urtis Jackson has done so much to promote this record, in his own cynical way, that if and when it fails, there will be no one left to blame but the record itself. And when the infinitely superior Graduation inevitably surpasses Curtis in sales, 50, in his infinite delusion, will probably blame his label. He will likely insinuate that Kanye sold more because he is “safer” and more acceptable to white America. He will never, for a minute, assume that the utterly bankrupt formula behind Curtis has anything to do with it. He may be the first pop star in a long while to actually go broke underestimating the American public. (Um, “going broke” being a purely figurative concept here.)
If you haven’t gathered by now, there isn’t an ounce of life in Curtis, the third album from the man who recently dubbed himself “SSK (Sound Scan Killer).” Musically, the record mines the same tapped vein of eighth-generation Dre beats—clipped, metronomic drum sounds and feeble keyboards—that have scored a number of recent G-Unit projects. For a man who has bragged so much about his supposed golden ear for beats and hitmaking abilities, the beats on Curtis sound about as dated and cheap as any Koch record. The Massacre was a bloated, tired piece of work, but the beats were often thrilling—Disco D’s sultry “Ski Mask Way,” Hi-Tek’s gorgeous “Ryder Music,” Buckwild’s steamy horns on “Don’t Need Em.” Here, each no-name producer (Veto and Roomio? Jake One? K Lassik?) provides the comfort food they know he’ll lap up.
Lyrically, at least, he’s half-roused himself from the total slumber of Massacre. Still light-years away from his mixtape days, he’s trying to revisit the raw fatalism that defined the best tracks on “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”: “You know tomorrow’s just a day away / If you can just keep your heart beatin’ and your ass awake,” he snarls on “My Gun.” “Curtis 187” has some seriously unpleasant-sounding threats, and on otherwise inert club jams like “Peep Show” and “Come and Go,” he sounds more and more like New York’s best bounce rapper, straddling the beat expertly and filling the spaces between the beats with serviceable nonsense.
His arrogance, meanwhile, has grown by leaps and bounds, leading to a curdled bitterness that, while repellent, is at least more interesting than The Massacre’s complacency. His attitude toward women has grown even more toxic, if such a thing can be imagined. The author of such sweet nothings as “Bitch, get in my car” now blithely admits “conventional methods of sex totally bore me,” adding later: “I’m pissin’ on grown women like R. Kelly be doin on chillen.” On the club hit “I Get Money,” the single blip of life on an otherwise completely flat line, he sneers, “Have a baby by me, baby, be a millionaire / I write a check before the baby comes, who the fuck cares.” There’s a puerile thrill to hearing an unrepentant asshole flash his true colors, and 50 provides that sordid kick about a half dozen times on Curtis.
This is the kindest thing that can be said about the album, though. Listening to it feels like wallowing in someone else’s stale bathwater. That 50 stirred up so much hoopla to promote this record only points to the void at the center: the music itself. The WWF-style showdown between Kanye and 50 has benefited 50 far more than Kanye: Kanye’s record doesn’t need the context of a high-profile chart battle. Handicapping the potential outcome, on the other hand, is the only interesting thing about Curtis.