Album Review: 50 Cent – 5 (Murder by Numbers)




Here’s something that might make you feel old: 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (the album, not the movie) turns ten next February. Thanks to uniformly excellent (and sometimes gratuitously expensive-sounding) production, that record churned out four or five hits that you can probably still hum in your sleep (“In Da Club”, “P.I.M.P”, “Many Men Wish Death”, and “High All the Time”), and now looks something like a classic. Back when that LP was made, Fif, after having caught those much-publicized nine 9mm shots and having spent half his life in the crack trade, sounded like he was both truly appreciative and deserving of being out of the life he’d been living. But things are different now. He takes his success for granted. And that’s where the problems start.

There’s been no real reason to bump 50 off the A-list in recent years, despite his not having a major hit since 2007’s “Ayo Technology”. Between writing books about Thucydides and Machiavelli and selling his Formula 50 Vitamin Water, the man born Curtis Jackson has stayed lime-lit enough to do things like appear on Oprah and maintain his spot in the top five of Forbes’ Richest Rappers. But really, since 2004’s The Massacre, 50’s been sounding more and more like a watered-down version of the guy Eminem just had to sign after hearing 2002’s Guess Who’s Back? Really, he now scans as unable to come up with something–anything–new for his career, and eternally sounds like he’s just going through the motions.

5 (Murder by Numbers), 50’s new mixtape/street album, was originally supposed to be the full-length follow-up to 2009’s Before I Self-Destruct, but was at the last minute relegated to a ten-track showing that clocks in at barely 30 minutes. Self-Destruct’s true follow-up, Street King Immortal, on the other hand, is tentatively due out in November. All that in mind, and, predictably enough, Fif has slipped even deeper into his slump with this one.

It’s usually invalid to complain about what someone is rapping about instead of how they’re doing so–virtually every topic in existence, from pyramided oculars to Bronze Age Minoans, has been ventured in rap with some level of creativity. But this tape is, unfortunately, exceptional in this regard. With this kind of cloying smugness and uncreative fervor, 50 all too often raps about his money on 5– how much of it there is, how he uses it to be with a different woman every night, how he’ll never run out of it. “Fuck, nut, get up/ That’s abortion money,” he goes. “America’s a oven/ You got to break bread.” At one point, he says that he’s “startin’ to think there’s nothin’ left to talk about but the money,” and it’s incredible to realize he thought we didn’t already know.

So, yes, the only refuge is to be found outside the dude’s 16s. A few of the hooks here, especially those half-rapped, half-sung ones from “Business Mind” and “Roll That Shit”, show that 50 is still capable of flashing a little bit of the catchiness he once used to make all those blockbusters back in the early ‘00s. On “Business Mind” and “Can I Speak to You”, respectively, Hayes and ScHoolboy Q offer up solid guest appearances and, needless to say, do 50 in. Better, the production here is warm and varied. “Roll That Shit” has bro-step flourishes and a “Niggas in Paris”-type synth line, while “Turn the Lights On” is a horn-fueled knocker that conjures Ghostface Killah’s “Be Easy”. But these things only manage to lend 5 a slight air of professionalism. Pump this in your car and it will at least sound like something one of rap’s most affluent should be doing, though perhaps not someone of innovation, or even relevance.

A few writers here and there have suggested that 50 hasn’t even really fallen off these past few years. Last March, for instance, the Village Voice’s Jayson Greene assembled a pretty convincing case for the idea that the dude might still be kinda-sorta, um, good. But 5, due especially to its monochromatic verses and lack of overall songwriting-related oomph, offers absolutely no evidence for that conclusion. There is little to nothing to learn from this tape, and one can only hope Immortal will be different.

Essential Tracks: “Business Mind”