50 Cent – Before I Self Destruct

[Interscope/Aftermath/Shady; 2009]

Here we are with 50 Cent, more than six years after the mania surrounding Get Rich or Die Tryin’. That time shouldn’t really seem too long for a rapper still young, but Curtis Jackson’s career began to unravel right after his first widely released album dropped. His second effort also sold an outrageous amount of copies, but the hunger was gone. Not really surprising, as everyone knows, Fitty’s made his dollar all over, pulling in millions outside of hip hop. Some still thought The Massacre was a good listen – the production was smooth and it was engaging enough, right? Then Curtis happened, and it seemed he’d hit his expiration date.

Before I Self Destruct seemed like a disaster in waiting: delayed time and time again, a pretty silly title, sillier album cover – the whole works. Then it leaked. It’s…good? Hell, wait – portions are even great. All that talking Fifty’s been doing for a year or so wasn’t just empty boasting. It’s a shocker really; I wasn’t expecting a reinvigoration at all. Yet, as soon as I had the record in, the aggressive intro track “The Invitation” consumed me. Spitting on the short DJ Premier track, 50 Cent is suddenly interesting again – egotistical and threatening as we’re accustomed to – but absorbing too. From there, it stays strong. Fitty recalls his childhood and sexual escapades on the next track, then slides into a Dre-produced beat, threatening his foes on “Death To My Enemies.” Never been one for subtly.

He then goes on to account for all the drama with Game and Young Buck on “So Disrespectful,” a particularly catchy track. “Come on Game, you’ll never be my equal,” he taunts amusingly. From there he gets more insulting about both former G-Unit members.

Then the album progresses in the gangster directions one would expect from the previous tracks. All the material is pretty strong. The Eminem collab “Pyscho” is gloriously pointless, the two rappers just playing off each other on a perfect Dre beat. They both play the psychotic role well, although it’s amusing to hear Fifty’s gangsta rap trying to mesh with Slim’s batshit grossness. Fifty is concerned with enemies at least seemingly real, Em just wants to threaten starlets. Again, the material is predictable gangsta fodder, but it’s done well, and other rappers more respected in name have gone farther with weaker material. While of course it’s the stronger album, I would be surprised if anyone thought much of anything on Raekwon’s ….Part II was outside of typical drug dealer rap.

Fifty has already been catching flack as to the validity of his gangster persona at this point in his career, and early reviews of this effort seem especially harsh. Complaints as to how genuine gangster threats are on a record are tired and pointless. No successful rapper is going around robbing people; they’re in the studio. I know we all know this, so why does it keep coming up? No one seems to have a problem with older rappers returning to recall their troubled roots (or, for that matter, for rappers to create fabricated personas). Can’t blame Curtis for mining similar ground.

Eventually, the record meanders. The album’s midsection isn’t as entirely memorable as its opening and closing tracks. They’re all fine, but fade from the memory pretty quickly. Still, “Strong Enough” is hard, and the classic reimagining “Gangsta’s Delight” is triumphant and fun. Both tracks showcase the deal with 50 Cent: simplistic lyrics balanced out by a strong flow, good hooks, and excellent beat selection. The album begins to wind down on a softer note, sliding with the sexy “Baby By Me” single, then “Do You Think About Me” (the album’s next single), and concluding with “Could’ve Been You.” Sure, Fifty tosses the epic “Ok, You’re Right” (great simplistic beat, a bit of humor as Fifty simply states “I’m rich” throughout the song) amidst these to remind the listener that it’s a hard album, but we’re still in pop territory again.

Truth is, it doesn’t hurt. “Baby By Me” has an addictive beat and is helped by the presence of Ne-Yo. My figuring is, Fifty’s at a frustrating position in life. Things didn’t work out with his lady and his rap career is at an unsure place following his little billboard fight with Kanye West. So he could stuff his album chock-full of aggressive material, but by ending it on a softer note, Curtis can bring in where he’s at. He can go out and act like the shit, but at the end of the day, he wants a girl and a kid with her. I expect “Do You Think About Me” to be lambasted, but I like the track. It’s significantly supported by its simple chorus, but Fifty’s (relative) vulnerability actually seems genuine. Then he turns it around and makes her feel it on the closing R. Kelly-featuring track. Everyone wants to do that song about the girl who could’ve had it all, and Fitty closes his album on that hurt “ha ha!” note. Simply, Before I Self Destruct may be the most focused Fifty has ever been. His persona is awake and angry and his swag is at its highest. Yet he’s still not happy, that’s clear, so it leads one to wonder where he’ll go next. Doubt it’s 808’s and Heartbreak. Let’s hope not, anyhow.