et Rich or Die Tryin’ is, sadly, the last hip hop album I ever bought on cassette. Far before this iPod explosion flipped people’s shit, I was a Walkman junkie, keeping my tapes neat and categorized, resuscitating tape decks that began to screw and chop with age. I bought almost all of my favorite albums on tape and learned to love them privately on weak headphones. I felt that the true test of a hip hop album’s power was whether I could keep it playing endlessly on Auto Reverse, a constant loop of rhythm and hiss. This was the case with Illmatic, Cuban Linx, The Low End Theory, and, almost begrudgingly, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Shortly after purchasing this tape and listening to it for a month my Walkman gave up.
My opinion of 50 Cent has always been tainted by skepticism and reflexive dislike. His manufactured hype, his Tupac and Biggie posturing, and his easily digestible pop-rap singsong style all left me cold. Still, I was drawn to his naïve melodies and lazy drawl. 50 seemed like a pop songwriter disguised as a street thug, and while I wasn’t buying his marketing tactics, I bought his songs. His ear for hooks and sing-a-long choruses is his greatest asset, alongside his seemingly unflappable self-confidence. Somewhere in the overlong new album, The Massacre, there is another good album crying to get out. Terrible sequencing, rehashed gimmicks, and hit-or-miss beats make this sometimes hard to see.
The album starts off very slowly with a confusing intro and a few less-than-memorable songs. 50 has a good ear for catchy, interesting yet accessible beats, but this isn’t immediately evident. The first song of note is “Piggy Bank,” a dis record reminiscent of 50’s first big track, “How To Rob.” His shots at Jada, Nas, Fat Joe, and Shyne are weak and short, and lack the passion of his feud with Ja Rule. The most unsettling part of this record is the way he maniacally taunts the rappers to come try to shoot him. This is clearly not the playful battling of hip hop’s past. “Gatman and Robbin,” following in the tradition of the kiddie-rap of Eminem, reduces crime and punishment to nursery rhymes and corny hooks.
The pandering that characterizes the first half of the album leaves no hint of the hidden gems that follow. “Ski Mask Way,” produced by newcomer Disco D, is a standout, with a conga-led rhythm underpinning 50’s best flow of the album. 50 finally hits his stride, creating yet another thug anthem without any of the pop pretensions. Riding that popular 70’s soul heroin flow, “A Baltimore Love Thing” is a story of love as addiction and one of the more personal moments on the album. For someone who has revealed so much about his past in order to sell records, it is remarkable how little 50 Cent has actually revealed about himself in his rhymes.
The singles from the album are just as bad now as they were when they came out. “Candy Shop” is more of the same Magic Shtick, “Disco Inferno” is trying desperately to get “In Da Club.” As on The Game’s album, the best track on the whole record is “Love It Or Hate It,” here given the G-Unit remix treatment. The propulsive beat and beautiful horn--courtesy of Cool and Dre--perfectly suit the thug introspection of the rappers.
50 is still capable of creating remarkable songs, but his albums need to be perfectly planned and executed in order to work. The irresistible drive to constantly rewind the album to the top is not there, undermined by a schizophrenic track listing and numerous dull moments. Having spread out his work over a posse album and numerous side projects, this misstep should have been inevitable. The man is clearly overworked and running out of ideas. Thankfully, I have the album on CD. A track-skip is only a click away.
Reviewed by: Jonathan Forgang
Reviewed on: 2005-03-07