We have an aging stars problem in hip-hop.
It’s not one-sided, but instead a give-and-take relationship with both parties --- us, as fans, and the artists themselves --- culpable at some level. As they emerge from their Moment, the one during which they ascended to rap greatness, there’s often something missing on the other side.
Maybe it’s that we don’t have the same feeling of momentum and excitement that we felt at their height of success; maybe our association with whatever personal nostalgia existed in our lives during their Moment can’t be duplicated, so we dismiss their new efforts; maybe, as artists, they’ve evolved too much, or, conversely, not enough.
Whatever it is, the window of truly, deeply caring about artists’ music is often relatively small.
Few seem exempt from this trajectory. In just the last few weeks, Rick Ross put out his strongest album since 2010's Teflon Don and his Moment, and Jadakiss returned after six years with his oft-delayed fourth solo effort that feels in many spots --- and this is meant in the highest regard --- like it could have come a year after his second album, a decade ago. Yet, neither even had a stranglehold on the conversation during the week of their release, let alone in the time since.
50 Cent has also fallen victim to this fate. Much of it has less to do with what he’s failed to do in the last ten years than what he accomplished in his first couple: The 2003 release of Get Rich or Die Tryin’, the massive singles that followed, the dominance of subsequent G-Unit group and solo releases, the blockbuster movie, the clothing line --- it was a run in those first years the magnitude of which we see sparingly in hip-hop.
But he hasn’t only been suffering from success. Some of this is on him. In the last few years, he tried the Big Single With Star Guest formula --- “My Life” with Eminem and Adam Levine, “We Up,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, and, more recently, “Get Low,” alongside Jeremih, T.I. and 2 Chainz --- but none impacted on a major level, which was equal parts a measure of public interest as it was quality.
His 2011 mixtape The Big 10 was a respectable effort (“Body On It” was particularly fantastic) but was too hit or miss. The following year’s DJ Drama-hosted The Lost Tape and 5 (Murder By Numbers) were similarly mixed bags. Then last year’s fifth solo album, the independently released Animal Ambition, followed that trend, and was likely marred by the years of build up and talk leading to release.
The Kanan Tape, released last week, is different. It’s the best 50 has sounded on one project in years.
With just seven songs, there’s barely any opportunity for a miss --- and there aren’t any. Fif is able to strike the delicate balance of importing new sounds --- like "Too Rich," produced by London on da Track, and a feature from Post Malone --- with his legacy approach, without coming off as forced or pandering.
The production is pristine. The Post-assisted “Tryna F--k Me Over” flips a Buddy Baker sample that The Beatnuts and Big Pun first dismantled on “Off The Books” in 1997. Sonny Digital’s “I’m The Man” is eery and sparse, while London’s contribution is similarly spacey with spurts of controlled chaos. Veterans Alchemist and !llimnd also provide production, with Al’s oozing “Body Bags” (initially Sean Price’s “Bar-Barian”) a comforting fit for Fif’s firm talk.
I’m still not completely over the idea that 50 hasn’t let his content grow much, even with changes in his life --- I’m curious what he would sound like rapping about being a father to a teenage son or his recent bankruptcy or a narrative track on his rollercoaster friendship with Floyd Mayweather or an "Empire" dis --- but I’ve mostly accepted that his approach is what it is. And given that fact, The Kanan Tape is peak 50.
So why won’t we let him be great?
Now, I’m not exactly sure what letting 50 be great looks like in 2016. Is it hearing the tape blast from car stereos, with a song or two in rotation at radio and clubs? Is it a collective digital gravitation towards one song, propelling it to hit tens of millions of plays on Soundcloud? Is it you seeing and using a hashtag inspired by a lyric or song title all over Instagram? Is it endless memes and Vines of a remade sliver of one of his videos?
It’s probably some of all of these things. But they're not happening.
50's not at a point where he needs us to engage with his music: Despite the bankruptcy filing, he seems to have his businesses in order, from his constantly promoted Effen Vodka to his production company and TV shows like "Power" and the upcoming "My Friend 50" on Fox; he has plenty of fun on social media; he's raising a toddler.
But he seems to want us to. And we're at a point where we should be. So are we ready to reconsider?