Heavily embroiled in the gang and narcotics culture of Queens as a teenager, the young Curtis Jackson could have been another crime statistic or worse, but he wised up. After a schoolyard bust he gave himself the name ’50 Cent’ symbolizing change; not small change but life changing coin of a higher order.
At 21 he was mastering turntables and learning how to rap, picking up the intricacies of the form from Jay Master Jay of Run-D.M.C. He worked with Onyx on their Shut Em Down disc(1988) and recorded dozens of tracks in short order with Jay. Unofficially released (his mixtapes are a by-product of his main work) they led him onto phase two of his master plan: Power of the Dollar. His controversial but witty ‘How To Rob’ track threw down a gauntlet, being about his artistic desire to fleece the competition. So, he could talk the talk, could he walk the walk? Yes he could. His mix tape Guess Who’s Back immediately appealed to Eminem who flew him from Coast to Coast and a meet with the Real Slim Shady and Dr. Dre. A deal was inked with Interscope and amid much hullabaloo he contributed the cut ‘Wanksta’ to Eminem’s huge selling 8 Mile soundtrack. Off and running now, his million-dollar advance and much-hyped persona had people wondering could he cut it? He answered that with his inflammatory debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (February 20-3). It only went straight to number one on the Billboard Top 200! In days he’d shifted a million copies. The songs are full of funky horns, intense grooves and world-class writing and rapping. The massive hits are ‘In Da Club’, ’21 Questions’ and ‘P.I.M.P’ and the whole affair is five star classic, executively produced by Eminem and Dre. ‘In da Club’ alone is a phenomenon that won 50 Cent Best Rap Video and Best Newcomer gongs at the relevant MTV Awards. Dope beats and dark drums typify the sound. By years end the album was certified 6xPlatiunum and Mr. Cent’s name was of the household variety in every territory where hip hop rules. Twelve million people couldn’t be wrong. Snoop Dogg and G-Unit are all over the shipped out remix of ‘P.I.M.P.’ – cause for celebration alone but there are so many other great things waiting to be discovered inside. ‘Patiently Waiting’ (featuring Eminem) is a gem and Nate Dogg’s contribution to ’21 Questions’ is matched by the throb of ‘Don’t Push Me’ and the showmanship of ‘Like My Style’, not to mention the collaboration with fellow Jamaica pal Terence Dudley for ‘Life’s On The Line’. Absolutely essential.
And that mantra is not going away because The Massacre (2005), featuring another brooding cover of our hero looking every inch the heavyweight champion, does all the business over and over. Sales on this are ridiculous. Another immediate rush to the top of the charts and over 1.14 million units flying out in six days. The key thing about 50 Cent is he knows to construct a tale where gangsta culture is enriched by massive pop hooks. So check out ‘Disco Inferno’ and ‘Candy Shop’, in which he reprises his Lil Kim cut ‘Magic Stick’. Other choice and key moments are ‘Just a Lil Bit’ and the rough and tumble of ‘Piggy Bank’. Again Dre and Eminem are pretty hands on but now 50 Cent is learning the production ropes for himself, studying hard under the tutelage of his mentors and guys like Scott Storch and the jazz and Latin maestro Luis Resto.
It’s also clear by now that 50 Cent uses certain fictional devices to get his point across. He’s far more humorous than most and has learnt how to tell a tall tale. You can come from the projects but you don’t have to live there forever.
The simply titled Curtis (2007) is a much more measured affair, dividing its styles between hard and soft. The raps and beats are built around a semi-autobiographical account of his career, stopping off at ‘Amusement Park’ and ‘Straight to the Bank’ for supplies. Justin Timberlake and Timbaland pop up on this disc, the keyboard sound is prominent, and The Miracles are sampled to grand effect on ‘Movin’ On Up’. Curtis topped charts, or damn near, the world over. If he was ready to be shot down in flames his success clad him in Teflon. The fans certainly weren’t paying the critics any heed.
