“Damn, homie, in high school you was the man, homie…. The f*** happened to you??”
That quote pretty much sums up how I’ve felt about 50 Cent. I’ve gone from thinking he was the coolest rapper when I was twelve years old, to the lamest rapper when I was around seventeen, and now I think I’ve found a cool medium between the two extremes. Although they’re in different stages of their careers, I find that 50 Cent’s musical success is very comparable to that of Macklemore’s. Neither of them really have much exceptional, jaw-dropping talent as rappers, but they both were able to bring their own unique messages and stories, and present them in a way that blended with the pop trends of their time. While Macklemore tackles more macro social issues, 50 Cent brought a much more personal story to the table: the tale of his own experience chasing, reaching and living the American dream. Let’s break down the journey.
It actually took me a few years after its release to hear 50’s Power Of The Dollar album, but I could see the potential he had back then when I heard it. He had catchy hooks, decent rhymes and was straight hardcore. Songs like “Your Life’s On The Line” and “How To Rob” got a lot of attention, as he called out a lot of rappers and even got some of them to respond to him. He was able to pull off the gangsta image in his music because he really lived that thug life, and we all know the story of what happened next. He was shot nine times as a drug dealer, and survived to become a financially successful rapper thanks to Shady/Aftermath Records.
The first rap album I ever owned when I was twelve was the 8 Mile Soundtrack, which featured 50 Cent on four songs. Back then my preteen mind just bought into all the marketing, blindly thinking anything “gangsta” was cool, and pretty soon I would buy my own copy of 50 Cent’s famous major-label debut in 2002: Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. Looking back on it now, it’s pretty much the same hype Macklemore recently got with The Heist. 50 didn’t show much skill as an emcee, but his story was special, his production and hooks were really catchy, and overall it just fit the mainstream sound at the time perfectly. The bullet fragment in his jaw left him with a unique slur in his voice, and Eminem and Dr. Dre’s production gave him that extra edge to grab everyone’s attention. He also ended Ja Rule’s rap career on this album with a couple diss tracks, making it uncool for anyone (at my age at least) to be a Ja Rule fan.
Only a year after Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent used his new fame to bring some shine to his crew, putting out G-Unit’s debut album in 2003: Beg For Mercy. This was one of the biggest rap albums in my first year of high school. 50 kept the mainstream appeal going with his catchy hooks, Lloyd Banks spit some of the nicest verses in the group’s history, Young Buck also held his ground and Tony Yayo was the unnecessary sh***y rapper (but was alright as a hypeman). This album would place 50 at the height of his fame, as the G-Unit brand would go on to produce clothing, sneakers, a video game, a movie, solo albums from Banks, Buck and Yayo, and the addition of Game to the group before 50 would release his next solo album: The Massacre.
While the stars aligned for 50 on Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, 2005’s The Massacre ended up being more of a mess. His major-label debut had the right mix of emotion to go with his story, but his sophomore album didn’t really give us anything new, which is what I fear will eventually happen to Macklemore. The majority of The Massacre is filled with strip club songs, which I have no use for in my life other than when I’m at a strip club (although these hits made the album financially successful). There were also some hardcore gangsta-rap type of songs, but with nothing new being said, the listener gets diminishing returns the more they listen. Another marketing tool 50 is known to use is “rap beef”; while he was able to out-rap Ja Rule on his first two albums, this time he called out Nas, Jadakiss and Fat Joe, and got a lyrical beat-down from all of them. This, combined with disses coming from his own crew (Game), made me stop being a fan of 50.
Even though I was no longer a fan of 50, he was still finding ways to get people to pay attention to his music, and I at least had to listen. After kicking Game out of G-Unit and helping with another round of solo albums from Lloyd Banks and Young Buck, 50 would return in 2007 with Curtis. This album would have the highly publicized sales competition between him and Kanye West; they both released their albums on September 11th of that year and 50 claimed he would retire from music if Kanye out-sold him in the first week. We already know what happened, but as for the album itself, there was a good amount of nice beats, catchy hooks and casual flows. It was more club songs and gangsta-rap, and more diminishing returns as 50 really had nothing meaningful to say in his music. When you run out of interesting things to say and you have no raw talent or skill to fall back on, you’re bound to fall off like 50 Cent and G-Unit.
