A decade past his commercial prime, 50 Cent remains so constantly in the news he’s almost become background noise. Whether that’s mocking Floyd Mayweather, beefing with Jimmy Iovine over headphones, throwing out a terrible first pitch, editing a New York Daily News gossip column or posting topless photos of his ex, Chelsea Handler.
Like Queen Latifah, Will Smith and Diddy, his ability to sustain a career no longer has that much to do with his songs. He’s financially secure, successful in various field and, sometimes, doesn’t seem especially hungry. His 2014 album, ironically titled Animal Ambition, fell flat, contributing to something less than a groundswell of enthusiasm for his upcoming album Street King Immortal.
But perhaps there should be one. There are many signs that 50 and his newly reunited G-Unit crew could soon have us feeling like it’s 2003 all over again. The group’s mostly overlooked August mixtape, The Beauty of Independence, has some real gems, most notably Changes, with its devastatingly honest verses from the newest G-Unit member, Kidd Kidd, and 50 himself, who raps “I’m back at the drawing board, somebody call Eminem.” In fact, the crew is on something of a roll. It has an anticipated EP called The Beast Is G-Unit due out imminently, and 50 himself seems newly invigorated.
To be sure, it can be difficult to take anything 50 says too seriously. He famously promised to retire if Kanye’s Graduation bested his album Curtis in first-week sales (it did; he didn’t). He mocked Fat Joe for his independent distribution deal, but 50 himself has since taken a similar deal, after parting ways with Interscope. In 2008 he released a personal phone conversation with Young Buck crying, and in April he insisted G-Unit wasn’t getting back together – calling Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo “half retarded” – but he had reunited with them by June, at Summer Jam.
50 Cent is my favorite interview I’ve ever done. What makes him catnip to journalists is that he’ll speak off the cuff, and insult anyone at any time. That includes the people closest to him, and he sometimes incorporates harsh truths. To hear him tell it, part of the reason he fell out with G-Unit was that the other members, particularly Yayo, were lazy. “We supposed to hustle to eat,” he told XXL in June. “We supposed to get what we supposed to get, not have things handed to us because nobody never gave me nothing. It may be my fault for enabling them at points.”
He was both their blessing and their curse, he continued, making them wealthy but not pushing them to develop themselves. (Never mind that Yayo takes credit for shaping the G-Unit brand, nearly getting his family killed in the process.) They were finally rejuvenated last year, though, 50 added, because they finally realised how much they needed him: “They all ready to work. They been on ice long enough.”
As self-aggrandising as this statement is, there may be truth to it. As Nah I’m Talking About, Watch Me and other songs released since then have demonstrated, G-Unit sounds hungrier and, as their leader said, more focused. He has been humbled by his diminishing album sales, and personal pride has always driven him more than just about anything else. This is a man who said he would rather die trying to get rich than live humbly, after all.
Finding a way to succeed commercially without Dr Dre is going to be the hardest part; the rap and R&B road is littered with the bodies of those who have been unable to do so. And, owing to digital downloads, neither 50 nor anyone else will likely go diamond platinum again. But one suspects that if he can pull some hot beats out of his sleeve, 50 and his newly energised crew could be back in the headlines once again. But this time for their music. (c) Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2015