For those of you two who can put two and two together, yes, this is the project I promised Sir Bonkers I would write up as a pseudo-companion to The Madd Rapper's Tell 'Em Why U Madd. However, the reasoning still doesn't make much sense for me: although both The Madd Rapper's album and this project share a song, they really don't have anything else in common.
So, a little background on the artist that I semi-vowed never to write about again. Curtis Jackson, best known as the rapper 50 Cent, is yet another drug dealer-slash-hustler who lucked into a recording contract, allowing him to make shit up about robbing and stealing instead of, you know, actually doing that shit. The man is infamous for having been shot nine times and then turning that into a promotional selling point for a successful career in our chosen genre, thanks to the help of hip hop Svengalis Dr. Dre and Eminem, the latter of whom discovered the guy on a mixtape.
But wait! There's more!
Curtis Jackson actually went through several of his nine lives just trying to break into this whole rap thing. He was discovered at a very young age by the late Jam Master Jay, who took him under his wing and taught him the basics of writing a song. This partnership resulted in two major events, the first being 50's big break, a cameo on the Onyx song "React" (Onyx had also been working with Jam Master Jay, so this pairing was fruitful in more ways than one), and in its accompanying video. The second was a full-length album entirely produced by Jay, which was never released and remains somewhere locked in a vault.
Curtis used his second life to secure a record deal with Columbia, thanks to interference by the production duo The Trackmasters. With their assistance, 50 recorded his second debut album, Power Of The Dollar, a project Columbia later refused to distribute when Curtis was violently attacked in front of his grandmother's house; the label wanted to be involved with gangsta rap, but they didn't want the negative stigma that frequently goes with that distinction attached to them. They dropped him from the label while he was still recovering in the hospital.
I'm sure 50 Cent isn't bitter. Besides, he could have bought and sold Columbia Records many times over by now, for all I know.
Having been blackballed in the industry thanks to Columbia's meddling, 50 Cent went the underground route, recording and releasing mixtapes at a rather fast clip just to make a name for himself. One of those mixtapes ended up in the hands of Shady Records showrunner Marshall Mathers, who in turn let Aftermath Records CEO Andre Young listen in, and a few signatures later, a star was born.
Power Of The Dollar was not that mixtape. But it easily could have been. True to his alleged outlaw spirit, Curtis Jackson took it upon himself to release Power Of The Dollar himself to the general public, as a mixtape that approximates what the shelved album was supposed to sound like. And the 50 Cent that the listener discovers on here isn't exactly a far cry from the ripped jackass we all know today who can't buy a radio hit to save his life (although I understand that song with Dr. Dre and Alicia Keys is trending), but he definitely doesn't sound like the same guy.
Yeah, that intro sucked. What more do you want from me?
2. THE HIT
This was a horrible way to kick things off, although, surprisingly, Curtis is nearly blameless here. Sure, he flows in a pre-Reasonable Doubt Jay-Z cadence, contributing three sped-up conversation-style verses and a dull chorus, but the real problem comes from producer Randy Allen, who lends our host a terrible instrumental that sounds too mainstream to be hard and too incomplete to be poppy. Speaking of incomplete, 50's first two verses sound as though they were cut off prematurely in an effort to give “The Hit” some character, but the end result is a fucking hot mess. Still, for those of you two who wish to hear Curtis sound less like Ma$e and more like Hova, this can still be considered a curiosity piece. Just not an entertaining one.
3. THE GOOD DIE YOUNG
The whimsical nature of the Al West beat offsets the general shit-talking that pervades “The Good Die Young”, an oddly curious track that features our host talking about his life in the streets and predicting his future success in the music industry without missing a step (and with a Jay-Z “Friend Or Foe”-esque flow, no less). Cockiness has never been a recessive trait in 50 Cent's universe: I'm pretty sure the man was born an asshole. But he is, at least, a confident asshole, which helps the medicine go down, meaning that this wasn't the worst song I had ever heard in my lifetime or anything.