2008 saw G-Unit come together for their last album, Terminate On Sight, as Game had already left the group and Young Buck would also leave during the recording process, appearing on a few songs only as a guest feature. The group now had Lloyd Banks carrying them as their only real talented emcee, 50 Cent remaining consistently mediocre (although he always had catchy hooks at least), and Tony Yayo weighing them down as one of the worst rappers of all time. The production was solid throughout the album and Lloyd Banks made it worth listening to, but G-Unit was merely a shell of what they used to be.
A year after Terminate On Sight, 50 would release his next solo album, Before I Self Destruct. I think with this album his beef-marketing technique was applied to Rick Ross, which at this point just seemed corny, although I do prefer 50 to Ricky. With expectations really low going into this album, it was actually a pleasant surprise to see some aggressiveness and a better attempt at rhyming well by 50. While he was still rapping about the same old ish, his rhymes and flow seemed slightly improved from his previous work. It still wasn’t anything special though, as the replay value dropped exponentially as per 50’s usual.
We’ve had a long wait between Before I Self Destruct and Animal Ambition. In 2009 and 2010 50 put out a couple sh***y mixtapes that weren’t memorable at all, and then he began working on a new album. During this time I actually got to see him perform as a guest at Eminem and Jay-Z’s Home & Home Tour. A few years later, 50 put out a couple singles featuring Eminem and Kendrick Lamar that actually weren’t bad and seemed like a move in the right direction for him, but then ended up leaving Shady/Aftermath Records and scrapping those songs (none of them made it onto Animal Ambition). After some delays, 50 signed to Capitol Records and was able to release his music as he wished, making music videos for more than half of the songs on Animal Ambition. With mainstream hip-hop getting lamer over the years, it’s kind of refreshing to see 50 back at it. Let’s see how his grand return sounds.
Right off the bat, this album does not start the way I was expecting when I saw the cover. It begins with the yawn-worthy single, “Hold On“, with 50 doing nothing to maintain my attention. The energy picks up on the second track, with “Don’t Worry Bout It” being another typical club track that 50’s been known to do. I’ve come to expect this from 50 Cent, but these club songs usually get knocked out of my rotation within days, only coming back for birthday and New Years parties. The album continues in this up-tempo vibe as 50 gets real braggadocios, although the lack of technical skill behind his bars makes him fall flat as usual. The production and the hooks are done well though, and he gives a better variety of flows on these songs.
After a few party jams, the second half of the album gets back to the gangsta 50 Cent, with the ironic Jadakiss feature on “Irregular Heartbeat“. Next is a song called “I’m A Hustler“, which doesn’t quite live up to the original song he did on Power Of The Dollar. This and the next few songs get soft, with some RnB hooks as 50 raps about celebrating his success. The album ends with a more serious vibe, as 50 ends with another typical money-over-b****es type of song, and my version of the album has the bonus track “The Funeral” for a more gloomy ending.
Overall, I’d say 50 Cent lives up to expectations, but my expectations were low. His club/party tracks are better than most of the annoying songs on the radio, but they still don’t hold much value to me. I’m not really enjoying the soft section in the final third of the album, although I can see the point of the songs being there. While the album definitely isn’t as hardcore or violent as his previous work, the couple gangsta-rap songs on here weren’t bad. As for collaborations, I’d say this is 50’s weakest set of guest features to date. Jadakiss and Styles P did their thing, but Prodigy came with a half-assed verse and Kidd Kidd so far has done nothing to win me over. The various RnB singers all fit their roles though.
As usual for 50 Cent albums, the beats are banging and the hooks are catchy, except for the title track in my opinion, and 50’s subject matter remains really limited. I think 50 has improved his rhyming and flow, but this improvement is only to an average level and there is still nothing special about the way he raps. While his previous aggressive, violent songs were at least useful for getting pumped up (for workouts, exams, video game shooters, etc), this focus on his “hey-look-how-rich-and-successful-I-am-tee-hee” type of music doesn’t give him much staying power. I feel like I’m going to move on from these songs by next week and probably won’t visit them again until my annual countdown in December. It’s not so much the subject matter, but the fact that 50 still doesn’t have any skill with wordplay or jaw-dropping lyricism that makes this album fall flat.
My Grades (based on how well I connected with them, no disrespect if your experience was different):
Power Of The Dollar (2000): B-
Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ (2002): B
Beg For Mercy (2003, with G-Unit): B
The Massacre (2005): C
Curtis (2007): C+
Terminate On Sight (2008, with G-Unit): B-
Before I Self Destruct (2009): B-
Animal Ambition (2014): C
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