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50 Cent, ‘5 (Murder by Numbers)’ (Self-Released)

SPIN Rating: 5 of 10
Release Date: July 06, 2012
Label: Self-released

The world is now blessed with two 50 Cents. There’s the Curtis Jackson who likes to talk about the money he’s made from his business ventures, flirts with the ladies on The View, and tweets about his day-to-day life like he’s following the script of some rapper-turned-suburban-dad sitcom. (His latest, best scene involved berating his kid for leaving a roller skate on the stairs in a slapstick bid at patricide.) Thriving on the social-media circuit, this 50 is entertaining, endearing, and not at all threatening; he may have been shot in the face, but that only goes to enhance his chipmunk-cheeked grin. It’s also the version that’s pretty popular right now, with nearly seven million Twitter followers RT’ing his every word.

The other 50 Cent is the one who still attempts to make rap records, but with ever-decreasing commercial and critical returns. 5 (Murder by Numbers), his latest, does nothing to restore that guy’s clout.

At 10 tracks long, there’s a certain economical appeal to this stopgap project. But its singular agenda causes it to flatline. 50’s main subject matter here is the accumulation of money, and his theories on how to spend it: Stockpile enough of the green stuff, he assures us, and you too can become a “condo connoisseur.” Stare at your bank balance long enough and you’ll start “to feel like there’s nothing left to talk about but the money.” And on the song “Money” itself, he explains how “I get money, nigga / I shit money / It smell like Benjamins.” Those dead presidents have become a fiber-filled part of him.

Of course, there’s nothing at all wrong with rappers boasting about their wealth and using it as a barometer of their ability as an MC; that idea is as old as the genre itself, and 50 pays deference to the heritage by doffing his hat to Special Ed’s Golden Era anthem “I Got It Made,” claiming his dog has a solid-gold bone. But Murder isn’t a lavish listen befitting its claimed worth. The beats aren’t high-end luxury — the sort of Watch the Throne-level production that someone with “Bugatti boat money” should be capable of rousting up, even for a free mixtape. Instead, there’s the Mr. Colt 45-produced “United Nations,” which is presumably meant to sound futuristic — “I be on some Jetsons shit,” raps 50 — but comes across more like George Jetson’s pooch Astro pawing at a Casio keyboard’s presets. Cheaper-sounding still, “Roll That Shit,” a reportedly-non-weed-smoking rapper’s song about smoking weed, does a great impression of a tinny dollar-store knock-off of a Dr. Dre beat. Whereas 50’s first breakthrough anthems boomed triumphantly — and defined an era — here it seems like his producers are palming off the dregs of their portfolios.

Tellingly, the run-up to the release of Murder by Numbers has been more endearing than the actual album. Largely through his Twitter account, 50 first suggested this was his fifth and final project for Interscope, before deciding that it was instead a present to himself, set to drop on his birthday (July 6th). Then he threw a fit, and told fans they were being ungrateful and that he’d simply “bump this in the gym by myself,” at which point he released a Photoshopped, tongue-in-cheek version of the track list (“My Crown” became “White Man Tryna Keep a Brother Down,” featuring Eminem). Soon, he was mocking a fan called “Lil Murda Boy” and told another online adversary they “look autistic.” (Cue side controversy about his use of the A-word.) Then he cyber-kissed and made up with everyone and released the album as a free download on his birthday anyway.

Classic 50 Cent: the online instigator with a stash of money in the bank and too much time on his hands. It’s just a shame that his wealth has so dulled his creativity — he’s now officially a better Tweeter than he is a rapper.