After splitting with Shady/Aftermath and G-Unit, 50 Cent is the future.

We should have smelled the beef cooking. Back in September, when Funkmaster Flex asked 50 Cent about the future of G-Unit, and 50 shrugged:

When we say that [Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo] haven't quite followed my blueprint, it's disappointing that they're not following it.... It feels like there's something missing from their actual character. Something in my character that's not in their character.

And while 50 was busy announcing his severance from Interscope and Shady/Aftermath, Yayo confirmed via Instagram that G-Unit had disbanded.

So what's 50 Cent up to, exactly?

 

In this new year, hip hop's cheekiest villain seems dead-set on making a comeback.

 

Like Jay Z and Puffy, 50 Cent has long proven his bona fides as a consummate hip-hop entrepreneur. In that sense, his decision to go indie seems more so a power play than a last ditch retreat to irrelevance. At the top of 2014, he dropped new solo heat, "This Is Murder Not Music," a gutter sixteen spit over a piano crash beat that sounds fresh off The Massacre. Young Buck even hopped on a remix. And then 50 teamed up with former rivals Fat Joe and The LOX in the run-up to his latest project, Animal Ambition, due out in June—his first album to be distributed under his new, exclusive distribution deal with Caroline/Capitol/Universal Music Group.

Safe to say, however much 50 Cent loves the beef, he loves the dough even more. Having ditched all his previous affiliations—at least contractually—it's likely that 50 is staking out a new creative direction all his own, beyond the legacy of his Shady/Aftermath zenith. A bold gambit, and somewhat unexpected from a guy who dissed Koch Records as a hip hop "graveyard" and suggested that post-Roc Cam'ron was doomed to indie failure.

So now it's guns up, fingers crossed. While Banks has so far been quiet on the G-Unit split, Yayo subtweeted (we think) a couple shots at 50 on Wednesday.

No doubt that both Yayo and Banks have had a harder time than, say, Game in maintaining their link to the hip hop present. Meanwhile 50's been in the lab with YG, ScHoolboy Q, and J. Cole, resetting his connection to the contemporary rap landscape. Speaking on his imminent Interscope debut, Oxymoron, Q recently told Hot 97's Pete Rosenberg that a couple collaborations with 50 will hit the Internet in the next couple months. Just as 50 ramps up promo for Animal Ambition.

Many flagging superstars have tried and failed, of course, to sustain such relevance a decade beyond their biggest smashes. And 50 himself, when addressing the balance of his various money-making priorities, often sounds lackadaisical about his musical output. But in this new year, hip hop's cheekiest villain seems dead-set on making a comeback.

Likewise, Lloyd Banks dropped his fair share of mixtape grind and new school collabos in 2013, though it's unclear whether he's got a new album project due out this year, and whether he'll still be distributed through G-Unit's deal with EMI. We can only hope that, whatever animosities may be lingering among the ranks, the South Jamaica stick-up champs will reunite for a track or two, at least. The crew magic is gone, perhaps, but the Unit is not forgotten.

Justin Charity is a writer in Brooklyn, NY who shouts out Richmond and D.C. He has a websitehere and you can also find him @BrotherNumpsa.