Don’t look now, but 50 Cent is off in his little corner making compelling music again. Actually, you had better look now — he only does this once a year or so, in between failed commercial projects. (Although here’s a secret almost no one knows: His last such effort, 2009’s Before I Self-Destruct, was one of the year’s best rap albums. Really!) He may or may not be releasing another full-length record sometime soon; it may or may not be called Black Magic. But it’s hard to get too worked up over these niggling details when you live in a 9,000-room mansion and will never, ever run out of money. Music is a demanding beast, after all, requiring hours of focused effort, and when you can get the same return on investment publicity-wise by filming yourself interrupting one of Shyne’s conference calls, honestly, why bother?
But if there’s one thing Curtis Jackson needs to feel, it’s that he can still command your attention, should he want it. And when this itch grows burdensome, he goes on a small tear to relieve it, issuing a torrent of deeply entertaining, cheaply recorded freestyles and mini-songs over which he rants and raves like a gangsta-rap Yosemite Sam about his dwindling legacy. Usually, this music — released on G-Unit mixtapes, or lately just sent willy-nilly to blogs as he finishes them — is all the things he’s good at being without even trying: undeniably funny, acridly contemptuous, cynical, openly hostile and bullying to anyone/everyone, and basically cartoonishly dickish. This latest salvo is no exception. There seems to be no “strategy” surrounding their presentation: no mixtapes, no themed projects, no “one song a week” roll-out schemes. Just a random spray of freestyles, original songs, random remixes of pop hits, and left-field collaborations with random West Coast street rappers. Black Magic, or whatever it is, exists in a purely theoretical realm right now; if and when it ever surfaces, it will likely boast half the entertainment value of what we’ve collected here.
“They Burned Me”
50 taps into his seething id and uncorks a gusher. “I’ve got so many enemies/So many memories/So many flashbacks/We used to be friends/Sugar turned to shit/People just changed,” he snarls in the opening lines, and “They Burned Me” only grows more acrid from there. Nothing summons 50’s eloquence like unbridled contempt, and he’s got generous servings of it here for everybody: “She called the cops on me/Because I don’t love her like I used to,” he sneers of his baby mother. “Listen homey, I don’t know you, I wouldn’t save you if I could,” he barks at the guy approaching his car. The song is basically a rich asshole’s bitter laundry list, but it’s set to an instantly likable sped-up soul beat that almost gives his petty gripes the weight of actual grievances. Maybe the best song he’s made in years.
“Happy New Year”
In which 50 hosts a New Year’s Eve party at his mansion, pops some unfamiliar pills that Eminem gave him, and turns his patented charm on a female visitor: “Look bitch, this is my house, we got 50 fuckin’ rooms here/Butlers, maids and them Vaqueron chandeliers/Dog named Oprah and a cat named Dale/Stash in the floor ‘case I need to make bail.” The beat, a swampy funk of St. Louis-style horns, is looped with the carelessness that suggests it took someone ten minutes to make. It’s a perfect match for 50’s conspicuous consumption, which takes the finest things in life and coats them with such a slime trail of arrogance that they lose all desirability. Happy new year.
“Ghetto Like a Motherfucker”
50 claims this beat is unfinished. “This one is for the producers,” he says on the intro. “Got a little kick drum and a sample — you finish it.” But the beat as it stands is spectacular: It needs nothing else, and I can’t imagine a legion of Twitter producers will improve it. It’s a calm-before-the-storm beat, with a tolling gong, five guitar notes, and the barest hint of a drum break that conjures a world of free-floating menace. It’s the kind of open-space production that a crime storyteller like Raekwon fills with swarming, grimy detail, and 50 takes full advantage of the atmosphere: “Be quiet — you can hear the rats in the wall/Make you wanna pump crack till you stack racks,” he mutters, painting a bleak project narrative with an ease and authority he rarely bothers to show off anymore. “Shawn sister, she hoe’in/Like Brenda with her baby, she six months, she showin’.” “Dice game, shake ’em up, prayin’ for a six/The wolves out, they hungry, they lookin’ for a lick.” “My li’l man get bread, I tell you what he doin’/He bag up for days till cocaine in his urine.”
“Run Up on Me”
50’s ability to pull cruddily compelling beats from the beat tapes of hopeful unknowns is unparalleled: it’s the same opportunistic ear that gave him Disco D’s “Ski Mask Way” and Apex’s “I Get Money.” This one, when it starts up, sounds like the kind of assembly-line beat that used to fill out the back halves of second-tier G-Unit albums: a snatch of blaxploitation-funk guitar, a rudimentary snare clap. But it gathers sneaky detail as it rolls forward: an eerie whine of backwards keyboard washes over the track while a marching-band tom stutters quietly in the background. 50 deftly slips words underneath the snare like a dealer palming cards — “Barrels smokin’/Fiends smokin’/Rims pokin’/Out on that 550 Benz” — before throwing out a sullen throwaway line that rings with unexpected meaning: “I bet ya iPod is fulla niggas I’m better than.” He’s slipped to the bottom rungs now, and he knows it.
