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50 Cent soundtrack favors image over substance

Observer Scene | Thursday, November 17, 2005

When 50 Cent released his album “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” in 2003, it was the most explosive album of the year, packing more heat on the box charts than 50 does in the waistband of his jeans.

By contrast, there’s definitely more of a chill feel to “Get Rich or Die Tryin’: Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture,” as if 50 mistakenly left the album in the fridge next to his bottles of Cristal or perhaps put it on ice in his bedroom by placing it amongst his various diamond-encrusted necklaces.

Many of the CD’s tracks continue in the trend of 50 Cent’s collaboration with rapper The Game on the hit song, “Hate It or Love It.” The song combined an old-school vibe with feel-good vocal samples to create a sound that was simultaneously brand new and an homage to Motown. 50 Cent sticks with this winning recipe on “Hustler’s Ambition,” the first single off of the soundtrack.

On “Best Friend,” a thug love ballad reminiscent of his earlier hit “20 Questions,” 50 reminds us that the ladies still light up his bullet-dimpled face. “What If” is a contemplative track in which 50 discusses the various possible different ways he could have turned out. (Not surprisingly, none of his alternative career paths included stints as a librarian or a male nurse.) Along the way, he manages to name-drop nearly every rapper or hip-hopper in the game, in the tradition of his inflammatory first single, “How to Rob.”

Despite its more subdued nature, the album is nonetheless very much in the vein of previous 50 Cent discs – it is a nonstop ode to the copious amounts of lead 50 has fired, drugs he’s done and sold and women he’s romanced along the way. Even better, 50’s built a stable of talent to ride with. New additions to the G-Unit fold include rap groups M.O.P. and Mobb Deep. Also, 50’s original two sidekicks, Lloyd Banks and Young Buck are back. Although the latter’s mediocre showing on this CD shows that he may still need to be shown the ways of the herd. What with all the new components of G-Unit, you might think 50 would have a hard time getting his two quarters in, but he nevertheless manages to appear on every single track on the album.

50 Cent is a cultural phenomenon – he is America’s most controversial music star because of his glorification of the gangster thug life. However, in his own way, 50 is also a criminal version of the epitome of the American Dream – having come from abject poverty, he has clawed his way up into multimillionaire status by virtue of his ability to sell drugs and survive bullets. Even more important than the massive tattoo which reads “South Side” across his broad shoulders, 50 wears the badge of street credit, which he has earned by surviving the gang warfare scene of inner-city America and emerging on top.

Buying a 50 Cent album is like buying designer clothing – you are purchasing image over substance. When you buy all 18 tracks of “Get Rich or Die Tryin’: Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture,” you are paying twice for each and every one of the nine bullets 50 survived in his infamous gangland shooting. It is as rival New York city rapper Jadakiss so eloquently puts it in “Animal,” a battle rap against 50: “You had to get shot nine times to be rich.”

The artist formerly known as Curtis Jackson sells albums by his iconic status, not by his skill as a rapper.