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This should be a slam dunk.
It's the Season 1 finale of MTV's reality show 50 Cent: The Money and the Power. On the line is a $100,000 "investment" by the Queens-born rap superstar — i.e., a suitcase full of cash — and the field of 14 contenders has been narrowed to three semifinalists.
There's Ryan, a 24-year-old salesman from Pennsylvania Amish country with a bachelor's degree in marketing and his hair in cornrows. Larry, 26, is a doughy former college athlete from Tampa who calls himself a "negotiator."
Finally, there's Cornbreadd, a 28-year-old Houston rapper and hustler whose outsize personality is matched only by his ambition and devotion to his hometown. On the show and off, Cornbreadd's typical wardrobe is an Astros cap cocked to one side and a T-shirt emblazoned with his own name.
"I'm not in a mood for talking right now. It's time for work," he tells the camera in one of those familiar pre-taped "confessional" interviews. "All this hard work I've been doing is coming to an end. If I stay focused, I can win this."
Today's objective, 50 tells the semifinalists, former contestants and onlookers assembled in a conference room at the show's converted Brooklyn warehouse headquarters dubbed "Camp Curtis" — before he was 50 Cent, his mama called him Curtis Jackson — is to "crush the competition" verbally. It's a smack-talking contest, judged by 50 and his G-Unit associates Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo.
This competition could not be more tailored to Cornbreadd's skills. His Houston version of "Lookin' Ass Nigga" — rapid-fire free-association lyrics that always end with the titular phrase — has accumulated almost 850,000 YouTube views to date, after all. As the favorite, he'll go last.
First up is Larry: "My man Cornbreadd comin' on the show lookin' like a gangsta, but everybody in H-town knows Maurice is a wanksta." (Cornbreadd's given name is Maurice Duhon Jr.) The similarities to one of 50's early hits, "Wanksta," are obvious, and the judges and audience eat it up.
Ryan receives the following riposte: "Your dad's a doctor. I hope he's an OB/GYN because we really need to find out why you're such a pussy." Then back to Cornbreadd, his nemesis on the show for several episodes now.
"My man Cornbreadd over here actin' like he famous, but the rhymes that he's spittin' come straight out of an anus. I know you real stupid when you can't even spell, spittin' that double D just shows you're illiterate as hell."
Juvenile, perhaps, but effective. Now it's Ryan's turn.
"I'd just like to say I'm glad this isn't a wet T-shirt contest, going up against these two nicely breasted individuals," he begins. Big laugh.
"It's been a long stay here, and Camp Curtis is no Playboy Mansion," Ryan continues. "But thanks to them, there's plenty of tits to go around. Cornbreadd, I know you're a failed actor, but I've gotta give you credit: You play the act of a failed rapper very well."
Larry and Ryan have both scored some points, no doubt. Cornbreadd applauds graciously and rises to the podium. But first, another confessional.
"I hear my name called, I step up to the mike," he says. "I feel comfortable. I got a big advantage. I can talk that trash. I mean, I do it every day."
"I hope you've enjoyed your time at Camp Curtis, and it's gonna be okay," he begins. "I've heard Mr. Curtis has gotten Ryan, Larry and [ex-contestant] Derek a big break. He's got them cast in a new Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz. Ryan will be playing the guy who's a coward, Larry will be playing the guy with no heart and Derek will be playing the guy with no brains."
"You know, everybody looks beautiful, especially you, Nikki," he says to another former contestant with whom he's squared off in previous episodes. "How do you put your makeup on — with a sawed-off shotgun?"
That one gets a laugh, especially when Cornbreadd mimics sticking a shotgun in his mouth and pulling the trigger.
Cut to commercial. When we return, 50 Cent mounts the lectern.
"It's a really tough decision. You all did really great today," the G-Unit CEO says. "But after nine weeks, nine lessons and a whole lot of drama, I'm sorry to say goodbye to him. I respect him and I think he has a bright future.
"Cornbreadd, you've been dropped."
If Cornbreadd didn't already exist, some MTV programming executive would have had to make him up. On record, he can be as grimy and ghetto as they come — the opening track on his Cornbreadd Mixtape CD is called "Dick Like This" — but he delivers even his harshest rhymes with the kind of charisma that elicits a chuckle instead of a gasp.
In person, Cornbreadd radiates personality like a lightbulb does heat. In the brief amount of time it takes his interviewer to field a phone call from the office, he's made fast friends with a Café Express employee who recognizes him from The Money and the Power (a common occurrence in Houston these days; the season finale aired January 22).
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