The brilliantly titled and tongue-in-cheek Before I Self Destruct (2009) – a feature film bearing the same name is included with the package - was accompanied by 50 Cent’s massively sold out The Invitation Tour. Darker and even more aggressive than his previous catalogue, the artist believes this to be hands-down his best work to that time. Lyrically blunt with out of whack rhythms the tracks are hard to resist. We love ‘Then Days Went By’ for its use of a sample from Michael Jackson’s version of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and ‘Gangsta’s Delight’ is similarly straightforward and summertime lovely. More organic than the predecessors in terms of using real instruments, plus a barrage of keyboard trickery – natch – there is no sign of self-destruction taking place since the album topped every Billboard chart it was entitled to be in. The hits don’t stop either. ‘OK, You’re Right’, ‘Baby by Me’ and ‘Do You Think About Me’ showcase another side of 50 Cent – the rapping balladeer – with love interest. It’s no secret that 50 cent has a huge share of the female hip hop fanatic brigade amongst his followers. He’s got the bases covered.
Earlier mention of the man’s business acumen wasn’t an idle boast. He is heavily involved in boxing promotion, he is a publisher and author and an invaluable ally to politicians who seek his advice, though he won’t pay lip service or toady to any of them.
His acting career is back on track and he’s evidently in prolific recording mode. Our selection of 50 Cent albums is as good as it gets. Unless you live the life of a hermit you already know about the man but if you’ve never realty discovered his albums you are in for the proverbial treat. Get hip to 50 Cent, or die tryin’.
Probably the most hyped debut album by a rap artist in about a decade, most likely since Snoop's Doggystyle (1993) or perhaps Nas' Illmatic (1994), 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' certainly arrived amid massive expectations. In fact, the expectations were so massive that they overshadowed the music itself -- 50 becoming more of a phenomenon than simply a rapper -- so massive that you had to be skeptical, particularly given the marketing-savvy nature of the rap world. Even so, Get Rich is indeed an impressive debut, not quite on the level of such landmark debuts as the aforementioned ones by Snoop or Nas -- or those by Biggie, Wu-Tang, or DMX either -- but impressive nonetheless, definitely ushering in 50 as one of the truly eminent rappers of his era. The thing, though, is that 50 isn't exactly a rookie, and it's debatable as to whether or not Get Rich can be considered a true debut (see the unreleased Power of the Dollar and the Guess Who's Back? compilation ). That debate aside, however, Get Rich plays like a blueprint rap debut should: there's a tense, suspenseful intro ("What Up Gangsta"), an ethos-establishing tag-team spar with Eminem ("Patiently Waiting"), a street-cred appeal ("Many Men"), a tailor-made mass-market good-time single ("In da Club"), a multifaceted tread through somber ghetto drama (from "High All the Time" to "Gotta Make It to Heaven"), and finally three bonus tracks that reprise 50's previously released hits ("Wanksta," "U Not Like Me," "Life's on the Line") -- in that precise order. In sum, Get Rich is an incredibly calculated album, albeit an amazing one. After all, when co-executive producer Eminem raps, "Take some Big and some Pac/And you mix them up in a pot/Sprinkle a little Big L on top/What the f*ck do you got?" you know the answer. Give Em (who produces two tracks) and Dr. Dre (who does four) credit for laying out the red carpet here, and also give 50 credit for reveling brilliantly in his much-documented mystique -- from his gun fetish to his witty swagger, 50 has the makings of a street legend, and it's no secret.
