It begins with a short drum roll, then the deep, rolling bass line falls in as 50 Cent chants: "She loves me/She loves me not/Yeah, she loves me not." Behind the rapper's lazy, seductive flow, there's a looped, muted wail and an insistent humming noise, underscoring the creepy element of "A Baltimore Love Thing," a prime cut off 50's sophomore album, The Massacre, released Thursday.
In the song, the rapper is heroin personified, describing in unsettling detail his relationship with a woman who can't resist his "charms." His voice dark and sweet, he sings, "We got a love thing where you try to leave me/But you need me, can't you see you're addicted to me."
The predominant drug in Baltimore is heroin, and while it's unclear if 50 Cent knew this when writing the song, those who fight crime in the city aren't pleased that Baltimore has once again been tagged with a drug association. Jay-Z has rapped about taking cocaine to Baltimore for sale.
"All of this is an advertisement saying Baltimore is the place to take your stuff to sell, and that hurts us," said Chief Anthony Barksdale of the city Police Department's organized crime division. "This reaches millions of people and it paints this picture of Baltimore to [drug] organizations and individuals, saying, 'Hey, maybe it's safe in Baltimore to ply the trade.'"
Barksdale emphasized that is not the case, saying the supply routes for drugs entering the city are under increasing attack by police. This week, police seized 261 heroin gel caps and 106 vials of crack cocaine in East Baltimore.
And also this week, the city state's attorney announced the indictments of 30 people who are accused of participating in a heroin distribution ring operating in the Park Heights area. As part of the eight-month investigation, authorities seized about 1,400 gel caps of heroin and more than $200,000 in cash.
In "A Baltimore Love Thing," the city is mentioned only in the song's title, not in its lyrics. But 50 Cent, a former crack dealer who was shot nine times before turning to rap, was on point when he chose to include the city in the title of his drug serenade.
"It's true that Baltimore is predominantly a heroin city," says city Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson. "It pretty much has been for 50 years. It's been ingrained. People tend to live in Baltimore for a long time and pass on habits to the next generation."
Beilenson said a recent study found heroin to be the primary drug for 70 percent of Baltimore's illegal drug users, while cocaine and crystal meth are more popular in other cities. Part of the reason is that heroin is cheaper than many other drugs.
"Heroin was always seen as the drug of the poor," Barksdale said. The city has approximately 45,000 heroin addicts, according to a report released last month by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Users are typically over the age of 30.
The city is stepping up the fight on heroin, officials said. The number of people in drug treatment has increased from 11,000 to 25,000 in the past seven years, and the vast majority are being treated for heroin abuse, Beilenson said. The city has also seen a significant drop in drug-related visits to emergency rooms, he said.
50 Cent, a multi-platinum rap star, could not be reached for comment yesterday, and his reasons for using the city's name in the song's title are unclear. But "A Baltimore Love Thing" does not appear to be a street name for heroin. Yesterday, the city's Police Department ran the title through a database containing street names for drugs, search warrants and arrest information. No matches were found.
Mayor Martin O'Malley's office cautioned not to make too big a deal out of the song.
"It's just a song," said Steve Kearney, a spokesman for the mayor. "Some media folks have this small-town insecurity that we have to take something like this seriously. 50 Cent did a song called 'Rotten Apple' about how violent New York is, and I don't remember the press up there fretting about its larger cultural significance."
Popular culture does not often portray Baltimore in the most positive light. The acclaimed 1990s NBC drama Homicide: Life on the Street depicted the city as a concrete battlefield. The Corner, a 2000 HBO miniseries, captured the bleak, ugly world of addicts and criminals in West Baltimore. And The Wire, the Peabody Award-winning HBO drama, brutally dramatized the city's drug wars.
"A Baltimore Love Thing" has been highlighted in several glowing reviews of 50 Cent's new album. Rolling Stone, which gave the CD four out of five stars, called the song "empathetic" and "ambitious." The New York Times said 50 "takes his thug-love formula in a clever and unexpected direction" on the song. Although the cut hasn't received any airplay yet, it could easily be a hit single. 50 Cent (whose real name is Curtis Jackson) even plugged the song on a recent appearance on BET's 106 & Park.