11 Years Ago Today, September 11-Curtis born!
The Queens rapper still pushing repetitive nihilism and G-Unit production styles instead of branching out and taking chances with his music.
50 Cent is a noted disciple of self-help guru Robert Greene’s Machiavellian handbook, The 48 Laws of Power. Not only has the muscle-bound hip-hop colossus modeled his career after the cutthroat guide, he’s working with Greene on a street-flavored addendum called The 50th Law. So far, the four dozen over-the-top credos have worked swimmingly for 50: He’s sold more than 20 million albums worldwide since 2003 while pulling in auxiliary profits with Vitamin Water and other less amusing side hustles.
Law 46: Never Appear Too Perfect– It is smart to occasionally display defects, and admit to harmless vices, in order to appear more human and approachable.
In this week’s Rolling Stone feature on 50 Cent, the rapper claims, “I’m King Kong. Kanye is human. Humans run when they see King Kong, because they’re scared.” He’s right. Hulking, inelegant, and hopelessly primitive, 50 Cent is hip-hop’s doomed beast. On Curtis, he sets out to re-energize his base by reminding us of his strengths: He fucks and kills with ease, he needs five deposit envelopes every time he hits up an ATM, and he’s a hit with the ladies. But, as Greene makes clear, there’s no depth or dynamic to that kind of perfection– it’s like watching a big dildo machine make big dildos all day. While 50 never made a habit of flaunting his faults like Kanye (or Em or Big or 2Pac…), he could usually back up his tales with indelible beats, swaggering hooks, and a flow that slithered like original sin. But those once-bountiful gifts are all heavily downgraded– or altogether absent– on Curtis.
50 should be able to work with producers who could conjure his hit-making abilities, but instead the MC mostly sticks with tried-and-failed G-Unit stalwarts and Dre-aping up-and-comers that do him few favors. Nearly every instrumental– from the cartoon menace of “My Gun Go Off” to the assembly-line funk of “Touch the Sky”– plods with the same unending gangster greys that tanked recent albums from Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, and Mobb Deep. On the surface, the tracks display a factory-sealed freshness, but that machine-made precision quickly becomes monotonous, begging for something more raw and excitable. Curtis nails this sweet-spot only once, on the stadium-status “I Get Money”, an adrenaline rush so pure it manages to revive 50’s weary id for three and a half booming minutes. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly enough.
Law 25: Re-Create Yourself– Forge a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience.
With soul-flecked hits like “Hate It or Love It”, “Window Shopper”, and “Hustler’s Ambition”, there was some hope that 50 would divert from his hard-charging style toward something more shadowy and sampled-based for this new album. That switch would allow him to age gracefully and give him a sympathetic platform to air out the real Curtis instead of his exhausted superhero guise. But naturally, the laid-back style that characterized Massacre highlights like “Ski Mask Way” and “Ryder Music” is almost nowhere to be found on Curtis.
The reflective poise that characterized his killer “Hate It or Love It” verse is constantly pushed aside for a repetitive nihilism best summed up by the self-explanatory “I’ll Still Kill”, one of the very few Akon-assisted tracks in existence that fails to stick. The album’s only concession to modern pop trends– the Timbaland-produced, Timberlake-hooked “Ayo Technology”– flies off the rails as 50, ripped from his comfort zone, falls behind the gurgling, video-game-blipping beat. Though he tries to force the track into more familiar territory with a cyborg-stripper theme, Justin nabs the spotlight without even trying. The closest 50 comes to the silky maturity that once seemed so promising is on “Follow My Lead”, a love ballad with everyone’s second-favorite white-boy crooner, Robin Thicke, singing back-up. While the track’s supper-club twinkle is a welcome oasis amidst Curtis’s Michael Bay brutishness, 50 relies on played-out, faceless pick-up lines: “You could be my Beyonce, I could be your Jay.” Thing is, even Jay famously reinvented himself on The Blueprint, shedding his icy exterior for something close to human emotion. Here, 50 misses an opportunity for reinvention, relying on the same useless 9mm Viagra formula.
Law 18: Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself– Isolation is Dangerous: Isolation exposes you to more dangers than it protects you from– it cuts you off from valuable information, it makes you conspicuous and an easy target.
50 Cent currently lives in a 50,000 square foot house in Farmington, Connecticut. The former Mike Tyson abode has five Jacuzzis, 25 full baths, 18 bedrooms, an elevator, two billiard rooms, a movie theater, a locker room, and several stripper poles. Especially for a man known for his reclusive reputation, the house is a fortress of the highest order. It’s also an apt symbol for his isolation and detachment from the modern rap landscape. In direct opposition to Kanye’s fearless, risk-taking Graduation, 50’s new album is a blatant rehash– a bottom-line sequel that insults the same audience it mindlessly panders to. Once again, from Rolling Stone: “‘Kanye receives trophies because he’s safe,’ 50 Cent says, punctuating the word ‘safe’ with a lisp and a limp wrist.” At this point, those grandstanding put-downs aren’t just wildly off-the-mark, but genuinely sad; like Curtis, such remarks are too pathetic to be taken seriously and too stupid to be funny. In his insular quest to recapture the king-sized popularity of his massive debut, 50 is sacrificing the same thing that Kanye (and Jay and Nas…) has so tirelessly worked to cultivate: an engaging music career worth remembering.