A first take on songs from Fifty's first album in 5 years.
"The people who preach prosperity have a larger congregation." That was the theme 50 Cent promoted last night at a listening preview of his forthcoming album, Animal Ambition. Before he got into the music, he explained that he always comes up with a concept before he records and that for this LP, he's all about active motivation—but, naturally, with a sneer and a smirk. While the idea behind the album is to practice positivity to achieve greatness and that an internal, genuine passion makes you better.
In between taking questions from MTV's Rob Markman and assorted fans in the audience at Sirius XM's Town Hall for Shade 45, Fifty previewed select songs from his first album since 2009's Before I Self Destruct. The first two were the recently leaked "Don't Worry 'Bout It" featuring Yo Gotti, who Fifty thinks is next in line to pop, and "Hold On." The latter is a catalogue of Fifty's feelings about entitlement, delivered with calculated calm, a proper mix of aggression and aloofness. Later in the evening, he mentioned that he likes to rap with clarity, saying that there is a marble-mouth syndrome plaguing today's music and imitating, whether he intended to or not, Future's "Sh!t" with grunts and "turn ups!" But this observation gave a layer of clarity to Fifty's current place in the canon. When we talk about the popularity of sing-song flows infused in street narratives, rarely does the name Curtis Jackson come up. But this listening served as a good reminder that he has long been the arbiter of that style.
Despite hearing only a small chunk of the album, one thing that became clear was that 50 doesn't change. There's always an undercurrent of the same sound we've been hearing since Get Rich or Die Tryin'. The beats are immersive, colored with deep bass and distinct, heavy percussion. The rhymes are still enunciates clearly. All the pieces, in fact, are planned with precision. With Animal Ambition, he's added an extra layer—a nuanced sense of futurism. The beats on the aforementioned Yo Gotti collab sound like they're padded with accordions from outer space. Elsewhere, on "Pilot," those elements mix with a restrained sense of the present. Fif may be one of New York's greatest, but he let the South seep into his sound from jump. When he rapped, "I'm a New Yorker/but I sound southern" on "Like My Style" in 2003, we knew he meant the bullet wound-induced drawl. But that down-south influence on his sound has never been more palpable.
Two of the highlights from the five-song selection were "Smoke," a club-primed sex romp featuring Trey Songz and produced by Dr. Dre, and "Twisted." Markman joked that someone would have his shirt off in the video and Fifty countered that it would probably be both him and Trey. Despite grody references to running trains, the metaphors employed here felt a little bit less gauche than they do on "Candy Shop" or "Amusement Park," perhaps because the you're-so-hot-you-set-the-place-on-fire trope is a little bit less hokey. Or, maybe putting Trey on your song guarantees you'll sound a little bit less loopy with your similes. But Dr. Dre's thick drums are what really make it bang. Fif and Dre have always had a way of finessing superlative performances from themselves while working together, and this is no exception.
"Twisted" is even more fun, crafted in the vein of "21 Questions" and inspired by an experience 50 Cent had while a female driver lost herself in an LL Cool J song. He wanted to make a song that would absorb women the same way. Fif's bouts with romance always feel vast, with the beat almost feeling like the sonic embodiment of whatever emotion he's trying to convey—the way "Best Friend" actually sounds like the internal soundtrack to having a crush.
He closed the night with "Winner's Circle," a song about what he called a "Mayweather moment"—when you come out of a situation the way you planned, but it's still overwhelming because of how badly you wanted it. Less triumphant than it intends to be, the chorus nearly sound like The Lonely Island's SNL Digital Short "Space Olympics" due to the overblown vocals on the hook. Ironically, Fifty mentioned that the Olympics were an inspiration to the sound, and it's believable—especially on the strings.
The overall tenor of the album is sort of a throwback to the 50 Cent we know from Get Rich and The Massacre, only now he has a decade's worth of life experience to build on. Fifty was not very forthcoming about the rest of the contributors on the album, although we do know that Jadakiss and Styles P will make a post-beef appearance. Who won't be on the album? Neither Drake nor Rihanna, that's for sure. But Fifty says he hopes to collaborate with both one day soon. He even cited Drake as the person making the best songs about relationships as the moment. And as far as female artists go, Fifty feels like there are too few right now, listing the selection as, "Beyoncé, Rihanna, and [then] other people." (No love for your fellow Southside Jamaica, Queens native, Nicki Minaj?) Anyone else not on the list? "I really don't see me and Justin Bieber having a record." Although, if 50 is on a positivity mission, it might be time for him to give the Biebz another call.
Animal Ambition is out June 3 via Caroline/Capitol.