50 Cent Growls Meekly, Often, on Deluded ‘Animal Ambition’
Release Date: June 3, 2014
What the hell kind of name is Animal Ambition? Are animals really ambitious? Don’t they just kind of do what they gotta do and leave it at that? Maybe the undercooked title of 50 Cent’s fifth album is more accurate than this crumbling Queens rap institution realizes. Opener “Hold On,” a blaxploitation soundtrack-sounding shuffler, is an anthem for the exceedingly comfortable. It has a bored, count-up-in-a-castle quality to it (“Open my eyes, no surprise I’m with a different bitch/ Different day, different ass, different tits”), which might actually work if it were explored more, or even extended as a concept. Instead, between the track’s compelling seen-it-all verses, 50 barks threats like, “Boy, you better be easy, I ain’t playing with you boy.”
He’s trying to remind you that he’s still tough, though these lines mostly just conjure images of Travis Bickle in the mirror: a guy alone and clueless, snarling at imagined enemies that can’t talk back. Same goes for “Irregular Heartbeat,” with 50 whisper-rapping bullying lines at some platonic pussy or loser or chump or whatever. Who cares? While “Smoke,” featuring Trey Songz, is an obvious try for a radio hit, the song’s blueprint is for a mid-2000s radio hit, and it features one of those from-the-vault Dr. Dre beats that lifelessly bloops and loops like the music on a DVD menu, so it’s dead in the water twice over in 2014. At least “Smoke” acknowledges that 50 Cent’s success hinged on his pop appeal, rather than his street cred.
Yeah yeah yeah, we were aware of his gangster reputation even when he couldn’t articulate it because of his mumbling delivery, the result of a gun shot to the cheek back in 2000. But that thug shtick hit its performative on-record peak back in 2002 on the 50 Cent Is The Future mixtape. By the time he became the biggest thing in rap thanks to “In Da Club” and, well, damn near everything else on 2003’s Get Rich or Die Trying, his success had mostly to do with how he cannily packaged his streetwise realness with pop-rap tracks that flexed a little, with 50 stopping just short of all-out crooning.
Back then, it was at least fun buying into the hustle. Animal Ambition half-assedly pimps the phony idea perpetuated by his Jesse Pinkman-like core fans and an increasingly clueless 50 Cent himself: that his success was built on bona fide gangster rap swagger rather than incredibly accessible club bangers.