If there’s one thing 50 Cent is known for (aside from gunshot wounds, that famous lisp and wearing Teflon on his chest), it’s his ability to get into beefs. Kind of.
He’s been in several industry feuds with peers like Ja Rule, The Game and Fat Joe, and the degree of publicity and number of diss tracks have varied according to beef.
But it’s 50 Cent’s latest playground taunt that may be the one that results in the most embarrassing outcome, especially in sales figures. For weeks 50 has bragged to the press that sales for his latest album would top Kanye’s – if not, 50 would stop making solo albums. Done. Fini. Khattam-shud. He later reneged his statement but still expressed the belief that whichever artist sold more albums would prove to have a better album. Both his and Kanye West’s respective third albums drop today, 50 with the eponymous Curtis and Kanye finishing his collegiate album arc with Graduation.
But 50’s argument makes up the fundamental problem with his latest. In creating Curtis, his foremost goal was to sell millions, not make a quality album. All artists want to sell big. But based on 50’s new tracks, if Curtis sells even close to as many units as his previous projects, it will be solely because of the brand name.
50’s glaring mistake composing the album was his attempts to please too many people. He’s always been at his best when the guns are out. When 50’s in his lane, he’s cruising – but when he veers off the path, it’s a rocky road. Stumbling through unfamiliar musical territory on Curtis, he tries to do too much.
The rapper threw a tantrum when “Follow My Lead,” a piano-driven softie, leaked before the album dropped. Perhaps it was because he never intended anyone to hear it. It’s not that the track’s atrocious; it’s just not 50. He and soul crooner Robin Thicke take turns singing the hook, and the vibe is simply too soft for a guy who wears a bulletproof vest. Lyrics are borderline syrupy, relative to 50 Cent: “They say . 50 don’t know how to treat a lady, they wrong / I like you a lot.” That ain’t Fiddy.
Another single, “AYO Technology,” features the proven hit-making combination of Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. The beat Timbo provides sounds like a ghettofied Tetris, its furiously spastic sixteenth-notes dripping with JT coos. And most rap fans would probably rather play Tetris than listen to this song – at least those 50 followers who first jumped on board his crack-boast mixtapes. But it’s got crossover potential, which can only lead to excessive radio play and increased album sales. So in 50’s mind, it’s a success.
But it’s only when 50 returns to the grimy, confrontational sound he’s known for that the results are truly positive. “I Get Money” is, simply put, one of the hardest tracks 50’s ever released. The Audio Two “Top Billin’ ” sample works brilliantly over the dark, repetitive synths and choppy drum loop provided by Apex Productionz. Here 50’s at his most cocky: “When I was young I couldn’t do good, now I can’t do bad / I ride, wreck the new Jag, I just buy the new Jag.”
Lyrically, 50 hasn’t changed much over the course of his career. Curtis is no exception. The guns are still poppin’. The bills are still flashin’. So aside from the aforementioned failed experiments, the content is nothing unexpected.
50’s choice of producers and beats highlights his desire to attract as many types of fans as possible. Timbo, Havoc, Eminem and Dr. Dre all have production credits, with Dre having a hand in the rowdy “Fire” and the bouncy “Straight to the Bank.” But on an album with 17 songs, there’s a lot of time given to less-proven producers as well. Instead of rhyming over beats he sounds the best on, he attempted to reach out, and it doesn’t work.
So, let’s say that other rapper releasing an album today does outsell 50. And Curtis makes good on his initial promise and never again releases a solo album. Would it be the end of the world? Would hip hop cease to exist? Would 50’s most devout followers even be that disappointed? Although it seems unlikely he’ll do so regardless of who sells more – being that another 50 album is reportedly already near completion – as Curtis proves, the answer to all is an emphatic “no.”