Words: Jason Birchmeier
Following up one of the biggest debuts in Hip Hop history, crack dealer turned charisma dealer 50 Cent makes some bold moves, recycles plenty of old ideas, and sprinkles in some perfect party singles for The Massacre. Crafty man that he is, 50 must have known following up the massive Get Rich or Die Tryin' was going to be extremely difficult, especially for a rapper rightfully known more for creating headlines than rhymes. To cushion the blow, 50 released an album by his G-Unit crew, made numerous guest appearances on other artist's tracks, and helmed ten mixtapes in his G-Unit Radio series. It kept the debut momentum moving and it's half the reason why The Massacre doesn't feel like Get Rich's proper successor, the other half being the album's effortless attitude. That's the most frustrating thing about the otherwise satisfying Massacre. At worst, it feels unfinished, and at best, it feels like a mixtape cobbled together from mostly choice tracks but without that overseer's polish. At a stunning, slightly overstuffed 78 minutes, it's overwhelming, too, but without a perfect flow to hold the listener's hand the whole way through, it's also a testament to 50 and crew that The Massacre doesn't test your patience until after the one-hour mark. Silly and short intro out of the way, the slinky "In My Hood" gets down to business and gives way to four tracks of the same-old, same-old bravado and beats that are still just as stunning and catchy as hell. "I'm Supposed to Die Tonight" and "Gatman and Robbin" are both great tracks from the quirky/macabre house of Eminem, but it's the Fat Joe-dissing "Piggy Bank" that steals the show. Like "Candy Shop," "Outta Control," "Disco Inferno," and on and on, "Piggy Bank" succeeds because of its serviceable rap, believable swagger, inescapable hook, and phatter than phat beats. For those who've had it with the gunshots, the Shady/Aftermath boasting, and the usual "G-G-G-G-Unit!" shouts, The Massacre has just enough surprises. Besides mentioning Kurt Cobain and Ozzy Osbourne, "A Baltimore Love Thing" is the big shocker as 50 poignantly tells the tale of a heroin-addicted girlfriend destroying all that's good. "Ryder Music" is more easygoing than expected, "Build You Up" (featuring Jamie Foxx) is actually sweet, and "God Gave Me Style" has just about the dreamiest beat in the G-Unit universe. Scott Storch, Dr. Dre, and Eminem are the only big names in the producer's chair, but everyone else serves up fine tracks, especially the great Needlz. Guest spots are kept to a bare minimum and besides the intro, skits are nonexistent. Trim a couple tracks and a couple beefs and rearrange the album and you have what sounds like Get Rich's lesser sequel, but The Massacre doesn't look back. It really just wants to challenge other rappers' albums and not its predecessor. Taken that way, it's an excellent effort.
Words: David Jeffries
There are two big stories behind 50 Cent's third album, Curtis (as in real name: Curtis Jackson). First, there's the promise he made that he would outsell Kanye West -- who was releasing his Graduation album the same day as Curtis -- or he would retire. Second, there's the album's original title, Before I Self Destruct, a fitting caption to the moody close-up of 50 on the cover, which looks much more troubled, concerned, and intense than anything on the album sounds. Referencing self-destruction would have been a gross misrepresentation of a full-length that repeatedly employs the tried-and-true 50 Cent formula -- heavy hooks, macho charisma, a dash of controversy, and some sly cleverness -- and features a collaboration with the ultra-suave Robin Thicke smack dab in the middle. The perfect soundtrack if 50's G-Unit empire begins opening cocktail lounges, "Follow My Lead" with lounge lizard Thicke is pure polish, a slow finger-snapper dressed up in an expensive suit that feels extremely comfortable. Equally at ease is the Timbaland production "Ayo Technology" featuring Justin Timberlake, an obvious single that's "been there, done that" for all parties involved. This doesn't mean it's bland, just safe. Same goes for both "Amusement Park," which is as empty-headed and hook-filled as "Candy Shop," and "I'll Still Kill" with Akon, which offers no surprises, just another melody that refuses to leave the head. Also from the high-profile department and pushing a little harder is the emotional "All of Me," which finds Mary J. Blige and 50 displaying some passionate chemistry, and "Fire," which succeeds not because of the underwhelming Dr. Dre production or the severe chorus from Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, but because of 50's inspired verses, one of which gives up "You can hate this/But face it/B.I.G. and 2Pac/Just ain't around." "Get a tan?/I'm already black/Get rich?/I'm already that" comes from "I Get Money," a classic "I run New York" swagger-fest in the G-Unit style. The third killer verse on the full-length is much too foul to repeat and comes from Eminem, who also produces the great "Peep Show" and makes 50 sound hungry for a change. As far as Dre rapping on "Come & Go," he's got two lines, and as far as controversy, "Fully Loaded Clip" flippantly drops some big names for the sake of mischief while "Man Down" is censored no matter what version you buy, since Interscope isn't so keen on cop-killing lyrics.
