No genre seems as legitimately confused about how to put out an album in the MP3 age than rap. Underground up-and-comers have just sort of given up; it seems unlikely we will ever get that Cool Kids full length. But multi-million selling artists don’t really have that luxury. They have fan bases (and in some cases contractual obligations) that will not be satisfied by mix-tapes and singles. So rappers have been forced to grasp for straws to convince fans that buying an album is better than just downloading a few of your favorite songs. Hence, mainstream rappers are now carrying the banner for album-oriented music. Or at least they pretend to be.
Rap albums are more or less the same now as they have always been. The only difference is that rappers now try and convince the public that they are different. According to rappers, their albums have concepts. Jay-Z’s American Gangster was an entire record inspired by the movie. Lupe Fiasco’s albums are supposedly following the storyline of some kids but none of this is going to make any sense till the inevitable comic book is released. To an extent all of this makes sense. Who doesn’t love a great concept album? On the other hand, the only reason we know that these are concept albums is because the artist always tells us that they are. But beyond these pseudo-concept albums lie a bunch of regular old records that rappers insist follow some particular theme. And that’s where 50 Cent (finally) comes in.
The back-story on 50 Cent’s fourth studio album, Before I Self Destruct, is predictably ridiculous. It was originally scheduled to be released in 2007. But then it wasn’t because instead of releasing the album, 50 decided to, umm, release a different album. This only makes sense within rap’s world of fake concept albums. Self Destruct was meant to be 50’s return to hardcore sorta-gangsta rap. He wasn’t ready to do that yet so he instead released whatever the hell Curtis was supposed to be. Then he went around saying a bunch of weird things about the way Self Destruct was going to be easily the best thing around at the particular time it would be released.
So now 50 has put out Before I Self Destruct, an album thematically geared toward the streets, with the artist returning to his roots to prove himself to be the realest rapper out. I’m not sure there is a word in the English language to accurately portray this particular brand of stupid. I’m not saying that a rapper needs to be personally running the streets to present an accurate and gripping gangsta narrative. But when you make it part of your persona that you are “real” and all these other rappers are “fake” you should probably try and stick with the realness thing a little more and rap about your shark tank mini-bar or some shit like that.
Self Destruct 50 is more interested in killing you than having sex with you. That said, he wants to have sex with you too, as evidenced by a handful of tracks on the back half of the album, most notably the notorious first single, “Baby by Me”. The front half of the album is packed with bangers that don’t offer a whole lot intellectually but will probably sound okay if you have a good stereo system in your car. You know… typical 50.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Before I Self Destruct is that once you get past all the goofiness that has come to define 50 Cent (and post-gangsta rap as a whole) it’s actually one of the most purely enjoyable albums of the year (and yes, I realize that is not saying a whole lot this year.) This isn’t all that surprising as 50 Cent is a big enough name to get great beats from some of the best around. Dr. Dre lends three beats (which apparently weren’t good enough for the mythical Detox), including “Death to My Enemies”, one of those generic beef tracks (is he dissing Lil Wayne or just everyone who isn’t “real”?). The concept is ludicrous but the song is actually pretty good.
Then there is “Gangsta’s Delight”, 50’s hardcore answer to rap’s first commercial hit. The song is impossible to take seriously, and since laughing off everything the man does is the best way to enjoy 50 Cent I find it nearly impossible to actively dislike it.
Before I Self Destruct fulfils 50’s contract with Interscope. It remains unclear where he will go next. It seems doubtful that this will really be the end of his musical career, but if it is Self Destruct is a resounding “MEH” of a swan song, putting it about on par with the rest of 50’s post-Get Rich Or Die Tryin‘ career. That’s okay…there will always be a place for his brand of offensive hip hop that doesn’t really offend anyone.