4. CORNER BODEGA (COKE SPOT SKIT)
Although labeled as an interlude, this is actually a one-verse wonder featuring one of Curtis's crime tales spit over an entertaining L.E.S. beat. Our host's flow morphs into a bizarre amalgamation of Ma$e and, of all people, Guru (R.I.P.), which isn't as blasphemous as one might think, since he actually sounds pretty good. Fiddy isn't performing verbal acrobatics or anything, but keeping things simple worked out for him later in his career, so it makes sense that he would look to that method on this old dinosaur.
5. YOUR LIFE'S ON THE LINE
Curtis liked this song so much that he included it as a bonus track on Get Rich Or Die Tryin'. His decision makes sense: this track doesn't sound as dated as you would think, and it fit his image as a superthug perfectly at the time. Does it sound better within the context of Power Of The Dollar, the album it was supposed to first appear on, though? I suppose so, but it still isn't that great of a song to begin with: Curtis's gangsta lyrics clash with the decent-but-not-a-good-fit Terence Dudley beat, and the battle ends not with a bang but with a shrug.
6. THAT AIN'T GANGSTA
Before he started calling out those who he felt had “Wanksta” qualities (now that slang term never really caught on, did it?), Curtis was dipping his toes in the water with this track, which describes all of the myriad circumstances under which you would not be considered a gangsta. 50's flow is too lackadaisical to honor the quickly-paced Trackmasters instrumental, one which demanded a much more alert collaborator, so “That Ain't Gangsta” winds up becoming its own punchline in the process. I can see how there are people out there who love this song, but in reality they're only lusting after the (admittedly hot) beat: everything involving Curtis on here is a nonfactor. Moving on...
7. AS THE WORLD TURNS (FEAT. UGK)
The first cameos on Power Of The Dollar don't come from members of the as-yet-formed G-Unit but, weirdly, from the Underground Kingz (well, Bun B anyway, since the late Pimp C is nowhere to be found), and, as you two may have expected, our host adopts a Southern drawl in order to match the flow and energy of his invited guest. The end result would be laughable had it not been for Bun's verse and Red Spyda's beat, both of which weren't bad and deserved a better showcase. Curtis would later learn to stick to his own script (for the most part), but back in the late 1990s, he was much more malleable than even he would admit to. Which, obviously, doesn't always work in his favor.
8. GHETTO QU'RAN (FORGIVE ME PART 1)
This song, which allegedly got Curtis shot nine times (possibly for naming so many names), was actually pretty good, and it holds up much better than 50's later bullshit output. Over a surprisingly dope Trackmasters instrumental, Curtis pours his heart out in a love rap dedicated to the game, and his attention to detail (not just with his associates but also with the little flashes of his day-to-day) is commendable. I dare say that this is probably one of the finest tracks Curtis Jackson will ever write, and it's because, in his own fucked-up way, he truly cares about what he's rapping about. I may have missed something, though, since I couldn't figure out just exactly what he said that may have gotten the man shot in the first place. It's weird to think of a single song as the catalyst for the rest of a man's career, but here we are.
9. DA REPERCUSSIONS
It's too easy to pretend that 50's first bar says “N---a, if a Nickelback song's on in the park I want in on it”, so that just happened. Anyway, the instrumental was pretty goddamn good, sounding like something an aspiring producer might put together after listening to a ton of Wu-Tang Clan songs and taking away the wrong lessons (this is still supposed to be a compliment), and it helps make Curtis's three verses entertaining enough, which is a strange sentence for me to write. But yeah, I kind of liked this song. Weird.
10. MONEY BY ANY MEANS (FEAT. NOREAGA)
Although I could still see Curtis begging Bun B for a cameo today, it's impossible to imagine him asking the same of Noreaga (who still plays the game but hasn't been called up to the big leagues in ages), which makes this collaboration comical at best. The Trackmasters beat does no favors for either participant, but to be fair, neither guy was actively trying that hard anyway, as 50 talks his shit in a blandly generic fashion while Nore does his Nore thing, which, for some reason, we all enjoyed back in the late 1990s. It's clear that our host exerted all of his effort into the goofy-ass skit that closes out the track.
