Monday, November 9, 2009

50 Cent's "Before I Self Destruct": The Death of Mainstream Gangsta Rap?

Rating: 3/5

It could be said that 50 Cent is the last, great Gangsta Rapper.

Rising from an unknown Queens drug dealer to an underground hero/industry target…then from a bullet-ridden mixtape rapper without a deal to the most successful gangsta rapper of all time, 50 Cent’s career is absolutely fascinating. He makes enemies with practically everyone, he’s shamelessly lent his name to any endorsement deal with the right bottom line (and made millions and millions of dollars in the process), and since the release of his classic debut “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” 50 Cent seems to have completely forsaken any kind of artistic innovation, settling into the formulaic and radio-ready on 2005’s “The Massacre” and its disappointing follow-up, 2007’s “Curtis”. Yeah guys…he didn’t name the album (or the movie) “Get Critically-acclaimed or Die Trying,” you feel me?

But when Kanye West’s “Graduation” outsold Curtis in the first week of their simultaneous release and spawned multiple smash hits (while Curtis quickly fell from the charts), many, most definitely including 50 himself, began to wonder if the public had finally gotten over the hedonistic allure of gangsta rap in general and 50’s antics in particular. 50 had allowed himself to turn into some kind of real life, rapping Supervillian; wealthy and powerful, but unscrupulous, mean-spirited and wholly self-interested. So 50 retreated to the studio and made what he claims to be a return to the intoxicating brutality of his earlier work, and his best album ever, “Before I Self Destruct.” Well…he’s wrong. But get passed that little problem and you’ll probably be quite satisfied. The record is definitely somewhat darker than his previous album, and aside from the Neyo-assisted first single “Baby By Me”, one of the few moments here where 50 is obviously reaching for radio play, the album forgoes the mind-numbing pop collaborations that bogged down Curtis.

50’s definitely not trying to soften up his image. Over a formulaic but effective sample from Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “If I Was Your Woman”, 50 spews “I’m pretty like a Harlem nigga/A shooter like a Brooklyn nigga/I’m as hustler. It don’t get no bigger/Queens! Southside til they bury me.” On the ominous, Dr. Dre-produced “Death To My Enemies” 50 sends a few shots at Game and Lil Wayne, boasting “I bring money to my niggas that bring death to my enemies.” And 50 has no trouble keeping up with Eminem on “Psycho”, one of the album’s definite standouts. “Crime Wave” is where 50 Cent hits pay dirt however, adopting an at once both arrogant and menacing flow over a razor-sharp, hard-as-nails beat. The song works perfectly, as do many others on Before I Self Destruct. But it’s nothing new. Nothing you haven’t heard before.

Unfortunately, Before I Self Destruct’s true significance may be the way it highlights how stagnant, uninspired and boring mainstream gangsta rap has become.

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