Music Reviews

50 Cent Curtis

(Shady) Buy it from Insound Rating - 2/10

There is a movie by Brad Bird called The Iron Giant (1999), which depicts the tale of a young boy who meets and later befriends a frightening, inelegant but innocent giant. Something about Curtis, the latest release by America's top-selling rap artist 50 Cent, makes me think of that movie. 50 Cent never struck anyone as being particularly attractive, intelligent or elegant - but he had his character down in such a convincing matter that he was permanently hardwired into our brain the first moment we saw him. When he released In Da Club in November of 2002, it was like a magic cleansing balm, washing our ears and minds clean of the mediocre hip hop stuffed between Cribs reruns on MTV. No matter how hard you tried to fight it or hate it, you were bound to sing along at some point (an effect that would later be shared by Snoop Dogg's Drop It Like It's Hot and Ying Yang Twins's Wait - which are both inventive and brilliant hip hop singles).

In Da Club was, if anything, a clear indication that we had another hip hop mastermind on our hands. 50 Cent's keen sense of flow combined with Dre's excellent prodution work made for a respectable record (2003's Get Rich or Die Trying), and despite the endless parodies that have been fired at 50 Cent and In Da Club, the colossal rapper refused to settle. When he met The Game, it seemed that not only did he refuse to be a one-trick pony, he was actually a worthy rap artist capable of releasing a seemingly endless string of instant-classics. Hate It Or Love It was a soulful, heartbreaking anthem for memories and although This Is How We Do didn't quite aspire to such heights, it was a solid, minimal but powerful double-teamed assault that eviscerated most of the R&B-hop that was going on at the time.

But five years after the wondrous In Da Club, 50 Cent has become a parody of himself. Naming an album by your first name? Daring Kanye West into a silly sales contest (which he fortunately lost)? Sitting in your multi-million dollar mansion still writing lines like "niggah, my gun go off" and "what you gonna give me back / got me feeling like a fiend on crack"? 50 Cent is no longer on top of his game. Where his paradoxical character of oafish rapper with a viciously sharp tongue was once charming, it's now starting to get annoying. And the depressing, uninspired testimony to that is a 55-minute mess called Curtis, undoubtedly one of this year's worst releases.

I don't even know where to start. Curtis is an album haunted by such a plethora of hollow tracks and unintelligent choices that it feels almost pathetic and sad that it was ever released (as if 50's endless bashing of Kanye West didn't already prompt such descriptors). I don't pretend to be a rap artist (or an artist at all), but while listening to the record's 17 tracks - I truly feel like perhaps I could do better. And it's not just the songs themselves. For one, I thought it was a staple of contemporary hip hop that you start off your record with the 'killer track'. Instead, 50 places the best track on this thing (the Robin Thicke-assisted Follow My Lead) eighth - hidden behind seven mindless attempts at songcraft, and I have no idea why. Hell, it even starts with the words "Ladies and gentlemen / I'd like to thank you all for coming out tonight / This is my third album." Do I just not get it?

Let's talk about the tracks themselves for a minute, even though I'd rather not. Follow My Lead is an overly sweetened but highly respectable love song supported by a romantic piano track and Thicke's soulful crooning. Fire is a slightly stupid but convincingly solid dancefloor filler. Neither are particularly brilliant tracks on their own, but in the midst of Curtis's muddy mess they rise as shining standouts. And, unfortunately, that's where the positive connotations end. I Still Kill is a run-of-the-mill rap song, with a beat so blatantly unoriginal that it runs dry before it passes the one minute mark. Ayo Technology is boring space-hop balladry featuring a tossed-off Timbaland beat which I'm sure he took out of the trash to use on Curtis. Justin Timberlake can't do anything with it either, so the three of them just try to make the most of it during the track's excruciatingly long four minutes. It's actually painful to listen to three (okay, two) of R&B-hop's most talented artists crash at these speeds. Let's just be glad Timbaland pitch-shifted his own vocals: he could always deny that he was ever on this testosterone-soaked disaster.

And then there's the lyrics, which really make for the worst offenders. Any illusion that you may have had of 50 Cent still being a capable rapper is about to be shattered once you put on this record. Following "fire" with "desire", rhyming "every night" with "daylight" -- nearly all of 50 Cent's raps on the record are so unimaginative that I've actually started feeling bad for those CDs with the sheer bad luck of having Curtis printed on them. Even on the aforementioned standout Follow My Lead, 50 ends a verse with the line: "You could be my Beyoncé / I could be your Jay" and then inserts an over-acted laugh. It's depressing. He really convinces us he's proud of this line. Like a four-year old showing a horrible drawing to his mom which was obviously his best effort. Well, at least he's got the mentality level down. All we can do, in return, is say 'Beautiful, sweetcake! Now why don't you take your crayons and go draw some more?' while us grown-ups talk about something significant.