Words: David Jeffries
Released without the usual flurry of hype, Before I Self Destruct fulfils 50 Cent's contractual obligation to the Interscope label. It also doubles as a throwback album, returning the rapper to the hunger and hatred of his early mixtapes while skilfully recasting him as a wannabe upstart. That is, for the most part. The four radio-friendly bedroom numbers that conclude the album are out of place but fairly good to dime-piece beautiful, with the best being the Ne-Yo showcase "Baby by Me" ("Have a baby by me, baby/Be a millionaire"). As pleasing as these final numbers are, if you leave the room after the macho bruiser "I Got Swag" ("I'm infinitely special/Girl the Lord is gonna bless you/If you do what I tell you to do"), you'll return to a confusingly different album, one that's as glamorous but less vital. The monstrous run of tracks that leads up to this flash and polish can be summed up by 50's "This ain't Tha Carter/It's Sparta!," a witty, deceptive, and brutish line barked over a prime Dr. Dre beat during the great "Death to My Enemies." On the cut, the producer sounds like he's been digging on RZA, but the tension and dark-night feel he has created for "Psycho" is easily identifiable as Dre. Add an especially rapid 50 trading horror-show rhymes with Eminem and the G-Unit soldiers will testify that the Shady/Aftermath dream is still alive. While "So Disrespectful" is the perfect title for a song that shocks, stuns, and brings reminders of the gritty G-Unit Radio mixtape series at its best, the Rick Rock-produced "Stretch" is an even craftier balance of amoral and humorous as it references Plastic Man and Mr. Fantastic before explaining the profitable benefits of cutting cocaine. There are only three guest vocalists, and save a production credit for Havoc, the G-Unit posse is absent, and yet 50 is able to carry the album alone, sounding as inspired as he did on his Interscope debut. That album, Get Rich or Die Tryin', beats this one thanks to its proper balance and structure, but Before I Self Destruct is still a fantastic juggernaut of a 50 album if you exit early, and a very good one even if you don't.
Words: David Jeffries
Though backing posses had become de rigueur for commercially successful rappers by the early 2000s, 50 Cent's posse, G-Unit, is somewhat exceptional, as showcased on its album debut, Beg for Mercy. Following 50's unsuccessful stint with Columbia Records during the late '90s, he returned to the streets and willfully assembled a backing posse, with himself as the superstar and his cohorts as his street-level representatives, thereby ensuring himself future street credibility and enough firepower for entire mixtapes. The plan paid off in spades as G-Unit worked the mixtape circuit, releasing one after another, while 50 in turn blew up in 2003 with his solo debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin', yet maintained his street cred with his well-bred posse, touring extensively and releasing still more mixtapes. All of this made the eventual release of Beg for Mercy a real event -- and all the more so because Murder Inc had announced that they would simultaneously release a new Ja Rule album and go head to head, sales-wise (though they wisely reconsidered), and because Interscope bumped up the release date of Beg for Mercy to November 14 (citing bootlegging concerns) so that G-Unit could contentiously go head to head with Jay-Z and his much-anticipated Black Album. It's thus difficult to distance yourself from the aura of hype surrounding Beg for Mercy and evaluate it as music rather than as an event. Of course, when you deflate the album of its hype, it's not quite as exciting as it probably sounded fresh out of the cellophane first thing in the morning on November 14, but it's still a considerably exciting listen nonetheless. For one, 50 and his cohorts (Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, and