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Last week, on New York's Hot 97 FM, 50 Cent dismissed The Game from G-Unit, after Game had professed earlier to the same station that he wouldn't mind recording with some of 50's sworn enemies (namely Nas and Jadakiss). Shortly thereafter, a young man was shot non-fatally in the leg at Hot 97, while 50 was still on-air, and gunfire was purportedly heard outside the offices of Violator, 50's management. That he started flexing his godfatherish persona mere days before he dropped The Massacre led some to speculate whether the whole thing was one ill-advised publicity stunt meant to invigorate his buzz and boost sales. As if to confirm the hunch, according to allhiphop.com, a week later, 50 was downplaying the whole ordeal, telling "106 & Park", "A lot of things you hear out there is being said for shock value and not really as serious as people make it out to be."

Bullets don't joke. But while the "publicity stunt" analysis underestimates code of honor (and overestimates 50's and Game's collective rationality), you can't fault a kid for thinking like that. The Massacre, after all, tails 50's stratospherically successful Get Rich or Die Tryin' (which has thus far sold over 11 million copies); its release date had already been pushed back a month, and the two singles prefacing The Massacre-- "Disco Inferno" and "Candy Shop"-- are flaccid reprises of other tracks both in beats and in timbre. (The former, of Lloyd Banks' "On Fire", beats by Eminem; the latter, 50 and Lil' Kim's "Magic Stick".).

It's ironic that some of 50's best verses right now are his guest spots on The Game's The Documentary (particularly "Hate It or Love It" and "How We Do"). The man's underperforming lyrically on The Massacre, but he stretches and croons and assures us a $50-million paycheck and a gigantic mansion in Connecticut have not expired his steely street soldiering: He's riding on the narrative and tough-mugging that got him here. And yet, The Massacre's best tracks have 50 dropping club-clatter and gangster lean to show us the mind behind the six-pack, gat, and Teflon.

Clued in by an intro skit in which a sweet-sounding young damsel receiving a Valentine gets blasted by bullet-spray, we get it: 1) He's rich, and 2) He'll get you first. This is 50's massacre, no mercy. Scarface is in da club. It's followed by a series of guttural threats and luggish offerings to snuff anyone to save face-- "y'all know what I'm about," 50 reminds us more than once. And in case we don't, he hits us with indelible, existential gloom, especially on "This is 50"'s ominous piano plinking and the funereal low-end synths of "I'm Supposed to Die Tonight", where his warnings are cut directly from mobster cinema: "Don't be stupid, find out who you fuckin with, son/ 'Fore we find out where yo' bitch get her hair and nails done/ It's elementary, life is but a dream/ You know, row row your boat/ Your blood forms a stream."

Delving further into his macabre imagination, the lyrically weak "Piggy Bank" lets up for comic relief, poking half-assedly at Jadakiss, Nas, Kelis, and Ja Rule, framed in a sort of "nanny-nanny-boo-boo" chorus for the ridonkulously wealthy. Dissing Fat Joe, he stumbles into the feeble line, "That fat nigga thought 'Lean Back' was 'In Da Club'/ My shit sold 11 mil/ His shit was a dud," after which the hook bragging "yeah yeah mo' money mo'money," creates a reasonable facsimile of oinking. He taunts everyone in the outro: "Y'all gotta do something now... everybody's watching... rep your hood, nigga," whilst laughing maniacally; for a minute it's not far-off to think 50 has, in fact, gone bat-crazy, aiming groin-level at kids who aren't even trying to pitch on his same baseball diamond. (The ill-advised "Gatman and Robbin'" doesn't help; it imagines 50 and Eminem as impenetrable badass-scrappers but goofs more like an animated comedy skit for "Saturday Night Live".)

As if to temper "Piggy"'s mouthy smack-starting, he slips into his easy Casanova on tracks like the Jamie Foxx-assisted "Build You Up" and "So Amazing"; as many reviewers and 50 himself will tell you, a good majority of The Massacre is "for the ladies" (and they are, if you're a lady who enjoys being ordered into cars or spoon-fed pretend-niceties in order to get in your pants). Starting with "Ski Mask Way", though, the tide shifts. Ghettotech impresario Disco D's production kicks off a three-track oasis of dynamic soul samples and moody rhythm in a tumultuous sea of gunshot-echoing beats; 50's tone softens for a cluster of phenomenal introspective tracks, like the unexpectedly sweet "God Gave Me Style" and "A Baltimore Love Thing". On the excellent, muted "Ryder Music", he's rapping about himself, as ever, but his tone is intimate and, for once, the man sounds vulnerable. In the final verse, he says, "In '99 I had a vision and made a decision/ Being broke is against my religion/ Now I picked up/ What?" Defiant, 50 found his win, and damned if he's giving it up-- but that he's got an Achilles Heel and willing to show it means he's more powerful than we can even fathom. There's your superhero track.

-Julianne Shepherd, March 7, 2005

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