11.13.2009

Pre-Screening: 50 Cent's Before I Self Destruct

Album: Before I Self Destruct
Artist: 50 Cent
Label: Interscope/Shady/Aftermath
Due Out: November 16th

Left for dead by hip-hop observers and many of his peers, 50 Cent's latest album initially seemed like just another bust-in-the-making. When one hits his stride as early as 50, everything else just pales in comparison. Thus, mostly everything he's put out since Get Rich Or Die Tryin' has disappointed, regardless of its individual merits, at least in my eyes. However, on Before I Self Destruct, it appears he has finally changed the formula. Realizing that his tired rhymes and once-novel subject matter are now old hat, it appears that the man also known as Curtis Jackson has reinvented himself. Or at least, it would seem that way through the first few tracks of the album.

From the first notes of opener "The Invitation," it's evident that 50 Cent is a remade rapper. Gone is the overly playful cockiness of past efforts. In its place, there's a large and noticeable chip on his shoulder, the type only developed by having something to prove-- which he does. Regardless of how many hits he's turned out, or Get Rich's icon status, the fact is that in recent years, he's fallen off. At first glance, he seems ready to meet that challenge, tossing out a more primitive model of swagger that sets a dark, yet redeeming mood for the effort as a whole.

As the album continues, tracks like "Then Days Went By" and "Death To My Enemies" show 50 in a new role. Even while touching on pop, he's more reserved than normal. His rhymes are more heated snarls now than the lazy drawl he executed so well earlier in his career. He's obviously aged, but not in the same way that a Jay-Z has. At this point in his career, all Jay can talk about is what he's done, yet here, due to his tragic downfall, 50 is able to speak to what he'll accomplish in the future. Still, he talks like someone with some time in the game behind him, almost a mentoring presence, if not for the threats he dishes out with regular frequency.

On top of this newfound desire, there's also the superior musical elements he employs. Viewing the hip-hop world around him going increasingly experimental with electronic instrumentation, Self Destruct pulls out all the stops. Tracks like "Do You Think About Me" and "Hold Me Down" are rife with soaring keyboards, and fits of electronic whirring and buzzing. Even 50's pal Eminem seems to be up to the level of high performance set in the early goings, as his contribution to "Psycho" may be the best actual rapping he's done in about five years.

However, as much as these first samples appear to show a changed and more determined rapper, the rest reverts back to some of the habits that got him to this low point in the first place. Half of the album comes off as R&B filler, as tracks like "Strong Enough" and "Get It Hot" excel for just brief moments at a time, before eventually fading back into the all-too-familiar scenery. Many of the songs from the sixth on seem to bleed together, especially lyrically, where they lack mightily in comparison to the still-superior backing beats.

To make matters worse, the singles (some assumed, others not so much), are all so out-of-character for this album which appeared to be about redemption. "OK, You're Right," the Ne-Yo featured "Baby By Me" and R. Kelly featured closer "Could've Been You" are made-for-radio drivel, only aided by decent arrangements. Their commercial successes will, unfortunately, end up taking away from the album as a whole, which, by the end, loses a lot of value to the listener already.

When you reach the final bars of Before I Self Destruct, it should take a second to fully comprehend what you've just heard. What started as a potential comeback story of the year ends as just a slight uptick in a downward crawl for someone who used to be one of the biggest names in hip-hop. If 50 Cent had approached the entire record like he did the first five or so tracks, I'd be hailing it as one of the best rap albums of the year. Instead, after such an average effort to close out the record, it will probably just sit as a footnote to a decent year for the genre. In no way would I call it bad. However, Before I Self Destruct could have been so much better. And that is what's most frustrating. Similarities include

Rating: 7.0/10

Best Track: "Death To My Enemies" (not available, but check out "Pyscho")


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