on two long-ago-recorded songs, an incarcerated Tony Yayo -- with no guests whatsoever) are sky-high on confidence here -- brash as hell, taunting the world and absolutely reveling in their newfound celebrity. For two, G-Unit get a wide array of fresh beats from a legion of up-and-comers, along with a few former collaborators: Dr. Dre, Red Spyda, No I.D., Megahertz, and Midi Mafia. For three, 50 takes charge like a leader should, lacing pretty much every track with his trademark singsong hooks and prominently appearing on every one of the 18 tracks. And lastly, G-Unit stick to the script -- guns, women, haters, drugs, wealth, and more guns -- and deliver exactly the album their fans wanted. As for highlights, there are a few: the Dre/Scott Storch album opener ("Poppin' Them Thangs"), the flashy lead single ("Stunt 101"), a laid-back Marvin Gaye-sampling pimp anthem ("Wanna Get to Know You"), Lloyd Banks' crossover bid ("Smile"), and a Yayo mixtape favorite ("I Smell Pussy"). For the most part, however, Beg for Mercy is surprisingly solid, sounding very much like a whole rather than the usual hodgepodge of singles and filler. Granted, 50 sometimes sounds like he's unenthusiastically coasting, but Banks and Buck bring the heat consistently, proving their respective worth quite well. Even so, Beg for Mercy doesn't measure up to Get Rich or Die Tryin', but then, how many rap albums do? Surely not many, and when you measure Beg for Mercy against any standard rap album circa 2003, it's very satisfying, especially if you're hungry for some more 50 after having played out Get Rich months earlier.
Words: Jason Birchmeier
Lacking the usual G-Unit complete package polish, the soundtrack to 50 Cent's big Hollywood debut is far from perfect, but this sometimes thrilling collection of protégés and slick swagger from the big hustler himself is still worth considering. Since the film is a semi-biopic, it's surprising how non-personal and G-Unit pimping the soundtrack comes off, like Volume 14.5 of 50's G-Unit Radio mixtape series -- just without the interludes that could have helped this disjointed album flow better. Like the mixtapes, the G-Unit roster all get their showcases. Yayo's lackluster "Fake Love" finds the crew's infamous member dryly reading thug lyrics right off the page, while Olivia, Young Buck, and Lloyd Banks fare better with tracks that are hooky but ultimately filler. They fall victim to 50's tendency to throw his executive producer enthusiasm behind the new recruits, who are actually veterans of the game this time out. Mobb Deep have been eased into the G-Unit world with remixes and on mixtapes, but their tracks here are the best yet to come out of the relationship. The rickety beat behind "You a Shooter" suggests 50 is willing to take risks with these Queensbridge legends, while "Have a Party" is the tightest club track yet from the duo, with a perfect Nate Dogg appearance to boot. M.O.P. also get proper handling as 50 provides the hook, then steps aside to let the high-energy crew fly off the handle. As far as the tracks from 50 Cent himself, "Window Shopper" will sit nicely next to "In da Club" and "Candy Shop" on the next greatest-hits compilation, while "Hustlers Ambition" and "What If" are clever numbers that recall the looser moments of his debut, although the latter's AZ diss is a head scratcher and probably a big favor for the under-talked-about rapper. The curveball track that really makes the set interesting is the cold-to-the-bone "I Don't Know Officer" with 50, Banks, Prodigy, Mobb Deep, and surprisingly, Mase all delivering a stark hood tale of no snitching. That the album doesn't even seem aware it's attached to a film is fine, and the "one or two tracks too long" problem is almost a given by now, but this all-over-the-place soundtrack contains enough heat to make it worthwhile for the man's huge fan base.
Words: David Jeffries