One reason 50 Cent commandeered hip-hop in 2003 is because he literally embodied gangsta rap. A brazen former drug dealer with the bullet scars to prove it, all of 50′s confrontational verses seemed believable then. His debut, the furiously authentic Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, was praised worldwide and sold multi-millions. This made the money-minded MC a very rich man indeed, yet presented a problem: how could 50 continue rapping convincingly about murky street activity when he now resided in a plush Connecticut mansion? Instead of scouring for an answer to this dilemma, sophomore effort Tha Massacre tiptoed around it. Shallow club anthems (‘Candy Shop,’ ‘Just A Lil Bit’) and mock depth (‘God Gave Me Style’) became just as prevalent as voyeuristic ‘hood anthems. The brand name of 50 Cent ensured that sales remained strong, but critics and fans alike couldn’t hide their disappointment. Curtis is 50′s attempt to recapture that raw authenticity: something alluded to with the personal, birth certificate referencing title. Sadly, his attempts result in mixed success.
It’s unfortunate that “Interscope Jackson” spends so much time here trying to ply believable tough talk’highlights arrive when Fiddy embraces his current, lavish lifestyle. ‘I Get Money’ is gloriously egotistical, down to the artist’s typically arrogant slur, “I’m stanky rich!” Aggressively delivered bars about making millions from Vitamin Water fit perfectly with producer Apex’s guillotine claps and warped synthesizer gargles. The compelling ‘I’ll Still Kill,’ meanwhile, sees the mogul warn off the current hustlers in his native Southside, Queens. His power means that he has to “come creeping through the ‘hood wearing Teflon,” but Jackson retains his earlier menace when he snarls, “Try to stick me, I’ll fill your back with mack rounds.”
Despite the aforementioned highlights, several portions of Curtis sound contrived. The opinionated MC sounds childish on ‘Fully Loaded Clip’ when he makes snippy remarks about hip-hop’s power couples. Over a brooding bass-line, the rapper mockingly chimes, “When Jay and Beyonce was mwah-mwah kissing/I was cooking 1,000 grams in my kitchen.” The lyrics alone are debatable, but they’re made all the more dubious by the inkling that they’re just another ploy for attention. ‘I haven’t even scratched the surface of the descriptions that I can give of my experiences in my neighborhood,’ 50 told XXL prior to the release of Tha Massacre. That album featured a select few vintage insights, such as the popular ‘Ski Mask Way.’ On Curtis, it’s clear that 50 is struggling to venture beyond that surface now. There is no ‘Ski Mask Way’ or ‘What Up Gangsta’ on this “opus,” with only the enjoyably psychotic singsong ‘Curtis 187′ coming closest. No longer gangsta rap personified, Curtis Jackson must cease relying on his overly-mined past if he hopes to re-commandeer hip-hop.