The cover of 50 Cent’s second CD transforms a photo of the hugely successful rapper into a character out of a cartoon or graphic novel, splatters of black paint around his muscular shoulders and arms.
A hip-hop superhero, out to save the game?
Naw. Despite teaming with Eminem on a Batman theme-sampling track called “Gatman and Robbin,” 50 has no such lofty ambitions. He’s content to loll in his money, coax a crowd onto the dance floor and cough up dark memories of his past life as a drug dealer (poor guy now goes home to an 18-bedroom mansion in Farmington, Conn.).
With an assist from Dr. Dre and an Escalade full of top-notch producers, 50 is able to rap — and sing — his way through this blockbuster album with only a single nod to actual artistic growth: “A Baltimore Love Thing,” the heartbreaking story of a heroin addict as told by the drug itself.
It works, though, because 50 channels gobs of creativity into finding new ways to use his likable, smooth voice, which essentially becomes the most important instrument in his songs.
Each line on “This is 50” is punctuated with a cleverly drawn-out, drawled sound: “whip” becomes “whiiiiiiiiiip” and “six” becomes “siiiiiiiix.” And nobody but 50 could lend the silly chorus of “Piggy Bank” the street cred and haughty delivery it desperately needs: “Clickety clank, clickety clank, the money goes into my piggy bank.”
Fiddy’s pot shots at high-profile rappers on that song are nowhere near as funny or biting as those on his star-baiting 1999 hit, “How To Rob.” The track does, however, reveal some priorities: He compares his album sales to Fat Joe’s and dismisses Jadakiss as “local.”
By contrast, there’s an all-encompassing vibe throughout “The Massacre.” Though 50 is from New York, he selects beats that place him in California, the Midwest, and elsewhere — and adjusts his cadence to fit in.
A Southern slur is deployed for “Get In My Car,” and easygoing L.A. rhymes roll through “Ryder Music” (both produced by Hi-Tek). Still, that old East Coast flow is hauled back out on “I Don’t Need ’Em.”
He’s also more comfortable than ever appealing to the ladies. “Candy Shop” and “Disco Inferno,” respectively No. 1 and No. 6 on the Billboard chart this week, showcase the formula at its finest: Lyrical sweet nothings like “I’m the love doctor” and “Hands up on the dance floor” are saved by terribly catchy choruses that dare you not to jiggle.
Sure, the 20-song album moves along on cruise control at times, lapsing into cartoonish crime talk (“shoot, stab, kill”) or romantic ridiculousness: “I’m writing this song instead of a love letter” is a highlight of the laughable “Build You Up,” which features Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx on the chorus.
But the attention-grabbing charm of 50’s not-so-secret weapon, his voice, makes up for such breakdowns, boosting “The Massacre” at least to the level of his smash debut “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.”
“I’m falling in love with success,” he raps at one point, secure in his position on top of the hip-hop world.