10 years after his earth-shaking debut Get Rich or Die Tryin', 50 Cent remains one of rap's biggest enigmas. He's one of the genre's most recognizable stars, but hasn't had a hit record in years. Detox is held up by Dr. Dre's perfectionism, Rick Ross' God Forgives, I Don't was postponed due to health problems, but 50's long-delayed fifth studio album, Street King Immortal? No one knows for sure. 50 blames disagreements with his label, Interscope, but others whisper that Fif simply hasn't been making release-worthy music. With 5: Murder by the Numbers, the latest in a series of hard-edged mixtapes he's been dropping over the past several months, Fif wants fans to judge for themselves.
He certainly makes a strong opening argument with "My Crown." Over a funky flip of Sizzla's classic "Solid as a Rock" interspersed with sampled M.O.P. adlibs, Fif makes his designs on a return to rap's throne clear. It's classic, gleefully obnoxious 50 braggadocio, though he unveils a new, surprisingly agile double-time flow in the second verse. But despite the updated techniques, this mixtape mostly finds 50 attempting to return to his early 2000s form. "NY" and "Business Mind" are undeniably G Unit — from the sinister East Coast production to 50's rediscovered hunger. It's his same early 2000s formula, but that's a good thing.
But 50 still comes up a few pennies short in other areas. In his heyday, he spat out the catchiest, earworm-iest hooks with ease, from "In Da Club" to "Candy Shop." Here, 50 often lets muffled sampled vocals do the talking, and the choruses he does sing-rap just don't hit hard compared to the sky-high standard he set in his prime. And while 5 has plenty of corner anthems, Fif falls way flat when he reaches for radio readiness with the over-the-top douche-baggery of "Be My B—h."
Still, between 5 and his last two mixtapes, The Big 10 and The Lost Tape — though the first two are only 10 tracks each — there's no doubt that 50 had enough dope material to support a good, if not great, major-label album in the vaults. Can he do it again, or perhaps even do better, for Street King Immortal? We hope so.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
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(Photo: Courtesy of Interscope Records)