“Get Gully (6 Out of 6)”
Amazingly, this tinny, thumping beat provokes some of 50’s most inspired rapping in forever. He limbers up with a slick little throat-clearer — “I do it B-boy style/Bullet wound in my smile” — before unfolding some menacing, focused, and vivid death threats: “I make your Mama wish yo’ ass was a stillborn/When that eagle get to chirpin’ on ya front lawn.” Later: “You know it’s really not worth it/To fuck with me you’d rather tongue-kiss the serpent.” He cackles wildly on the outro — “I will step on you worm-ass ni**as!” — sounding charged up and thrilled to be rapping; it’s infectious and refreshing.
“When It All Goes Down”
50 Cent goes Z-Ro. The beat is pure Texas rap sludge, a plinking minor-key piano melted into a thick mud of synthesizers. The slow-motion sing-song chorus is like linoleum curling. 50 raps double-time on the verses, flexing his pure command of rhythm and letting the grain in his voice show through.
“Old 2003 Ferrari”
“This feel like some Wu shit,” 50 Cent proclaims at the beginning. He’s right — whoever made this beat did their best to ape RZA’s dank, blunted drum loops. “Old 2003 Ferrari” is a deliberate throwback, or at least a nod to the idea of one: He doesn’t actually bring his “old flow,” like the chorus says, but he does deliver two solid verses of focused, committed, excellent rapping before leaning back and throwing out self-satisfied barbs. He also sneaks in truly infuriating digs at other rappers like only he can: “We could share love like Kanye and Khalifa/Ask Nas, Kelis was the illest Ether.”
Governor ft. 50 Cent – “Here We Go Again”
Usually, nothing is more deadening than 50 in his “loverman” mode. This song, though, works for several reasons, namely Governor’s grainy faux-Marvin howl on the bluesy chorus and the crackling, live-funk-band beat, which swings like “No Diggity.” 50’s lyrics are never that quotable, but he gives a good performance here: “For chrissakes, give me a break, I shake the jake, to get the cake/That’s why we straight, I’m outta state puttin’ food on our plate.”
“When I Come Back”
More run-of-the-mill shit-talking. Still, no one threatens your life with 50’s audible gusto. As is often the case, the most entertaining moments comes at the end, when he gives up rapping entirely to scream unhinged shit into his echo filter: “These pussy-ass ni**as got ya’ll dancing to love songs and shit . . . now you out there buyin’ bitches boxes of candy, cards, teddy bears and shit, acting like every day Valentine’s Day!”
Mann ft. 50 Cent – “Buzzing”
In which 50’s never-ending hit prospecting leads him to jump on a bright, bouncy track from a relative no-name West Coast rapper named Mann. The rubbery, pulled-taffy bassline, giggling little synth-pad helium hits, and tinny cymbals come from the ’80s electro-disco jam “I Can’t Wait,” by Nu-Shooz. The beat is from Jonathan “J.R.” Rotem, a mercenary disciple of Scott Storch who started out with passable Dr. Dre imitations and has branched out into aping other sounds. His productions have no personality stamp, but they are usually effective, and this one is pure unfiltered California sunshine. 50 knows a good car jam when he hears one: He stamps one verse on the beginning, a high-stepping, infectious floss rap, before stepping back and letting Mann handle the rest.
Jadakiss ft. 50 Cent – “Dump (It’s Like That)”
Thanks to his nonstop petty bullying, nearly every New York rapper of the past eight years has had the occasion to diss 50 Cent. But no one took advantage of the opportunity quite like Jadakiss. When 50 Cent took a casual swipe at him on The Massacre‘s “Piggy Bank,” Jada responded with “Animal,” two and a half minutes of devastating observations (“you don’t even feel comfortable in your own skin”) coldly and calmly delivered. Still, he couldn’t really gainsay 50’s main point: “Your ass is local.” So, like most of 50’s mini-feuds, it all amounted to nothing.
Flash-forward several years: After two flopped albums, Curtis’ career is starting to resemble those mid-level NY rappers he so mercilessly mocked when he was on top of the world: deliver consistently on mixtapes, fumble badly while swinging for the fences on the full-lengths. So lo and behold, it looks like the time is just about right for these two guys who never had any concrete reason to hate each other in the first place to link up and create a brief ripple in rap-blog feeds. The resulting song, “Dump,” sounds like a Jadakiss mixtape track — great beat, utterly limp placeholder hook, lethally focused verses from ‘Kiss. 50 throws in a vicious verse (quotable: “I’m the New York City pharaoh/Potato on the barrel”) on top, elevating the track from “decent D-Block mixtape banger” to “passable G-Unit mixtape banger,” which is a definite upgrade, in mixtape-banger parlance.
“Sunday Morning” might actually be an outtake from The Massacre sessions, and it nails the same sweet spot as that album’s strongest tracks: soulful beat, analog-record crackle, relaxed and confident rapping. This is the sort of beat that will forever trigger Pavlovian warm feelings inside a certain breed of 50 fan: The chipmunk-soul voices wail, the Scotch-taped-together snare rattles, the sped-up strings flutter, and bam: Goodwill abounds.