Wednesday, November 18

Now this, THIS is 50

Artist: 50 Cent
Album: Before I Self Destruct

There are a few spots on Before I Self Destruct where 50 Cent sings, and he is just fucking terrible. Like, remarkably bad. What’s more, he doesn’t hide his off-key warbling with auto-tune or any kind of studio magic. Still, he keeps right on singing, oblivious or unaffected by his bad voice. Pure, tone-deaf balls.

It’s refreshing to hear. Balls, after all, is what has been missing from 50’s music since his firecracker 03' debut Get Rich or Die Tryin’. The time spent since that landmark release has been spent making uneven and uninspired albums littered with too many b-level guest spots, half-baked club jams and a handful of successfully vapid hit singles.

And, sure, dude made millions of dollars in the process. However, America didn’t fall in love with 50 because of hit capacity for radio-friendly hits. What made the man so compelling was his bravado, his swagger, his fucking confidence. Sure, he wasn’t the best lyricist and his persona is nothing new to gangster rap, but motherfucker had conviction, had the voice and delivery to make you believe. Real or not, 50 sounded hard, and his songs were like mule kicks.

Of course, it's been a long time since 50 Cent sounded like that. Which makes this album's strength all the more remarkable.

Self Destruct is 50 Cent reborn: the story of an older, more jaded, more isolated gangster returning to battle-ready mindset missing from his work for far too long. Like Marlo Stanfield, 50 is returning to what raised him with balled fists, the streets.

Most of the early album is about beef, a notion so antiquated in the modern rap scene that it’s almost refreshing. On “So Disrespectful,” 50 speaks on his uneasy relationship with Game and Jay-Z, even throwing an odd line or two at Dr. Dre, who produced a handful of the album’s better cuts. Pure balls. He saves his most telling attacks for Young Buck, hinting that, perhaps underneath all of his anger, there is more hurt there than he cares to admit. Regardless, 50 comes out cutting close to the bone and sounding all the better for it.

Other early standouts include the soulful Wu-like banger “Strong Enough” and the Dr. Dre produced “Death to my Enemies.” The former is a hungry, mournful track that paints 50 as ferocious and bloodthirsty as he’s ever been, and the latter is the first evidence that Detox might not be as terrible as common sense would indicate. Both tracks are pure bangers, villainous music from a confident gorilla flexing muscle for the first time in years.

If the album were limited to the first nine songs is would be an instant classic. As it is, the back half of the record is loaded with more of those soupy love songs and faux-club bangers people have come to expect from 50. Nothing really worth getting into back there, though it should be noted that “Baby By Me” would be a pretty good song if not for Ne-Yo.

It’s hard to imagine a multi-millionaire living in a Connecticut house previously owned by Mike Tyson feeling backed into a corner, but there is an element of caged animal to the best tracks on this album, as if 50’s recent loss of allies has made him more aggressive and lonesome.

Motivations and weak club tracks aside, what will stick are Before I Self Destruct’s darker moments. The bangers, the battle tracks that prove the 50 of old can still bring what made us love him in the first place: the invincible swagger and bravado of a real life hood-raised gangster.

Call it voyeur. Call it artificial. Call it exploitative. Just don’t call it boring. It’s the first 50 Cent album in some time that can boast that.

Key Tracks: Death to my Enemies, Strong Enough, So Disrespectful

Buy, Steal, Skip: Buy, for the first time in a while.

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