11. MATERIAL GIRL (FEAT. DAVE HOLLISTER)
50's cover of the Madonna standard uses a radio-friendly Trackmasters beat to insult the many women of the world who wouldn't give our host the time of day (read: wouldn't blow him) until he became moderately famous (read: when he appeared in the video for Onyx's “React”). I can only imagine how much bigger the man's head has gotten after Get Rich Or Die Tryin' hit store shelves. I understand where he's coming from (he wants a girl to like him for him. Awww! How sweet!), but there had to have been a better way for him to make his point, especially since Curtis himself felt the need to apologize to the female audience at the tail end of the track. What the hell did I just sit through?
12. THUG LOVE (FEAT. DESTINY'S CHILD)
Somehow 50's apology at the end of the previous song is supposed to but excuse and justify the existence of this track, a love rap which was conceived solely for radio playlists and not because anybody would ever derive any enjoyment from actually listening to the fucking thing. On here, Columbia Records paired up the then-labelmates 50 Cent and Beyonce Knowles (although Destiny's Child is credited in the guest slot, only Beyonce's vocals are actually heard, at least by my ears), and this all happened before Jay-Z married one of them and started beefing with the other (guess who's who!), mainly because Destiny's Child was popular and the label figured that Curtis's fanbase would appreciate seeing someone in the video with a big ass. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Anyway, said video never was filmed in the first place, since Curtis went and got himself shot the fuck up the day before shooting was to commence, which caused the label to pull the plug on the entire project altogether. Had this shit actually had the opportunity to trick people into thinking it was good, I wonder if 50's career trajectory would have burned out much faster than it ultimately did. This song sucked.
13. SLOW DOE
14. GUN RUNNER
Another one-verse wonder masquerading as a quasi-interlude, this one featuring our host nearly getting robbed by a guy who contacted him to pick out a weapon for handling some beef. Fairly high-concept, I know, and Curtis sticks to the story for the entire duration of the ride, which is pretty detail-oriented (not unlike “Ghetto Qu'ran”). Proof that Curtis Jackson was once capable of writing some pretty good, descriptive bars. Maybe he still could today if he wanted to, but we'll never actually know, now, will we?
15. YOU AIN'T NO GANGSTA
Basically the same song as “That Ain't Gangsta”, except with more aggression. Sha Self's beat fits the subject matter better than the previously-named track experienced, but since he's already performed this song this evening, it's obvious that Curtis was running out of ideas, especially since this is the second time on Power Of The Dollar where he deliberately mispronounces the word “consignment” as “consignme” in order to fit a rhyme. Had this been placed earlier in the album sequence, it may have made much more of an impact. As it is, this sounded hollow.
16. POWER OF THE DOLLAR
Kind of late for a title track, especially one that should have stayed buried in the vault. Nothing about this shit grabbed me. Moving forward...
17. I'M A HUSTLER
This late in the game, we shouldn't have a need to hear 50 Cent's justification for being in the rap game when he could easily slide back into the drug game, but clearly our host thought otherwise. The DJ Scratch beat isn't awful, and Curtis at least sounds invested in the bullshit he's spouting, but what ruined the track for me, aside from its piss-poor album placement (apparently Columbia Records wasn't aware of how an album should flow back in the late 1990s), is the hook, which is made up of the worst selection of out-of-context vocal samples I've heard this side of DJ Premier's late-period work with no-name artists. I can't get behind sloppy work like this.
18. HOW TO ROB (FEAT. THE MADD RAPPER)
Had it not been for 50's ability to write other songs that became inexplicably popular, “How To Rob”, his admittedly hilarious first single patterned after The Notorious B.I.G.'s “Dreams”, a song about fucking R&B bitches (and naming names, as Curtis does gleefully on here), would have been the man's legacy. 50 rhymes with his tongue set so firmly in his cheek that it's astounding that any of the artists named took offense, but oh man, did they ever: Jay-Z struck back with a not-so-subliminal dis, Raekwon disguised his voice and threatened our host with bodily harm on Ghostface Killah's “Clyde Smith” skit, and Mariah Carey, who was originally named on here, threatened to leave the label if they released the song unaltered, thereby forcing Curtis to rewrite the offending bars to instead attack R&B nobody Case, a guy who just received the most press he's gotten in a decade just because of my last sentence. (These are but three examples: pretty much everyone else named on “How To Rob” took their own shots at 50, too.) “How To Rob” is sort-of like a mainstream J-Zone track, with Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie's alter ego The Madd Rapper riding shotgun on his first non-Bad Boy Records appearance. This song is just funny, so at least we know 50 Cent used to have a sense of humor. He even promises a sequel at the very end, which never actually happened, unless I was just distracted by a dog with a poofy tail or something. (Wikipedia opines that “How To Rob” could also be construed as a gonzo tribute to the gangster 50 Cent swiped his moniker from, since that guy was infamous for robbing celebrities, so that takes all of the fun out of this shit.)
SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN? Only if you're a history buff that revels in hearing well-known artists trying to form their own identity. Power Of The Dollar is an album-slash-mixtape that sounds like it could have actually been somewhat successful in the marketplace had it been released as originally planned, but back in the late 1990s hip hop was dominated by the lazy 1980s samples from Puff Daddy and his ilk (including The Trackmasters), so that last sentence still doesn't mean that this project holds up today. 50 Cent's current status as a hip hop has-been who focuses more on his movie career than he does recording a song that people may actually like will not prepare you for the guy who wrote some of the songs on Power Of The Dollar, though: some of the storytelling attempts aren't half bad, and his knowledge of how to write an actual song dates all the way back to this album, apparently. I am thankful that this album never saw the light of day (officially), since that means we've all been saved from having to witness a video clip for "Thug Love", and a lot of the songs are commercial misfires that Curtis has, sadly, never been able to fully avoid. But Power Of The Dollar shouldn't have been handled the way it was. I'm no defender of the man, but 50 Cent got played dirty on this deal. No, I mean it. I may not believe that it's a must-listen or anything (for the record, I don't), but it doesn't take listening to much of this album before you realize that whoever made the call at Columbia Records was really fucking stupid.
In a sneaky effort to write off their initial investment in 50 Cent, Columbia Records refashioned Power Of The Dollar into a five-track EP that actually did make it into stores. It consists of four songs from the original project in addition to one all-new (or previously unreleased, who the fuck knows) track.
1. THUG LOVE (FEAT. DESTINY'S CHILD)
It's still only Beyonce on the hook, guys.
2. I'M A HUSTLER
At least Columbia finally hired someone who understood how rap albums are supposed to flow.
3. DA HEATWAVE (FEAT. NOREAGA)
This would be the lone new song on the Power Of The Dollar EP. This Erick Sermon-produced song features a lazy beat that Keith Murray wouldn't have even considered farting over, and Curtis spits three verses that are supposed to mirror shit-talking, but only shows that the man was already spinning his wheels (although at least one of the bars was kind of funny). Noreaga, who only works with people that he likes, must really have fucked with Curtis back in 2000, since this is the second time he's been mentioned during this review, although he barely registers on here, only contributing the hook. The dude would have made a much bigger impact on the song had he not been credited at all: at least he would have had the element of surprise working for him. Groan.
4. YOUR LIFE'S ON THE LINE
Slight detour while on its way to appear on a multi-platinum selling project. Same boring song, though.
5. HOW TO ROB (FEAT. THE MADD RAPPER)
I think I've written all I can about this one already.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Well, that shit was a waste of time. Columbia's tax write-off version of Power Of The Dollar can't decide whether it's trying to appeal to a commercial audience or the heads on the street, and what's worse, it even manages to waste Erick Sermon in a supporting role. Although I believe that the full-length Power Of The Dollar may have been a mild success, there's no way that this EP would have ever garnered nearly as much attention, and not just because it was unceremoniously dumped into maxi-single bins across the country. Schizophrenic subject matter coupled with uninspired beats, an artist who's being pulled in far too many directions, and one lone decent song, the aforementioned "How To Rob", which was also made available individually? Exactly what was the point of this shit?
BUY OR BURN? Neither. Run away!
BEST TRACKS: "How To Rob", and, well, based on the EP alone, that's just about it.
There isn't all that much to them, but there are a few more Curtis Jackson write-ups to be found on the site.