A focused 50 is a dangerous 50.
Over the course of the last couple of years, it's become obvious that 50 Cent knows how to appeal to an audience that stretches wider than that of the average hip-hop artist -- heck, his finely-honed, bullet scar-riddled physique (the focus and glorification of which brings all sorts of dangerous implications) has been the gateway to much of his widespread fame. Still, an artist can't break through to the mainstream like 50 has on the strength of appearance and mystique alone.
50 has swagger. 50 has a sense of humor. And, at his best, 50 has hunger.
Those three things are all over the soundtrack of 50's new movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin'. Named for 50's first album, it's also something of a worldview, a statement of giving everything you've got, maybe even your life, in the hunt for the proverbial golden egg. There's no "Candy Shop" here (thank God), there's no "In Da Club" -- this incarnation of 50 Cent has no time for club bangers that serve no particular purpose other than to get people dancing. 50 himself says that the songs on the soundtrack are loosely based on the events in the movie; interestingly enough, given that the movie is itself loosely based on 50's rise to fame, this means that 50's raps are spit through the voice of a fictionalized version of his own younger self.
This subtle shift in perspective colors tracks like first single/opening track "Hustla's Ambition" and closer "I'll Whip Ya Head Boy", both of which are full of hunger -- "Hustla's Ambition" is the hunger for money, while "I'll Whip Ya Head Boy" is the hunger for power on the streets. The latter, which features 50's G-Unit compadré Young Buck, is especially affecting, with production pushing a minor-key buzz into the listener's skull while 50 gives us a glimpse into a scattered, volatile mind prone to violence at any second: "Fuck a ski mask, man, niggaz know who I is / I got a full clip and niggaz know I get biz," he says at one point, challenging anyone who dares step to him.
Still, as 50 sings the hook of a song like M.O.P.'s "When Death Becomes You", another theme becomes clear: "There's nowhere to run to / When death becomes you / Some say your soul may burn in the flame" allows a bit of uncertainty into the mix with all of the bravado and machismo. A number of the tracks here are laments as much as they are boasts, with tracks like Spider Loc's "Things Change" and Tony Yayo's "Fake Love" lamenting the stresses of newfound riches and the ease with which those riches can be lost. "When It Rains It Pours" is misogynistic on the surface with lyrics like "I was tellin' the little homies all about this shit / Said keep your mind on your money and don't trust no bitch," but there's an undercurrent of actual pain and emotion, thanks in no small part to the melancholy piano and guitar melody that dominates Dr. Dre's production. It's the type of outburst that might be expected of a hard type who let down his guard for someone he thought he could open himself to, only to get burned in the end.
Of course, that's not to say that 50 is immune to the traps of mainstream hip-hop misogyny, as the majority of the soundtrack sees women as disposable and men as the dominant gender -- though perhaps it's to be expected on a 50 Cent-curated soundtrack whose only female guest appearance comes courtesy of Ms. "Candy Shop" herself, the one and only Olivia, on the laughably awful sex romp that is "We Both Think Alike". Here's the mentality -- when 50 tries a love song, as he does on penultimate track "Just a Friend", he can't help but add lines like "See, I see something special when I look in ya eyes / With ya legs way back I say 'this pussy is mine'". The guy's not exactly Al Green.
Mercifully, most of the album steers clear of women entirely, sticking with what 50 and his Unit are good at -- swagger-filled street anthems with a dash of humor. "If I smoke weed all day like Snoop do / I'd see the world different through my dilated pupils," says 50 on "What If", the best line in a track that serves as the only real example of "fun" on the entire soundtrack. It's a track where 50 actually manages to namecheck a pile of people without being hostile (aside from a fairly weak crack directed at AZ). It's a fantastic track that uses names like Usher, Diddy, and even Will Smith as means toward self-affirmation. "Be yourself" is the message. Of course, this is exactly what 50 is doing, except with the twist that he's spitting through the filter of Curtis Jackson circa 2000 or so.
The artists on the Get Rich or Die Tryin' soundtrack who aren't 50 Cent kind of get the short shrift -- 50's cohorts Young Buck and Lloyd Banks turn in some decent, if underwhelming material, and the members of Mobb Deep show up for a couple of tracks. Ma$e even takes a turn stonewalling the police in the kind of fun (but still not really noteworthy) "I Don't Know Officer". Given that he appears on 14 of the 18 tracks, however, it's obvious that this is 50's baby. This is a soundtrack that partially redeems 50 for the overwhelming disappointment of The Massacre, a soundtrack that will, in all likelihood put him once again at the forefront of the mainstream hip-hop scene. And for the first time in his short career, that might not be such a bad thing.
11 November 2005