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Music case study - 50 Cent - The Massacre

Controversial CD is classified

On 11 October 2006, the Special Edition CD/DVD set of rapper 50 Cent's album The Massacre was submitted for classification to the Office of Film and Literature Classification by the Department of Internal Affairs on behalf of a member of the public.

...the words glorify violence and crime and display a perverted attitude to women... the only influence that these 'songs' can have is negative... contribute to the increasing crime and lawlessness... many young adults are not old enough to discern this material.

Letter from original complainant

Subject matter

Many of the tracks on the album focus on 50 Cent's hip-hop lifestyle.

He brags about his rapping ability, his wealth, and his prowess with women, and he issues threats to enemy rappers and anyone else who should cross him and his crew, G-Unit. A number of songs include references to the violent nature of life in the hood where 50 Cent comes from, and his previous incarnation as a hustler and drug dealer.

50 Cent's music is popular but controversial.

50 Cent is an American rap artist who specialises in the genre of gangsta rap. The images, words and subjects featured in his music have raised concern among some groups about the impact and influence of this music on young people, particularly teenagers. For example, see the decision on the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) website regarding a complaint made about a 50 Cent music video that was screened on television.

BSA's decision on the 50 Cent music video Candy Shop

Classification considerations

Music recordings are not required to be classified before release in the same way that films are.

The Classification Office can classify anything defined by the Classification Act as a 'publication'. Under section 2 of the Act, the meaning of publication includes 'any film, book, sound recording, picture, newspaper'. Music recordings are not automatically examined in the way that films (including DVDs) are. Instead, music recordings are only considered for classification if they are submitted by the Department of Internal Affairs, the Police, Customs, a member of the public or a member of the music industry.

Complaint and discovery

The CD/DVD set was submitted for classification by the Department of Internal Affairs.

The original complaint was about the lyrics of some of the songs on the CD. However, when Inspectors from the Department of Internal Affairs went to acquire a copy of this CD they found the Special Edition Set which included an unlabelled DVD of the music videos for the songs featured on the album. Because all films, including music videos, which are made available for sale to the public on DVD must be classified/labelled, the DVD was submitted to the Classification Office along with the CD.

Lyric sheets were used to help classify the CD.

The CD was examined on a PC using Windows Media Player and a copy of the lyrics for each of the tracks was obtained from the internet site The Original Hip-hop Lyrics Archive. Both the CD and the DVD were examined by a Classification Officer.

There are references to sex in a number of songs. There are also limited depictions of sexual imagery in the music videos. Some songs include passing references to drug use and drug dealing, generally in the context of the 'gangsta' lifestyle. There are numerous references to violent activities that would constitute crimes such as murder and assault. Guns and gunplay are a recurrent motif throughout both publications.

Classification Office decision

The CD/DVD set was classified due to its treatment of crime and violence.

In its decision, the Classification Office concluded:

The publications' treatment of violent crime is of particular concern because of its potentially glamorising effect, due to the fact that violence is a large element of the image of himself that 50 Cent presents to the public. The lyrics might encourage impressionable young listeners and viewers to adopt the aggressive attitudes espoused in the songs and possibly express these in violent behaviour.

Both the CD and the DVD were classified R16, with the descriptive note 'contains violence, sexual references and offensive language'.

Classification decision for 50 Cent: The Massacre (PDF, 204KB)

The appeal

The Complainant asked for a Review of the classification.

The original complainant was not satisfied with the Classification Office's classification of R16. Under section 47 of the Classification Act, a member of the public can seek the leave of the Secretary of Internal Affairs to have a decision of the Classification Office reviewed. In this case, the Secretary did not grant leave.

Secretary of Internal Affair's decision on the application for review (PDF, 114KB)

Case studies - books, music and other stuff

The Massacre CD cover

Clued in by an intro skit in which a sweet-sounding young damsel receiving a Valentine gets blasted by bullet-spray, we get it: 1) He's rich, and 2) He'll get you first. This is 50's massacre, no mercy. Scarface is in da club. It's followed by a series of guttural threats and luggish offerings to snuff anyone to save face- "y'all know what I'm about," 50 reminds us more than once.

Julianne Shepherd, Pitchfork

Useful links

Rapper 50 Cent holding a stack of $20 bills
Rapper 50 Cent
Special Edition CD/DVD cover
Special Edition CD/DVD set of The Massacre


R16 classification label
R16: contains violence, sexual references and offensive language