Before I Self Destruct, postponed two years and released alongside a film of the same name, is the fourth studio album from Curtis James Jackson III, better known as 50 Cent. The MC who was purportedly named after what he had in his pocket when he started is now one of the richest rappers in the game.�
So what has happened to Fiddy, who proclaimed with his first album and movie that he’ll “Get Rich Or Die Tryin’”? He’s successfully marketed a cologne (Power), co-wrote a variety of books (including an entrepreneurial self-help book, The 50th Law), and popularised the G-Unit clothing line. And rumour has it that a film and album sequel to Before I Self Destruct have already been planned.
In his music, 50 Cent would like to be known as the chosen son of 1990s gangster rap. Most of his songs display the arrogant swagger of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shukar, and let’s not forget that 50 was bred by none other than the godfather of gangsta rap, Dr Dre. But with his success outside of the music market, Curtis Jackson is also taking on the big business side of rap that moguls like Jay-Z and Sean “P. Puff Diddy Daddy” Combs have capitalised on in the last decade.
Yet, like any other rapper out there, Fiddy’s still rapping about the money, the hoes and the rims. He kicks off Before I Self Destruct with The Invitation, which begins: “I had 500 grams in 58 bags, 400 Benz, 8,000 in cash.” He goes on to recount a shooting that blasted his face, most likely the 2000 incident where he sustained nine gunshot wounds. He managed to survive, and this attack and his recovery is another link that Fiddy has to the sustained violence of ’90s rap.
Despite his past injuries, he hasn’t given up on macho swagger. He’s got the lively bounce of Death To My Enemies, the relentless pound of So Disrespectful (punctuated by gunshots and a diss at Jeezy), and the awkward shuffle of I Got Swag to ward off his opponents. He’s also got the tracks to back him – the music stays interesting throughout, and songs like Baby By Me show he can still bang out a pop hook (“Have a baby by me, baby – be a millionaire”) like he did on 2005′s Candy Shop.
But what he really lacks here is a finer sense of perception and humour. Biggie Smalls defined gangster rap by blending his hardcore threats with heartfelt nostalgia and keen insights into life on the streets. But Fiddy’s attempts at, for example, deconstructing a relationship (on Do You Think About Me) feel contrived and insincere, and he lacks the finesse necessary for creating and delivering the wordplay that is so central to rap. The entirety of Before I Self Destruct can’t hold up against a single Ludacris or Kanye West track in terms of, strangely enough, both playfulness and sincerity.
Despite this, 50 Cent keeps successfully building up his empire, so he must be doing something right. What works for his music – swagger, machismo, and interesting backing tracks – are only a part of what makes hip hop the creative force it’s been for the last quarter century. Those albums that push past preconceived notions of hip hop – Jay-Z’s recent Blueprint III comes immediately to mind – are what will shape the genre and are what will be remembered. In contrast, albums like Before I Self Destruct are simply another financial feather in 50 Cent’s cap.