50 Cent wants you to know he’s still rich and successful, perhaps more than any other rapper with pedigree—even Jay Z, and that’s saying something. His Animal Ambition raps are solely self-serving as a dissertation on the depths of his prosperity. That isn’t to say tales of opulence can’t also be gratifying for a listener (sometimes as a semi-vicarious sensory experience), but Curtis Jackson is clearly suffering from one of the harsher cases of “affluenza” in Rap, one that warrants about as much interest as Nasdaq ticker tape in a Third World country; despite the title, his fifth studio album is far from ambitious. This release was essentially pitched as a concept album on how wealth alters perception and inspires envy, and though it's possible to follow this loose narrative, the execution of this idea is thoroughly botched. In truth, this wouldn’t be so difficult to stomach if he wasn’t still rapping (both lyrically and contextually) like it’s 2004. Animal Ambition is a drastically underperformed gut punch marred by its own limitations and its obsessive portrayal of self-worth amid a recitation of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ buzzwords.
From the very start, 50 prefaces the album with a concise summation of his grand thesis: “Rich as a mutherfucka, and ain’t much changed.” Unfortunately, that stagnation of character and the shallowness with which that character is examined is what makes Animal Ambition a flat out bore. Mere moments later he admits, “Strap under my pillow, I done went legit / I’m not supposed to do this shit, but I forget,” in a hazy confession of identity confusion, yet he goes on to jaw like a street rapper in a business suit rapping about MAC-10s to analysts in a Fortune 500 company conference room for the duration. He wants so badly to simultaneously endorse being a savvy entrepreneur and business tycoon with a street image, but one does not lend itself to the other realistically. These divergent ideals seem to accurately reflect the difficulty in bridging the gap between who you are and who you once were: one would imagine even 50 himself must recognize the dilemma this creates. Still, he raps with impunity, as if this duality of character isn’t completely ridiculous, and it leads to a disjointed, illogical experience.
Animal Ambition’s promotional rollout seemed to foreshadow the helter-skelter craftsmanship of this somewhat shoddily assembled record. In February, 50 Cent parted ways with longtime labels Shady Records, Aftermath Entertainment, and Interscope in an inevitable play that marked the end of a tumultuous five-year album drought littered with internal skirmishes and public uneasiness, and he announced his release date the same day. March would see the launch of a series of weekly releases extending through May where every single record on the album was revealed with the sole exception of the title track. (This isn’t exactly a new marketing strategy per se, but it has never been used in this fashion before. The G.O.O.D. Fridays rollout was similar but it didn't parade out every single song on the album prior to the official release.) In spurts, it’s more difficult to qualify how truly self-absorbed and uninspired Animal Ambition is, but when collected for the release it’s impossible to overlook how trite the writing is, how goofily its dual narrative unfolds, and how little is actually left to be said. This isn’t the album we were promised: one that examines prosperity from the lens of a conscious outsider struck with jealousy, and how to cope with that enmity. No, this Animal Ambition is much more superficial than that; 50 Cent just wants you to know he’s still rich and successful...under whatever pretenses necessary.
When listening to this record, there isn’t much to enjoy or appreciate. It’s a struggle to sit through, partly because it reads like the ramblings of an ex-genius turned affectless braggart, but mostly because it’s monotonous and unimaginative. Even Animal Ambition’s brightest spots are all simply replicas of 50’s duller past work. The heavily-assisted “Chase the Paper” features guest appearances from Prodigy, Styles P, and G-Unit signee Kidd Kidd, and it’s moderately soulful, but it is forgettable upon a third listen. The Jadakiss duet, “Irregular Heartbeat,” is both nostalgic and ironic given the emcees’ rocky history, and it’s fun to imagine that the two rappers are subliminally dissing one another. 50 whispers in a murmur as if not to startle you or to creep up on you, and it’s only half effective. ‘Kiss raps circles around 50 though with unrelenting assonance: “Trying to back peddle and stumble on the curve / You starin’ at the ground, you mumblin’ your words / Literally I can see your heart pumpin’ through your shirt / Pussy your whole life, you always been a bird / Scared for so long it’s all up in your nerves / Screw 9-1-1, you probably call up the reserves / And I’m killin’ you first, if we ever do a purge / And you know what it is, kid, whenever we emerge,” it’s the best rapping on the entire project. The title track, produced by Swiff D (of ScHoolboy Q’s “Studio” fame), is the most fascinating moment of the LP, riddled with tribal drum progressions and 50’s best sing-songy raps, but it is a gem amongst duds. 50 Cent’s Animal Ambition is a painstakingly wearisome listen.
None of this is to say 50 Cent isn’t capable of still generating compelling raps, it’s just that there isn’t anything new left to rap about in his universe. It feels like he’s rapping now with the sole purpose of telling us just how prosperous he’s become, and without any true sense of direction, that grows stale. At the same time, he wants very badly to be the 50 Cent of old—he wants us to love him like we loved ‘Pac, remember? For that, he needs a bit more substance. Right now, he offers nothing more than vapidity. “I wanna see what life is like from the mountain top,” he raps in “Winners Circle.” Okay, we get it. What else?