50 has said all this before, better, but that won’t put off his legion of fans.
Louis Pattison 2009
It’s been well over two years since Curtis Jackson announced the impending release of Before I Self Destruct, a span of time that’s seen the delivery of not just one 50 Cent album – 2008’s Curtis – but also an album with 50’s reliably no-frills gangsta rap crew G-Unit.
Curtis was patchy, but it did at least see Fiddy trying to expand his brief, enlisting guests including Akon, Justin Timberlake and Nicole Scherzinger of Pussycat Dolls and switching up the relentless gun-talk in favour of game attempts at crossover. It, like all 50’s albums to date, was huge, but in context, could also be seen as a commercial stumble – 50 claimed it would outstrip Kanye West’s Graduation in first week sales, a target it fell short of by 250,000 sales.
Perhaps for this reason, then, Before I Self Destruct has the feel of a rapper returning to what he knows best – that is, 16 tracks largely predicated on murder, crime and revenge, sometimes tinged with nostalgia for a time before warfare permeated hip hop, but short on mercy in the here and now. Notably, 50 still has a talent for this stuff. Both Then Days Went By and the Dr Dre-produced Death to My Enemies mix lyrical violence with beats that jack from classic soul, neatly blending light and shade.
Other highlights come with Gangsta’s Delight, a brooding reworking of The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, and Hold Me Down – a relationship number that’s actually quite sweet in its depiction of thug love.
Perhaps the problem here, though – and it feels a bit silly to say it – is just how much 50 Cent there is here. Aside from inevitable cameos from Lloyd Banks and Eminem (whose chilling turn on Psycho echoes the impressive feats of immorality displayed on 2009’s Relapse), there’s only a handful of guest appearances here, with brief cameos from R. Kelly and Ne-Yo both tossed off towards the record’s end.
50 has said all this before, often better, and while this probably won’t put off his legion of fans, at best Before I Self Destruct is merely familiar, and at worst it’s difficult to shake the sensation of diminishing returns.