There are two big stories behind 50 Cent's third album, Curtis (as in real name: Curtis Jackson). First, there's the promise he made that he would outsell Kanye West -- who was releasing his Graduation album the same day as Curtis -- or he would retire. Second, there's the album's original title, Before I Self Destruct, a fitting caption to the moody close-up of 50 on the cover, which looks much more troubled, concerned, and intense than anything on the album sounds. Referencing self-destruction would have been a gross misrepresentation of a full-length that repeatedly employs the tried-and-true 50 Cent formula -- heavy hooks, macho charisma, a dash of controversy, and some sly cleverness -- and features a collaboration with the ultra-suave Robin Thicke smack dab in the middle. The perfect soundtrack if 50's G-Unit empire begins opening cocktail lounges, "Follow My Lead" with lounge lizard Thicke is pure polish, a slow finger-snapper dressed up in an expensive suit that feels extremely comfortable. Equally at ease is the Timbaland production "Ayo Technology" featuring Justin Timberlake, an obvious single that's "been there, done that" for all parties involved. This doesn't mean it's bland, just safe. Same goes for both "Amusement Park," which is as empty-headed and hook-filled as "Candy Shop," and "I'll Still Kill" with Akon, which offers no surprises, just another melody that refuses to leave the head. Also from the high-profile department and pushing a little harder is the emotional "All of Me," which finds Mary J. Blige and 50 displaying some passionate chemistry, and "Fire," which succeeds not because of the underwhelming Dr. Dre production or the severe chorus from Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, but because of 50's inspired verses, one of which gives up "You can hate this/But face it/B.I.G. and 2Pac/Just ain't around." "Get a tan?/I'm already black/Get rich?/I'm already that" comes from "I Get Money," a classic "I run New York" swagger-fest in the G-Unit style. The third killer verse on the full-length is much too foul to repeat and comes from Eminem, who also produces the great "Peep Show" and makes 50 sound hungry for a change. As far as Dre rapping on "Come & Go," he's got two lines, and as far as controversy, "Fully Loaded Clip" flippantly drops some big names for the sake of mischief while "Man Down" is censored no matter what version you buy, since Interscope isn't so keen on cop-killing lyrics. In the end, Curtis is entertaining but only impressive in that 50 can run in place and still be on top. ~ David Jeffries, Rovi
Track samples provided courtesy of iTunes
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