50 Cent already has a legacy. He seemed indifferent to success in 2003—has the guy smiled even yet? He proved iciness, gun love, and a buff torso alone can win people over nowadays. Never mind that as an MC, 50 possesses the most nondescript superstar voice ever. When he glares at a camera and tells you he’ll make your brains leak out your skully, you feel he means it.
Is it a shock, then, that the following year brings updated psychosexual models? Lloyd Banks is a 50 Cent protégé, a younger hopeful from 50’s G-Unit posse. He also is a shade away from being a carbon copy, as he proves on his debut album, The Hunger for More.
Banks also underwhelms his beats, lurking flatly in the grooves. Like the boss, he sounds bored. You get the feeling that he, too, would rather be out shooting guns, smoking blunts, making more money, having more sex. When Banks shares the microphone with his mentor in “I Get High” and “Warrior Part 2,” it’s hard to distinguish their voices.
Further inspection reveals differences. Banks lacks 50’s humor, vocal playfulness, and stone-cold articulation—as the grossly unsexy club anthem “On Fire” proves, Lloyd is quite the mumbler. He lacks 50’s sense of thug conviction; he veers more into rhymes about rocks on fingers and other high-end toys. Banks, though, may also be the better pure rapper; he’s handed beats more challenging than anything on Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Eminem trips over his own stuttering beat on “Warrior Part 2.” So does 50, who sounds like he may hyperventilate. But Banks fares much better, self-assuredly attacking a line about sitting on more green than a Celtics fan.
Akon is as self-assured as Banks—and as 50 Cent, too. He also looks just as good with shirt off, making sure to show off his chiseled frame. Like the other men, the Senegalese-born Akon is not much of an emoter.
But Akon doesn’t rap. He sings, inspired by Afro-Caribbean music. He also produces, creating all of the music on his debut, Trouble. Like Banks at times, Akon challenges himself. “Bonanza (Belly Dancer)” teases with Arabian rhythms while stealing from Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”
For all of its ambition, however, one thing about Trouble is inescapably odd: Akon in spots still evokes 50 Cent—just as detached, just as casually amateur. Heck, if you asked him, 50 would call himself a singer, too.