If you combine two of hip-hop's biggest camps and give them a healthy budget to work with, the result should be a monster hit... right?
I dig 50 Cent (say it fast, "Fiddicent") as much as the next hip-hop fanatic. Whether he's in the club or peppering a sista with questions about her loyalty or taking some cutie to the candy shop, he's a compelling entertainer who has taken the "Indestructible Brotha" persona to the next level. He's "transcending", as they say, or becoming an "icon", which is usually the code for "crossing over". Not long ago, I saw him on The View, sitting between Barbara Walters and Star Jones. Never mind what I was doing watching that show! The point is, he was on it, and the mostly female audience found him adorable. As they should -- he's personable, stays fit, and his speaking voice sounds a little like Charlie Murphy telling those stories about Rick James on Chappelle's Show. If you like him enough, you can even play as him in his very own action videogame. That's great. Good for him. He's worked hard for it.
There's only one problem, though -- Blood Money isn't 50's album, it's Mobb Deep's. Check the header above this text if you don't believe me. Truth is, you might not have known it was a Mobb Deep album if I hadn't told you because 50 appears on at least six of the album's 16 songs (there are two hidden tracks). And when it's not 50, it's Lloyd Banks. When it's not Lloyd Banks, it's Young Buck. When it's not Young Buck, it's Tony Yayo. Mary J. Blige shows up too, and there is some ho-hum production by Dr. Dre on a hidden track, the previously released "Outta Control". Open up the CD booklet and guess who? Not only is 50 Cent staring right at your grill, so are 40 Glocc, producer Alchemist, Lloyd Banks, Tony Yayo, and Nyce. Oh yeah, Prodigy and Havoc (Mobb Deep, remember them?) are also looking at you.
But damn. Exactly whose album is this anyway? Where's the capital P and the capital H we loved to fear on The Infamous, Hell on Earth, and Murda Musik? Mobb Deep always struck me as movie directors, capable of using imagery to turn their rhythmic poetry into action sequences. Ten years ago, we didn't need to see the faux cocaine on the table in the Hell on Earth booklet. That's because the rhymes were more than vivid enough. Gritty, raw, uncompromising -- that's what you should be thinking when you hear the name Mobb Deep.
Unfortunately, that's not the full story of Blood Money. And again, let's be clear here. I like 50 Cent and G-Unit. I just think a Mobb Deep album should sound like a Mobb Deep album from start to finish, not a G-Unit album. And not a Mobb Deep EP combined with a G-Unit EP. Last year, when MTV broke the news that the two-man crew was interested in joining the G-Unit camp, Havoc was quoted as saying, "I don't know how other people are going to feel about the move. It's probably gonna be a lot of hate in people's blood, but we don't give a f***. We're gonna continue making our music." Amen to that. But what happens if you don't make your music?
That's the story of the Blood Money album. It sho' nuff looks like a Mobb Deep album. The cover is classic Mobb Deep, with Havoc and Prodigy up to their armpits in stacks of cash, plus a Mobb Deep seal that mimics the Pyramid and capstone on the back of the United States' one dollar bill. They've always had a deep affection for paper stacks.
Plus, the first two tracks ("Smoke It" and "Put 'Em In Their Place") bring their vintage Mobb Deepness. On "Smoke It", our favorite Mobb figures float over muted percussion and announcement-worthy trumpet and French horn sounds. The Mobb's characteristic staccato rhymes are in full effect, complete with a neat little background sample of someone saying, "Smoke it". "Put 'Em in Their Place", probably the best song in the pile, features a gangsterish loop that'll have you expecting Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, or Bugsy Siegel to show up in one of those old black mob cars.
Then comes "Stole Something" and that's when the G-Unit influence comes in. Havoc's verse seems torn from the 50 Cent rhyme book and, when Lloyd Banks swoops in, you know for sure things have taken a strange turn. At least "Stole Something" maintains Havoc's minimalist production strategy.
The same can't be said for "Creep", which falls decidedly on the 50 Cent side of the fence. Not only does it feature 50, Havoc's production has a G-Unit feel to it and, as the loop roller coasters up and down the musical scale, all you can do is wait for 50 to pull in on the third verse and hope he doesn't steal the show away. Luckily, he doesn't, but there's no chance for suspense. You've got the track list on the back cover; you know there's more.
"Backstage Pass" starts out with Prodigy's verse, claiming that women will do anything to get backstage "just so they can hug 50 and kiss on Banks". According to Prodigy, guys will even give up their girlfriends just to be down with G-Unit. From there, things get even nastier, with graphic and unmentionable tales of groupie love.
"Give It to Me", featuring Young Buck, expresses the frustration of being teased, whether by sexy telephone talk or exotic dancing. "Yeah, I talk dirty and we just met", Prodigy raps proudly.
Too bad it's all filler, as is "Pearly Gates", in which 50 and the Mobb boast that they can talk their way into heaven. "Pearly Gates" also features lyrics from Prodigy wherein he appears to be threatening God and Jesus. That might have been a surprise, except most of the lyrics were censored out. Even without the censorship, it still wouldn't resonate -- didn't that kid Riley, from Aaron McGruder's Boondocks comic strip and cartoon, already pull this stunt?
Things get back to business with the superb "Click Clack", featuring Tony Yayo. Even the Knight Rider theme sample works on this joint. "Capital P, Capital H" is also stellar, reintroducing us to the Mobb again, in case we forgot, and containing the best couplet on the album, from Havoc: "Revenge is food that taste best served cold / But we like it better when it's fresh off the stove". Skip past the lackluster "Daydreamin'" and the chaos of "The Infamous" (with yet another 50 appearance, ji-ji-ji-ji-gee-YOU-nit). The next highlight is the well-executed love song to money, "In Love With The Moula".
What's left? Two songs crafted solely for the radio, the Mary J.-laced "It's Alright" and the hidden track "Have a Party", which contains more references to G-Unit and 50 than 50's own albums. Call him "Curtis" or "Fif" if you want, but we still know who it is. The album ends on a weak note, with Dre's turn-the-sampler-on-and-press-record remix of "Outta Control".
If Mobb Deep didn't have their own history, their own discography, and their own mythos, contributions from 50 and friends wouldn't be a hindrance. But here, those contributions become intrusions that keep the Mobb from telling their own stories, flashing their own green, getting their own groupies. Traces of the original Mobb sound are still intact, while several tracks lend themselves well to crossover appeal. A good video won't hurt anything either. What's missing, though, is the Mobb's personal stamp on their lyrics and musical direction.