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Cotton CandyThe hype around 50 Cent's new album, The Massacre, began sometime last fall when "Disco Inferno" began percolating on radio stations around the nation. The left-footed logjam wasn't as fresh as The Game's first single, "How We Do," which found the West Coast thug and 50 Cent pass the mike over a Dr. Dre beat. So, in January, 50 Cent released a better single, "Candy Shop," that eventually copped spins from DJs hungry for anything new from rap's biggest star.
Then, on February 28, 50 Cent spoke to Funkmaster Flex on Hot 97 in Manhattan, the most influential urban radio station in the country, claiming that he had kicked The Game out of his G-Unit crew. This wasn't a surprise. For the past several months, 50 Cent made a point of distancing himself from The Game, whom he characterized as a young, unpolished artist from Compton brought to him by Dr. Dre. Most suspected that the entire episode was a publicity stunt, sour grapes over the meteoric success of The Game's boorish debut, The Documentary(which has been credited to 50 Cent's involvement), and paranoia stemming from The Game's subsequent efforts to set up a collective distinct from 50 Cent's G-Unit empire. But what happened next that evening shocked everyone: Though the details are still sketchy, The Game and 50 Cent's respective crews seemed to have confronted each other outside the Hot 97 building, and a member of The Game's entourage was shot as a result.
Ever since his 1999 debut single, "How to Rob," lifted the mixtape star out of obscurity with a volley of snarky comments about ripping off famous MCs such as Jay-Z, 50 Cent has made a career out of talking shit about other people. But "How to Rob" was just a novelty cut that the fatuous rap industry, awash in its own self-importance, took too seriously, nearly ruining 50 Cent's career as a result. Now, post- "In Da Club," he has become a despot himself, eagerly busting off lyrical (and literal?) shots at anyone who doesn't embrace him.
On his breakthrough album Get Rich or Die Trying, 50 Cent aimed at Ja Rule with cuts such as "Wanksta" and "Back Down." Most great hip-hop battles are essentially Oedipal conflicts, with up-and-coming MCs seeking to dethrone their stylistic predecessors. Because Ja Rule's husky, singsong delivery presaged 50 Cent's own natty hooks, the latter's animosity made sense. (It didn't hurt that the two had a history of real-life beef, either.)
Meanwhile "Piggy Bank," 50 Cent's latest battle track from The Massacre, is strictly expansion-team antics. By taking aim at Fat Joe, Jadakiss, and Nas, three MCs whose only crime was making jealous comments about him (as the biggest-selling musician in New York right now, what does he expect?), 50 Cent crafts a petty, ephemeral jam. Over an off-balance Needlz beat that's laced with sound effects of half-dollars tumbling to the floor, he throws jabs at Fat Joe ("That fat nigga thought öLean Back' was öIn Da Club'/My shit sold eleven mil/His shit was a dud"), Jadakiss ("Jada don't fuck with me, if you want to eat/'Cause I'll do your little ass like Jay-Z did Mobb Deep"), and Nas ("Kelis said on öMilkshake,' öBring all the boys to the yard'/Then Nas went and tattooed the bitch on his arm").
But give credit where it's due: The Massacreis a hit. Remarkably, it bangs with a lot of great beats, so-so choruses, and effective performances from 50 Cent, Eminem, Tony Yayo, and a souped-up Jamie Foxx (!). But it isn't as much fun as Get Rich or Die Trying. Like that 2003 multiplatinum smash, The Massacre'salbum cover depicts him naked from the waist up, but it lacks the former effort's conceptual brilliance of superimposing a glass wall pockmarked by gun shots. Instead the photo is strictly a beefcake pose, albeit with a few squiggly blue lines drawn over it. (And for those who think that I'm gay for pointing out 50 Cent's obvious sexual appeal to his male acolytes and female groupies, you can get two snaps.)
No matter what he might tell you, 50 Cent is not a lyricist with a deft sense of wordplay, but a street rapper with a soft singing voice, a wicked sense of humor, and shockingly direct punch lines. On "Get in My Car," he cracks on his fleeting romance with actress Vivica Fox: "Commitment from me/Ah, nah, not likely/When I was with Vivica, I thought I was onto something/But then the next week, nah, man it was nothing." The line doesn't exactly leap off the page; you have to hear him say it in his own peculiar phrasing to get the joke.
There are about 22 tracks, many of which bear strong beats, to support his ramblings. Scott Storch's "Build You Up" improves on Get Rich's windy "Like My Style." That crazy, wind-up track teased and confounded DJs with its irregular beats per minute back in 2003, but "Build You Up" smoothes out the formula while retaining a futuristic bebop pattern. Produced by C. Bang and Bang Out, "In My Hood" is crime fantasies inspired by RZA's "Incarcerated Scarfaces" era, all narcotic vibes and nocturnal menace.
50 Cent isn't an artiste, per se, but a popular artist. His recordings are meant to be digested and enjoyed by reg'lar people, but unlike so much classic hip-hop -- think Jay-Z's The Blueprint, OutKast's epic albums, or even Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP -- it doesn't stand up under critical scrutiny. Unrepentantly thugged the fuck out, he's too bent on getting rich without trying to waste time on reflective moments, save for pithy comments such as "In 1999, I had a vision and made a decision/Being broke is against my religion" on "Ryder Music." His sound is hard, but it's not cold-hearted, because he's unwilling to deliver the introspective, Macbeth-like soliloquies that would vividly illustrate his heart of darkness. In essence, 50 Cent makes good pop music -- light, tasty, and shallow, no revelations, no compromise.