50 Cent 

The Massacre (Shady/Aftermath)

On the original cover for The Massacre, 50 Cent rocked a fly suit, a hat and a crossbow. The image was less threatening than absurd -- he might as well have been holding an angry cobra -- but that's pretty much how 50 rolls. His multiplatinum debut, Get Rich or Die Tryin', brought a hyper-real brand of gangsta rap so shiny and overproduced that only his well-publicized street cred and public beef with Ja Rule made it profitable. Beneath the pop sheen, 50 Cent still has an incredible down-South flow, not to mention thug charisma. Nobody makes death threats sound this hot, but few rappers stay as close to self-parody: As lethal as it may be, it's hard not to giggle at a crossbow.

The Massacre is bloated with crossbow rap. Most of the thug shit is great. "Ski Mask Way" and "In My Hood" are 50 Cent at his best: talking big cars, money and hostage threats over unique beats. Still, at 77 minutes, The Massacre could survive without "Position of Power" or "Gunz Come Out." As much as the marketing department may think he needs it, 50 also could have skipped "Piggy Bank," a boring track that disses Nas and Fat Joe. Amid thug idiocy and obvious future singles, two tracks are essential. On "Get In My Car," 50 rides a Hi-Tek banger, spitting slow pimp shit for Cadillacs in Atlanta. And he gets creative about B-more's rampant heroin problem on "A Baltimore Love Thing." 50 raps from the drug's point of view, not a rare theme in rap, but his take on the love/hate relationship between addict and drug is unexpected and earnest.

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