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Album Review: G-Unit – T.O.S.

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In all my excitement over landing this Consequence of Sound gig, I did not consider one unfortunate side effect until last Tuesday afternoon’s trip to Best Buy (yes, record store purists, I am a poor grad student and I buy my albums at Best Buy).  I walked into the store with just twenty dollars, sighed as I walked past new albums I really wanted to buy (e.g.  Sigur Ros and Wolf Parade), and picked up T.O.S. (Terminate on Sight), the new album by G-Unit.

My first impression of T.O.S. was that it’s not by any means a terrible album. But I never really expected that it would be. There are very few objectively terrible musical artists out there. Most artists are simply uninteresting. And in a sense, uninteresting is much, much less desirable than terrible. At least you can have some fun making snarky comments about a song that is obviously awful. Uninteresting music is just a drag to listen to. The songs run together and you end up just wishing the thing was over already.  T.O.S. falls into this category.

The strange part is that 50 Cent has no business being so dull.  Anyone even vaguely familiar with his story had to have been intrigued when he was poised to break onto the scene shortly after the turn-of-the-millennium. For those lost, Curtis Jackson was born to a single, fifteen-year-old, cocaine-dealing mother in Queens.  When Curtis was eight, his mother was murdered. His grandparents and a slew of aunts and uncles raised him.  He began selling drugs at twelve and spent time behind bars as a teenager.  He began rapping in 1996, but just as his career showed signs of taking off, he was shot nine times. The shooting slowed 50’s rise to fame, but ultimately paved the way for meteoric success that nobody could have predicted. 50’s mix-tape made it to Eminem’s ears, Eminem introduced 50 to Dr. Dre, and the rest is history.

It would seem that such a fascinating story would result in fascinating music. But G-Unit continues to slog along with bubblegum club pop and generic post-gangsta drivel. Their material lacks the personal touch that makes some of their peers, such as T.I. and Lil Wayne, so interesting. Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo, 50’s considerably lower profile partners, suffer from a complete lack of personality on most of the album’s sixteen tracks. What is worse, Young Buck, whose verses stand head and shoulders above the rest of the group, was dismissed from the group for silly reasons and appears on only a handful of songs. Young Buck’s banishment is another bizarre business move by 50 Cent, reminiscent of his break with The Game, easily the most interesting and talented artist to have ever been a part of G-Unit.

T.O.S. starts out strong enough. “Straight Outta Southside” is a hard-hitting homage to NWA’s gangsta rap classic “Straight Outta Compton.” G-Unit’s version gives each member a chance to introduce themselves with the hardest lines they can muster. Banks sets the bar early with his line, “Fuck the police with an H.I.V. carrier / No Vaseline in the M-16”, simultaneously giving props to Ice Cube and laying claim to the crown in whatever kind of “hardness” competition the South Jamaica rappers are playing in. The head bobbing continues through the straight-up drug rap of “Piano Man” (get it…they move keys), and is revisited two tracks later on the album’s second single, “Rider Pt. 2.”  (Incidentally, each of these latter two songs feature verses by the aforementioned Young Buck.) But it is around this time when the album just starts to feel monotonous and boring. I haven’t decided whether the tracks mentioned in this paragraph are so vastly superior to the rest of the album, or if I simply got tired of the unoriginal themes after about twenty minutes, but the fact remains that the middle of this album drags horribly.

And yes, there are some mind-numbingly awful moments on T.O.S., the most notable being the comically bad “Kitty Kat”, which features the unforgivable girl/boy refrain of “Ow, I need cash for my kitty kat / But bitch I get pussy for free, I’m hitting that.” I guess the most positive way to spin this type of tripe is to say that at least it is an indictment of prostitution, but bragging about not having to pay for sex may be the worst case of low self-expectations I’ve heard in quite a while. “Kitty Kat” is hands-down the worst song I’ve heard all year (My Morning Jacket’s “Highly Suspicious” sounds like Mozart by comparison) and I felt a little bit dumber each time I listened to it. “I Like the Way She Do It”, the album’s first single, is another lowlight, but for the most part moments like these are the exception on an album that is usually just boring and repetitive.

It is probably unfair of me to expect 50 and the other members of G-Unit to play the role of the tortured artist. Nobody should be required to put their personal demons on display so that people like me will label their albums “interesting”. Hell, for all I know everyone in the group is completely happy and comfortable with the lives they have led.  But when your entire identity, not to mention commercial success, is based on the badass experiences of your front man it would seem that your art would benefit from a deeper exploration of human emotion. Consequently, the album’s most stirring moment comes two songs from the end on “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It”, which includes the refrain, “I shot a n**** kid / and I don’t wanna talk about it.”

One has to wonder how much longer the G-Unit clique can sustain their appeal. Judging by the number of teenagers I saw dressed in G-Unit military garb at Taste of Chicago last week, they still have a sizable and dedicated fan base. But sales numbers seem to indicate that the market is growing a bit weary with the group’s blueprint. It doesn’t help that 50 and G-Unit’s entire identity is coming to be defined by their increasing beefs with other artists. Beef and battling have always been a part of the rap game, but 50 Cent is taking these childish rivalries far too seriously. This has resulted in a rap scene that has no interest in working with G-Unit (there are no major guest rappers on T.O.S.) and the exclusion of talented artists like Young Buck and The Game, banished from the collective solely for not being cold-hearted enough toward G-Unit’s rivals. This leaves the original three of 50 Cent, Tony Yayo, and Lloyd Banks. And it’s hard to imagine a bright future for a group of three mediocre rappers who seem unwilling to grow creatively as a unit.

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