50 Cent’s ‘Animal Ambition’: Album Review

Christina Lee | June 3, 2014 5:40 am
During HOT 97’s Summer Jam on June 1, 50 Cent surprised the crowd by hugging former rival Nas, then bringing out his long-dissipated crew G-Unit — their first performance together since 2008. One at a time, as if going to bat, Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo and Young Buck walked out to rap a memorable hook from G-Unit’s rap- (and pop)-ruling heyday in the early 2000s.

“The Unit is back,” one member said, in an attempt to sweep their public beef under the rug. (“50 ain’t rocking with me and Banks,” Yayo said. 50 claims that he gave all he possibly could.) But even during the brief hits medley (and compared to the crew’s new song released the next day, “Nah I’m Talking ‘Bout”), G-Unit’s performance didn’t feel quite like a reunion. Instead, 50 Cent’s voice boomed over everyone else’s, proving he was still in fighting shape despite not having released an album in five years.

Unfortunately, 50 Cent isn’t as authoritative in his comeback record, Animal Ambition (out today, ), as he could be.

By now, 50 Cent is known as one of hip hop’s last bullies. (There is a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to 50 Cent Feuds, FYI.) As tiresome as that schtick can be, the combination of his mush mouth voice, occasional lyrical obstacles and ear for a good melody can still make his scoffing sound fun at times.

Fiddy tag-teams with Memphis hip hop stalwart Yo Gotti to taunt gleefully in “Don’t Worry ‘Bout It,” for just long enough to get listeners wondering as they hum along. He rewrites a playground chant into drug-ring jingle “Everytime I Come Around” (“Ring around the rosie / pockets full of o-z’s”), a well-worn but foolproof strategy in getting even skeptics to follow along. And halfway through Animal Ambition, just when the album’s casual air starts to become rote, he morphs into a quiet menace in the glowing “Irregular Heartbeat.” The longer he keeps his threats low and hushed, the more his even-keeled demeanor feels like the quiet before the storm.

50 Cent — “Irregular Heartbeat” (featuring Jadakiss, Kidd Kidd)

But even 50 Cent, now hip hop’s fifth wealthiest mogul, wants to break from the street-oriented “realness” of his heyday. So he splits his time on Animal Ambition pretty evenly between hitting the pavement and the V.I.P. section, to stress the rewards that result from good, honest work. Even in the nonchalant “Hustler,” he points to his walk-in closet full of designer gear, to say that all of that can be ours, too.

But for all his good intentions, Animal Ambition‘s ideas for success are too vague — if not cliched — to sound enticing.

“May your gut instincts help you make good decisions,” he spits in “Twisted,” a good wish that’s as specific as a fortune cookie prophecy. The production that soundtracks that good life, from ritzy club settings (“Smoke,” featuring Trey Songz) to Rocky-style fanfare (“Winners Circle”) also feels too tepid to register as actual victories.

50 Cent —  “Winners Circle”

Not to be mistaken for the more personal, still-delayed (and, based on early singles, better-sounding) Street King Immortal, 50 cut Animal Ambition soon after he split from Shady/Aftermath, while meditating on prosperity and the jealousy it can inspire from others. (This includes G-Unit, and he’d quote the Notorious B.I.G. to help explain: “Damn, n—- wanna stick me for my paper, damn.”)

With a business portfolio spanning from best-selling self-help books to that wise VitaminWater investment, 50 Cent’s got enough experience that he no longer has to get rich or die trying. But his new music could sure use some of the nervous excitement and innovation that comes with a new venture.

Overall, Animal Ambition could stand to be a much harder sell.

Full Disclosure: Prior to hearing Animal Ambition, I read GQ‘s outstanding profile of its creator, “50 Cent Is Your Life Coach.” The story made me start to root for 50 Cent again, and it’s why I was disappointed that the MC didn’t invest more time into this new release.

Idolator Score: 2.5/5

Christina Lee