Lifestyle & Trends: Kanye West, 50 Cent Do Battle

Newsweek entertainment writer Allison Samuels talks about the cost of famous black women going public with their personal lives, rapper 50 Cent's challenge to Kanye West, and the search for someone to play Biggie Smalls in a new biopic about the late rap star.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES.

I am sitting here with Allison Samuels, our much beloved entertainment reporter. We are talking about baby mama drama part 75 and also about a new biopic of Biggie Smalls. Welcome.

Ms. ALLISON SAMUELS (Entertainment Reporter, Newsweek): Hi.

CHIDEYA: So let's talk about the ladies. What's going on?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, we have baby mama drama with Eddie Murphy and Melanie Brown, Spice Girls - from the Spice Girls, Scary Spice, and then we also have Puffy, P. Diddy's girlfriend Kim Porter, who have both taken to the airwaves to sort of make their points about their men.

Melanie has been pretty vicious on some level with (unintelligible), which has been really interesting to sort of see her on "Larry King" and to see her in OK! Magazine, and just sort of everywhere, just talking about what Eddie hasn't done. And Eddie certainly has been less than responsible in sort of, you know, coming to the plate.

But I think the thing that I think is concerning on some of these things is when you get so much attention for this, what does it really do to the kids, because you're being very critical of the father of your kids. And I think that that's the interesting sort of trend that's going on. I think it's a situation where people want that attention, and it has to be a scandal to get you on "Larry King."

CHIDEYA: Can we just - speaking of scandal, former Spice Girl Mel…

Ms. SAMUELS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

CHIDEYA: …apparently has married some guy with a history of domestic disturbances. What's up with that?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, that's the thing that's so interesting to me for her to get on TV and sort of, you know, rip Eddie apart when it's like, well, clearly, your choice in men is not necessarily the best anyway. This guy, I think, you know, he says he's related to Harry Belafonte, but there are rumors that he's not - you know, related to Harry Belafonte.

So it's a little, you know, it's a little shady what's going on with this new husband, but she's still fighting this fight with Eddie. So I think it just sort of puts a negative light on her as well because you're - you don't know where she's coming from. So but I do take it as a matter of getting the attention, getting that 15 minutes of fame.

CHIDEYA: I want to move on to something that we talk about a lot on the show for obvious reasons.

Ms. SAMUELS: Mm-hmm.

CHIDEYA: Now, a lot of juicy celebrity gossip is filtered through the blogosphere…

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: …and some of the most popular blogs for black news are gaining weight as sites for activism.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: You got blogs like What About Our Daughters, Young, Black, and Fabulous, the Essence magazine blog pushing for change in entertainment. And they organize people around social issues, kind of taking a news/activism cut…

MS. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: …on entertainment. What are specific examples of these blogs using their muscle?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, What About Our Daughters really waged a really big campaign to get "Hot Ghetto Mess" to change its name, "Hot Ghetto Mess" the show on BET. They got them to change their name. And I think, at some point, that show is probably going to off the air. And that really was a grassroots approach by that blog to sort of, you know, getting the name, hearing it, and to sort of going everywhere with it and saying, we have to write in, we have to sort of demand that they change the name of that show.

Another thing that they're doing is a Dunbar Village incident in Florida, where a woman and her son was beaten, and the woman was raped by 10 young men. It's had it - you know, it's gotten a certain amount of outrage in Florida, but not nationally.

And every day that What About Our Daughters blog sort of makes a point of saying, look, we have to write in, we have to march, we have to do something about this incident because it's gone pretty much unnoticed.

So I think for African-Americans, the blogs are becoming a definite way to sort of get that news that the CNNs and other, you know, networks don't necessarily focus on, some of the incidents that, you know, we might not hear about.

CHIDEYA: Now, who do you find creating these blogs and posting? Is it journalists? Is it activists? Is it everyday folks who are - who want a space in the world?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think these are more everyday folks who have - you know, who want a space in the world because, you know, we have so many people out there that are interested in what's going on in our communities and really want other people to sort of know and feel that same type of passion.

So the people that I have met that actually are starting these blogs are regular people. The young girl that does Young, Black, and Fabulous is a law student. You know, just a - no interest in journalism, no interest in entertainment per se, but just decided, you know what? I want to put my feeling on certain things out there and see if other people feel the same way. And I think, it's, you know, worked out really well.

