It’s a little hard to comprehend that the only new 50 Cent album released in the last three years is a “Best Of” compilation for two reasons. The first is that in the 2000’s I took for granted that Curtis Jackson would regularly drop new projects, so I wasn’t adequately prepared for his career switch to acting, executive production and all-around business mogul. The second is that Curtis Jackson could easily have dropped “Best Of” a half decade or more earlier. As Grant Jones said, “Five years is a very long time in hip-hop.” By the time 50 made the follow up to “Before I Self Destruct” many people had already assumed he was a retired rapper. It would be hard to blame him for stepping away from the never-ending drama of a rap superstar.
Even though Mr. Jackson is allegedly working on an album called “Street King Immortal” which currently has no release date, “Best Of” suggests there might not be any need for a follow up, and that’s hardly a negative in this case. There’s a strain of revisionist history that tries to deny 50 Cent was as big as he was in the 2000’s, but the truth is that he sold tens of millions of albums and singles back when people still BOUGHT albums and singles. The truly astounding thing was how little he had to change up the presentation to achieve commercial success. There was so much thirst for Curtis Jackson that the slightest overture to crossover radio such as “Best Friend” featuring Olivia immediately took off like a rocket.
The same revisionism that denies how big 50 was also ignores how he got so big in the first place. Before he had even achieved mainstream fame, 50 Cent survived being shot nine times at point blank range, an act which left him with a slightly slurred vocal delivery and also immortalized him in the eyes of the public. Jackson even joked that “bullets are like food to me” in describing the incident, a show of both bravado and the uncanny ability to cash in on his near death experience. Not only did it change his rap style it supercharged his drive to succeed. Being dropped by the label he was on at the time only made him hungrier. Instead of hiding his success after signing with Shady/Aftermath/Interscope, he boldly flaunted it and mocked the jealous as “Window Shoppers” who couldn’t do what he did.
Few artists could match his charisma or chutzpah in the 2000’s. “Baby By Me” featuring Ne-Yo is an ideal example. Polow da Don provides a smooth beat and the singer croons a fire hook, but it’s all about 50 bragging “Have a baby by me baby, be a millionaire” here. It’s hard not to smile at him living so boldly and unapologetically, flaunting his success and enjoying the rewards of all the hard work he had put in over the last decade and change. His playful sense of humor on this single was also evident on his first single “How to Rob” as well, so all he really did over time was age like fine wine.
It’s hard to say with any certainty that “Street King Immortal” could recapture that level of cocksure attitude and self-assured swagger, but I’m certainly interested to find out. “Best Of” lives up to the name and reminds us that the top moments of Curtis Jackson’s career were peaks so high that a whole (G) unit rose with him in the process. Unfortunately their downfall has also been his self-imposed decision to focus more on entrepreneurship than rapping, because the coattails just aren’t there for them to ride on now. Perhaps a new album for a new decade could do more than prove 50’s worth, as “Best Of” already does that — perhaps it could show that 50 the business mogul can use his wit and panache to successfully pass the torch.