50 Cent Returns to a World Without Drake on 'The Big 10'

[caption id="attachment_21292" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="50 Cent arrives at the CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute, Los Angeles, Calif., December 2011. Photo: Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic"][/caption]

On the opening track of his new mixtape, The Big 10, 50 Cent flatly declares "I read a blog that said I ain't got it, I still got it." Humility has never been one of Fif's stronger traits and even if the opposite were true it'd be hard to imagine him admitting it. But this time he's technically correct.

While popular interest in his music is at an all time low, the only thing that's changed is context. The type of subtly menacing, predominately sample driven, street rap that he initially built his brand on is virtually nonexistent in the popular music landscape today. For the most part mainstream hip hop's aggressive content, as 50 so fondly describes it, has been quarantined to the blunt grunt-and-synth formula of Rick Ross, Lex Luger and Waka Flocka. The rest of it is soft serve rap about sneakers, club drugs and feelings, as performed by Canadians and/or rappers who probably wish they were Canadian. (Soft rappers need free healthcare.) Of course, it was 50 himself who helped to orchestrate this crumble during his rise, trading in his Champion hoodies for pinstripe suits and indulging in some of the sappiest pop rap of his time.

"What's he going to do? Start heckling Drake? Drake heckles himself every time he breathes."

The Big 10 loosely celebrates the tenth anniversary of Fif's breakout underground 50 Cent is the Future, a landmark mixtape in a time when the words "landmark" and "mixtape" still seemed contradictory by nature. That he chose to pay tribute to this comparatively obscure release rather than hold out a year to celebrate his eight-times platinum crossover Get Rich or Die Trying is a largely symbolic gesture. Now that pop stardom has inevitably run its course he wants to go home again.

And, on a purely empirical level he's managed to do just that. Like many of the loose tracks he's dropped throughout this year, the new tape comes pretty close to consistency of G-Unit's golden age. 50 knows how to make great hardcore hip hop. The production is stripped down and tastefully soulful, the songwriting is absent of cloying hooks or other pop concessions, and he's really just spitting in the classical sense of the word. He's mostly rapping about killing and maiming unnamed foes and when he does so he balances an artful intensity and a sly smirk, best displayed on the warbling and relentless "Stop Crying": "Jesus let the weak roam the Earth without a purpose / but I'll stop your fucking head 'til it's under the surface."

In his prime, 50 added weight to these sorts of threats by implicitly drawing on his own narrative. In his early days that meant channeling his underdog status as an industry reject and a shooting victim, later it was his feuds with the likes of Ja Rule and Rick Ross that amplified his raps in the imagination of his listeners. But underdog sympathies are difficult to invoke when you're a multi-multi-millionaire, and 50's persona is too far removed from the present-day hip hop industry for him to ever reclaim his status as sandpaper on its bark. What's he going to do? Start heckling Drake? Drake heckles himself every time he breathes. All he can do is continue to quietly make music that's just good enough to prove his internet detractors wrong.

50 Cent's The Big 10 is out now. Download The Big Ten the mixtape at DatPiff.com