CHIDEYA: Now, would you love it if they called you Big Poppa or Big Momma? Now is the chance for the gentlemen, there's tryouts going on for someone to play the Notorious B.I.G. in a new biopic.

Fox Searchlight Pictures is holding auditions in New York to see who's got the right look, voice and swagger.

Let me start out by saying, isn't this discrimination against the Westside?

Ms. SAMUELS: Maybe. But I do think that they want to get people from Biggie's neighborhood. I think they want to get the sort of the youth that actually looked up to Biggie in his neighborhood, from his area, you know, of the country to sort of give them a chance. And (unintelligible) is that they will come out here as well. But I think they want to give a young, fresh face a chance to sort of make an impact and get a role on this film. And they want someone with rapping skills, and I think somebody that's sort of natural, that's not coming in with any type of, you know, pretense or any type of sort of fame on its own. It's really - this is the role to sort of sink their teeth in. And I think that's the cool part.

I also think it's great to get someone new because you look at the Angelina Jolie situation where she played a character in "A Mighty Heart," and I don't think it worked well because when you have a famous face playing someone else, it's very hard to sort of make that difference between the famous face and the character their portraying.

So I think with Biggie, it's going to be really great just to see a young, fresh, you know, sort of, you know, hot sort of urban youth sort of get that role.

CHIDEYA: So when you think about this, is this really one of those things where the open casting call as publicity or will there be someone that actually gets it from the casting call, do you think?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think that it's going to be both. You know, Spike Lee did that with "Clockers" with Mekhi Phifer, I mean, you know, he got him, you know, from nowhere. Now, Mekhi is a big star. I think it's also going to help in terms of getting people to talk about the movie months and months before it comes out. I think that certainly will - this will certainly encourage that, which, I think, it needs because I'm not really sure who the audience is for a Biggie movie.

CHIDEYA: So when you think about something like this, you really have a situation where the Notorious B.I.G. was such a known quantity, how on Earth is someone going to fill those shoes?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think it's going to be hard, but I think the great part about Biggie - and he was not as well known as Tupac. So in many ways, I think that his personality is a little bit more of a mystery to us, and I think that a young actor can come in there and sort of create his own, you know, sort of idea of what Biggie was like and who Biggie was. I think that's the sort of great part about someone playing him as opposed Tupac, where, I think, we had a defined sort of expectation of what his personality was about.

CHIDEYA: Now, I need you to give me just a quick flash on Kanye versus 50.

Ms. SAMUELS: Wow. Yeah. 50 likes - I think 50 likes fights and he likes to diss and challenge people. I think that's the way he sort of gets his career going and his own passion, driving. But in this particular feud, he's saying that if he doesn't sell as much as Kanye or more than Kanye in the first week because they come out - their albums come out the same week that he'll retire. And I think that's a dangerous thing because, I think, Kanye does have a more mainstream appeal, and I think 50, in many ways, has really sort of oversaturated the market the last time he was out. So I think, you know, this is a dangerous sort of, you know, thing he did with Kanye, but it'll be interesting to see. I think it will certainly generate interest in both of their albums, particularly 50's.

CHIDEYA: Do we hear any word that they're taking a new direction?

Ms. SAMUELS: In terms of changing their albums?

CHIDEYA: Right.

Ms. SAMUELS: No, I think that 50 has already sort of done a lot of playing around with his album as it is. I think his first couple of singles didn't really pick up. They didn't really get a lot play. So he's going back into the studio a number of times to sort of play around with things. And I think Kanye, you know, being Kanye, I don't know if Kanye would change anything given his level of arrogance.

CHIDEYA: Now, if in a battle of the words, who do you think would win? And I don't mean a freestyle rhyme battle, I just mean somebody, you know, kind of being able to do the most audacious amount of self-publicity.

Ms. SAMUELS: I think 50 wins that. I mean 50, you know, I mean, if you think about Ja Rule, I mean, he pretty much ruined Ja Rule's career. So, you know, 50 is the one that can sort of go ahead to go with anybody. I just don't know if he wins the sales battle. But in a one-on-one, you know, verbal battle, yeah, 50.

CHIDEYA: All right.

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