singer-rapper Toya (a.k.a. Lady B) near the end of Jammin' Derrick B.'s Saturday-evening show. An answer cut performed over a beat identical to 50 Cent's hit single with ghetto troubadour Nate Dogg, "21 Questions," it's one of dozens of tracks percolating through the hip-hop underground that unashamedly bite the multiplatinum rapper's records. "I've got 21 answers/And they're all about us," Toya sang coyly in a cadence eerily similar to Nate Dogg's. Her words rang all too true.


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