In case you don’t know by now, 50 Cent is hard. Curtis “Fiddy Cent” Jackson is the hardest hard-ass around and he wants you to know all about how hard he his. In fact, he’s going to tell you over and over again exactly how hard he is.

50 Cent

Before I Self Destruct
Interscope

He’ll tell you how many guns he has (“more than a gun store”). He’ll relate to you how his trigger finger’s feeling (“itchy itchy itchy itchy”). And after listening to his newest album, Before I Self Destruct, and the incessant tales of his off-the-Mohs-scale hardness, you’ll find yourself thoroughly convinced.

What you probably won’t be convinced of, however, is the condition of 50 Cent’s music career. On his most recent effort, he’s so completely wrapped up in making a case for his toughness that all other concerns — like crafting a high-quality album — fade into oblivion.

Essentially, Before I Self Destruct is a well-polished, 16-track personals ad.

Hip hop is full of hyper-boastful rappers, sure. But Fiddy fails to match the trademark wit of good hip-hop braggadocio. Resoundingly unimaginative lines like “I’m a psycho / A sicko / I’m crazy / I see I got my knife boy / I kill you / You make me” (“Pyscho”) and “I’m not tellin’ you to shoot somebody / but if somebody try to shoot you shoot ’em” (“Crime Wave”) are typical and unrelenting.

There’s no doubt that 50 can craft a hook (they’re all over Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and, to a much lesser extent, Curtis), and he shows little sparks of this talent on this album. “Death to Enemies” boasts a vigorous early 2Pac vibe over a tarry, GZA-inspired beat from Dr. Dre. Veteran producer Rockwilder supplies what could be the album’s best beat for “Do You Think About Me,” wherein 50’s verses display rare vulnerability that make the track idiosyncratic enough to be compelling.

But for the overwhelming majority of the album, 50 just seems to be phoning it in. His flow is lethargic at best, somnambulant at worst. The lyrics are consistently groan-worthy (“I shoot a nigga in a heartbeat / I ain’t no chump / Then you can run Forrest, run retard / when I dump” is a fine example). Happily, he has the clout to attract brand-name producers like Dr. Dre, Tha Bizness and DJ Khalil, so the beats are consistently top-shelf. But the relative quality of the production makes it all the more astonishing just how hard 50 Cent bungled this record.

Guests do little to salvage Self Destruct. Eminem’s contribution on “Psycho” is forgettable, as he regresses back to his ultra-violent, serial-killer alter ego that appeared on early Slim Shady albums (on “Psycho,” he confesses: “But I barely scratch the surface / like my last batch of girlfriends / that I buried in my fuckin’ backyard / still trying to dig their way out”).

Ne-Yo and R. Kelly soften 50’s hard edges a bit and submit underwhelming choruses on “Baby By Me” and “Could’ve Been You,” respectively. Both cameos are an overt stab at radio airplay, but the tracks are too bland to distinguish themselves from the rest of the garbage heap that is radio hip hop.

50’s constant perpetuating of his ultra-hard image worked brilliantly for him back in 2003. But now, six years later, his “I’ve-seen-more-shit-than-you” persona is extremely tired. It’s fine for 50 to want to express the fucked-up shit he has seen and done. But when the album is simply a vehicle to brag about it, the results are pretty much valueless. You think he would’ve learned from the aggressive flopping of his film “Get Rich or Die Tryin’,” but I guess not.

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