Fifty-Cent Album Review

By Chris Leeds
March 11, 2005

The gangster aura in contemporary hip-hop has arguably reached its extinction. Rarely, if ever, are the difficulties which rap has always advanced (urban poverty, family strife, social inequality) given little else than a purely commercial potential in pop culture. Artists such as Lil Jon and the Yin Yang twins, though unique in their boldness, purport a style wholly unfaithful to their predecessors. No longer is the gangster mentality, fashioned originally by such MC’s as LL Cool J, Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre and the Notorious B.I.G., a necessary barometer on which to gauge rap’s importance. It has instead become fodder for those who champion rap’s decline, seeing it as fleeting, material and aesthetically empty.

This dearth of credible street MC’s in today’s market makes any conscious consumer yearn for the days of old school Dr. Dre, the Wu-Tang Clan and Gang Starr, when sincere narratives and loyalty to craft preceded crass commercialism. The rapper Fifty Cent, however, who is perhaps at his celebrity apex, has single-handedly resurrected hip hop’s street credibility, and also its necessary gangster tenor. Fifty’s new album, “The Massacre,” is a distillation of his continuing themes concerning street survival and its influence on material success, his entrance into pop culture, and a strong presentation of the gangster image.

The crossover appeal of “The Massacre” is perhaps its most appealing element. Unlike his gangster precursors NWA, Ice-T and Kool G. Rap, Fifty Cent’s abrasive lyrics and menacing street imagery are accepted and loved by pop culture. Fifty, despite his being shot nine times and squalid upbringing in Jamaica, Queens, packages much of his angst in a soulful cadence which doubles as driving anthems and inspiration for avid club goers. Such songs include “Disco Inferno” and “Candy Shop”, the latter a less indulgent reworking of last year’s “Magic Stick.” Both tracks are accessible and simple in approach, as its beat and lyrics are tailor-made for constant head-bopping and recitation. “Disco Inferno” unleashes an atonal whirl that sounds a lot like the production of Timbaland and the Neptunes- a sinewy groove that resonates with confidence. This is a key feature of Fifty’s track- premier production from notable names throughout the album.

The incomparable Dr. Dre pops up on “Outta Control,” which features the jubilant musicality of producer Mike Elizondo, who evokes a sense of carnival-meets-church with a meaty keyboard fill. The hand claps/foot stomps lend a murky militaristic feel to the proceedings, as well. It is another example of how the right beat can make Fifty shine like no one else. Of all the tracks that drop during the album, however, “Toy Soldier” is the most disconcerting. It works as a scary dissertation of blind loyalty as Fifty rants on the introductory chorus “I tell him to pop that gat/he gonna pop that gat/you don’t want to play with my toy solider…” The synthetic Eminem production, which would have been cheesy used anywhere else, here burbles with crackling menace, slowly speeding up as the song progresses to add angst and anger to the proceedings. Given the spread out nature of Fifty’s lyrics, the variety of “The Massacre” alone makes it a worthy purchase.

Although it may not garner as much acclaim as “Get Rich or Die Tryin,” “The Massacre” will reign supreme among pop charts and stereos alike because it has a vitality all its own. It is a vitality that comes in Fifty Cent’s recognition of himself and rap as a crossover genre, and ultimately his ability to achieve that without simply emphasizing its commercial benefits.

Posted to the web by Shawn Rice

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Chris Leeds

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