"A lesser man would make a joke about 50 wearing a shirt on the cover.
Luckily, I am that lesser man."
Luckily, I am that lesser man."
I suppose if Curtis Jackson wasn’t Keith Olbermann-certified as the “Worst Person In The World,” one could begin to feel a tiny morsel of human sympathy for the man better known to the world as 50 “Fitty” Cent. After ruling the pop music world with an iron fist for the better part of the decade, 50 has fallen hard from the throne; Kanye infamously emasculated him two y ago in their sales showdown two years ago; his latest singles have been met with scathing indifference from both radio and the critical market; he’s been reduced almost to a court jester, showing up once every few to start a ridiculous beef with another rapper; raging against a world that does not care for his antics, anymore. It’s not far fetched to suggest had not for his Pimpin’ Curly videos on ThisIs50.com, he would relegated to Papoose status on his own record label. Be that as it may, after all the drama he’s caused helping shatter the New York rap scene in his quest to conquer it; it’s hard not feel a tinge (okay, a shit load) of schadenfreudirific joy at watching 50 Cent flail helplessly at making a hit record. The man wore out his welcome long ago and watching his feeble attempts at radio play be is karmic revenge for the endless amount of careers and lives the man tried to ruin. He’s earned this treatment. The man needs to hit the restart button on the last four years of his career.
50’s latest album, “Before I Self Destruct”, is billed as an almost mea culpa for the pop corniness of his previous two forays into blatant commercial pandering. In a way, it’s his “50 Cent Begins,” a revamp of his early mixtape persona before the allure of “Candy Shop” money turned him into a living symbol of gangster homo eroticism and beef mongering. “Before I Self Destruct” is an attempt to produce a record that bangs harder and more consistently than anything he’s done since quite possibly his mixtape days. For the most part, it’s a gambit that pays off as this is a record that is some of 50’s most inspired work since quite possibly “Guess Who’s Back?” and is easily his second best album.
From the opening moments of “The Invitation” (which according to the world’s most accurate encyclopedia is produced by DJ Premier. Really?! It sounds nothing like him, boys.), this record seems to have a clear statement of purpose when 50 Cent re-counting those infamous nine shots stares himself teary-eyed in the mirror and declares to himself “you ain’t dead!” It’s a powerful moment not so much because it evokes the most famous incident in his myth but because it serves as something of a metaphor for the state of his career. 50’s career as it’s nadir but he’s not going down without a fight even if it kills him. From this moment on “Before I Self Destuct,” 50 goes into an impressive stretch run of some of his most inspired, most hardcorest, most gangsterlicious (Word to Riley Freeman.) rap songs of his career. It’s song number ten before we reach anything that can remotely considered anything approaching that would be suitable for play in the club or the radio. 50 is not playing around. For once, 50 drops the quease-inducing sex food metaphor raps and actually provides the "aggressive" sounding music he's been alleging exists in between "21 Questions" knock-offs.
For those ten or so songs, Curtis Jackson gets his swagger back and returns to the viciously sarcastic wit that made him a star in the first place. Aside from the asinine radio-friendly pandering of "The Massacre" and "Curtis," I always felt the main problem with these record were that he couldn't channel the nihilistic joy of his mixtape work into any of his hardcore material. It always appeared that he didn't care and was more content to kick half-assed gangsterisms on auto-pilot than writing anything that remotely approached his early promise as a pure gangster rapper. The only time the fun of being the evil dictator of hip hop was channeled into his music was the shit-talking spoken word interludes, he would record over at the end of his seemingly endless diss tracks . (Think the last minute of "I Run New York.") 50 regains a little bit of that ol' demonic steez back on his new album. On "Then Days Go By", he giddily brags of being sexually taken advantage of as a pre-teen by his older babysitter when he screams "Take me baby, take me!" and on "Stretch," he taunts a young heroin addict that he doesn't give a fuck he' s ruining his live because "it's a cold world we're in". These are situations aren't novel to hip hop music but you can sense the joy 50 feels in playing the villain. We're missing that.
However, after those ten songs, the record begins to slowly fall apart as the second half of the record marks 50 Cent's quixotic quest to produce something gravitating towards a hit record. His insipid single, "Baby By Me," is as flaccid and desperate as the day it was conceived in a board room at the Interscope Records building. "Ok, You're Right" marks Dr. Dre's continued descent into pop, keyboard-plinking senility while "Get It Hot" sounds like budget Timbo lame-assery. This half of the record seems so schizophrenic and out-of-character with the mission statement of the first half that it begins to compromise the whole project. There is nothing on this record that is half as essential as "I Get Money," the brilliantly misanthropic single from "Curtis," and this in itself keeps the record from truly shining.
Still if this isn’t quite his “Stillmatic”, it comes close as possible as we will ever get out of 50 Cent (and no, we will not be debating the merits of “Stillmatic” in my comment section. It’s a great album regardless if your wack-ass Jay-Z revisionism will allow you to admit it or not. Sometimes, your just going to have to agree that the consensus is right, people. This is one of those times.). “Before I Self Destruct” isn’t quite perfect but it offers a glimpse at 50 Cent at this most clear and focused as an artist as he's been since his mixtape days. Welcome back, Curtis Jackson. I will now grudgingly give you your props. Don’t fuck it up.