After four albums under the Shady/Aftermath/Interscope banner, 50 Cent has parted ways with his longtime label home. But don't get it twisted; the split doesn't mark an ending for the artist born Curtis Jackson, but a new beginning. Now, the G-Unit head honcho officially inaugurates the latest phase in his career with Animal Ambition: An Untamed Desire To Win, his first full-length as an independent artist. His fifth LP in total, it follows 2009's Before I Self Destruct.
A stunning streak of reader-acclaimed singles heralded the set's arrival. Prior to its release, 50 liberated, among others, "Hold On," "Don't Worry Bout It," "Pilot," "Smoke," "Chase The Paper" and "Everytime I Come Around."
Jadakiss, Kidd Kidd, Mr. Probz, Prodigy, Trey Songz and Yo Gotti are just a few of many noteworthy guests who appear throughout the 11-track project, which includes production by the likes of Charli Brown Beatz, Dawaun Parker, Dr. Dre and Frank Dukes.
Animal Ambition Album Review
Lions are predators at the apex of the food pyramid. They’re rarely prey themselves (unless hunted by humans for their meat and manes), instead looking down at the rest of the Animal Kingdom with smirks of disdain and hunger. In 2004, at the peak of his recording career, 50 Cent was the lion of the rap game. He’s eaten his fair share since then (upwards of half a billion dollars worth), and has torn apart the careers of a few fellow MCs (Ja Rule and Young Buck). 50 no longer poses the same threat, but he’s still a lion, hungry and willing to take down anyone on his savannah. The album’s opening track, "Hold On", is a threat to the “roaches” and a return to form for 50. His nonchalant flow on the verses and hypnotic hook, matched with Charli Brown Beatz’s smooth, soulful backdrop kicks off the album nicely. 50 has always been a world-class shit talker, and his skills are on full display throughout the song.
Like an injured lion that still yearns for blood but lacks the physical ability to tackle the competition, 50 Cent is still ambitious and effective at times on Animal Ambition, but isn’t the force he used to be. "Don’t Worry ‘Bout It" and the title track are two examples of his inability to carry the load on his own anymore. A 50 Cent song in 2014 either needs a dope hook or a dope beat or feature to truly succeed, and these two tracks have neither. The former’s instrumental (Charli Brown Beatz’s second placement on the album) is full of annoying synths, the Yo Gotti feature adds nothing, and the hook and verses are hollow. The latter includes a beat that sounds like a bad spy caper flick and mumbled rhymes that are inaudible at times. 50’s flow has always benefitted from a distinct drawl due to a bullet he once took to the jaw, and his knack for slowly wrapping around a beat like a boa constrictor on a rodent. But when he tries to speed up the flow, like he does on the title track, he stumbles.
Every lion needs a lioness, and on "Smoke", 50 and Trey Songz hunt for theirs in the club. If this is his best shot at attracting a mate, 50 might be leading his pack solo. The instrumental is credited to Dewaun Parker, Dr. Dre and Mark Batson, which on paper is fail proof, but the trio certainly don’t succeed with this one. The song feels like a collage: Dewaun and Batson probably cued up a beat for Dre in a matter of seconds, Dre tweaked it a bit, shot the file over to 50, and 50 called in a hook from Trey. The song is flat on all accounts; 50’s "21 Questions" days of wooing are clearly over. He’ll be 39-years-old soon, isn’t it time for a mature female-dedicated track that doesn’t compare a woman to the high of inhaling smoke?
Curtis James Jackson III is an extremely intelligent man. No, he didn’t score a perfect 1600 on his SATs or cure cancer. He has the business acumen of a Mark Cuban, and a hawkish instinct for what will turn a profit. Hawks are predators that roam the sky, which is an apt description for 50, though his flights take place inside of a G4 Jet with buckets of champagne and cases of stolen chains. On Pilot, he makes sure you understand just how high he flies, and how he’s the top bird of prey around. It’s a tired concept, and the track’s only redeeming feature is the simple yet effective loop that producer Shamtrax provides on the instrumental.
Wolves hunt in packs, and for two of the best songs on the album, 50 brings along his cohorts. "Everytime I Come Around" is proof that his Mafioso, threatening brand of hip-hop can still succeed. The Steve Alien supplied beat is subdued and haunting. It’s the soundtrack to a wolf hunt. 50’s sing-songy hook reworks a popular nursery rhyme into a boastful hymn flaunting his wealth and warning of his approach. It’ll stay in your head until 50 and Ja Rule get tea together. Former Young Money affiliate Kidd Kidd stops by for a verse, and while he definitely can patch a rhyme together, he lacks the charisma and flow of the wolf at the front. Irregular Heartbeat sounds like the sped up vital signs of a soon to be feast for 50 and his homies. As producers G Rocka and Medi use the recording mic as a stethoscope on the chest of the enemy, 50, Jadakiss and Kidd Kidd narrate the episode. Jada chimes in with his patented piercing tone, and 50 nearly whispers his verse.
What do all of these animals have in common? They claw, scratch and tear their way through the competition. They’re wired to survive, by any means necessary. The animal spin on Get Rich or Die Tryin’. 50 Cent attacks with that mindset on his 5th album, and it’s a solid entry in a very up and down career (in music at least). 50 doesn’t need a re-invention, just a sign of growth. Animal Ambition is more of what we expect from one of the forebearers of New York rap in the 2K’s, just not quite as novel as it once was.
[By Alec Siegel, a human being whose heart is in Chicago but whose body is in Boston. He still writes with a quill and listens to records, and can often be found with fists full of Nutella. You can contact him via pigeon mail or shoot him a tweet at @bigasiegs.]
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins