Rating: 2/5 stars
Pro: 50 eschews recent pop-music flirtations and returns to roots as a gangster rapper.
Con: Minimalist album (no big guests outside of Shady/Aftermath and first single "Baby By Me") highlights 50's flaws as a rapper.
Bottom Line: 50 hasn't been relevant since "I Get Money"; B4ISD won't change that.
OK, You're Right
50 Cent tries to reconnect with his gangster rap roots on his new album Before I Self Destruct. Besides a few Dre tracks and the lead single "Baby By Me", the album has a consistent and monotonous sound -- harshly melodic beats with hard pianos and drums behind them. With no other guest rappers besides Eminem, the album rests entirely on 50's shoulders.
Such a bright spotlight does him no favors. He rarely switches up his flow, mostly sticking with the same gravelly sing-song rhyme scheme that sounds like he's talking out of one side of his mouth. And he's certainly not the cleverest lyricist, using lazy metaphors like "I've got more guns than a gun store" and "I'm like Will Smith in Pursuit of Happyness; in my hood we hustle in pursuit of the same shit." Eminem out-raps him so badly on "Psycho" it's embarrassing.
B4ISD is a full-throated return to the hardcore lyrics of his underground years: "You want some, come get some / It's murder one when you see my gun / I just squeeze and squeeze till the whole clip done / You just bleed and bleed until the police come." That's the most surprising part of the album -- 50 has made hundreds of millions of dollars over the past seven years, yet he doesn't sound very happy.
The only reason girls sleep with him is to "have a baby by me and be a millionaire." Even his usually witty one-liners are tinged with bitterness -- banished G-Unit members Young Buck and Game are a "junkie" and a "queer" respectively. The scars from a messy custody battle with the mother of his son are still fresh: "She don't care about me, she just wants some cash / I'm thinking damn girl we used to be friends."
Anytime he shows any vulnerability, he quickly scrambles back to the psychological safety of the gangster pose. He mentions the pain he felt when his mother blamed him for the missing furniture of his crack-head uncle stole, then immediately boasts "he pistol-whipped that (expletive) till his face was purple" to retaliate.
As "Psycho" shows, a rapper as talented as Eminem and a producer as talented as Dre can make great music about nothing, but 50 doesn't have nearly the skill of his mentors. He spends most of B4ISD trying to scare us, when it really sounds like he just needs a hug.