50 Cent’s much-hyped forthcoming sales battle with Kanye West on the sixth anniversary of 9/11 isn’t the first time the two MCs have butted heads: Back when Kanye was attempting to raise important—albeit ineloquent—questions that the media was failing to ask regarding federal involvement before and after the Katrina disaster, 50 defended George W. Bush by declaring the hurricane “an act of God.” Though he recently claimed that he doesn’t aspire to be like the U.S. prez, the Queens, New York-born rapper has a lot in common with Dubya: Both men fancy themselves gangsters, and they both believe their place in the world is preordained. “God gave me a gift/I’m supposed to be rich,” 50 raps in his typically sloppy, gunshots-to-mouth slur on “All of Me,” a track from his new album, Curtis, that features Mary J. Blige slumming with a “Got me feelin’ like a fiend on crack” hook.
Like his previous efforts, Curtis is equal parts gratuitous violence and romance—the musical equivalent of the perfect Hollywood studio flick. Gunshots, turning barrels, and snapping clips make for some sexy ornamental percussion on the album’s opening track, the artfully titled “My Gun Go Off,” but it’s no surprise that the entirety of Curtis wants desperately for social commentary. It doesn’t help that Akon’s falsetto on the chorus of “I’ll Still Kill”—“When I hit the block, I still wiiill kill”—is bloody painful…or maybe that’s the point. The desire to use music as a means of escaping the hood and as an alternative to crime (with less liability and a much higher profit margin), has bred a culture of greed and an entire generation of rappers whose only objective seems to be to make more money. The birth of Curtis Jackson as 50 Cent seemed like the pisstake of this commerce-versus-art and observation-versus-examination mentality in hip-hop, but no one was actually in on the joke. (At least the obscenity of 50 selling his own flavor of Vitamin Water isn’t lost on him: “I take quarter water, sold it in bottles for two bucks/Coca-Cola came and bought it for billions/What the fuck?”)
50 doesn’t fare any better on the softer side: “Amusement Park” proves he’s one of the worst lyricists alive, likening his cock to a roller coaster and carousel and, just in case your IQ happens to be lower than his, tossing in a reference to sucking a lollypop. It’s not just the metaphors, though, it’s the execution: “I’m hoping you enjoy my amusement park/There’s lots of activities, fun things to do,” he mumbles without a hint of irony or conviction. The album’s racy tracks feature the tightest production, courtesy of Timbaland (“Ayo Technology,” featuring a whole lot of Justin Timberlake and only a mercifully scant minute-and-49-seconds of Fiddy), Eminem (“Peep Show,” featuring Em’s signature scatological rhymes), and Dr. Dre (“Fire,” featuring an in-heat-as-never-before Nicole Scherzinger), but 50 once again louses things up on “Follow My Lead,” which, aside from the questionable necessity of having both Robin Thicke and Timberlake guest on your album, finds the rapper trying to prove that he knows “how to treat a lady”: “If you act like a bitch, I’ll call you a bitch and then hang up.” Not that I personally have anything against this “call a square a square and a circle a circle” approach.
Curtis may be the only album in history to see no less than four singles released prior to hitting its finally settled-upon street date. The failure of the first three singles (“Straight to the Bank,” “I Get Money,” and “Amusement Park”) led to the album’s delayed release and 50’s SoundScan prowess is now in question. Sadly, it probably wasn’t the blatant misogyny/homophobia (for guys like 50, the two pathologies originate from the same insecurity) of “Straight to the Bank” or Tony Yayo’s irritating “ha-ha” hook that prevented that song from becoming a hit; the general public, no matter how dumb, prefers not to be mocked or reminded that an artist is selling them shit and laughing all the way to the bank.