Perhaps no artist’s decline in popularity has been as scrutinized over the past half-decade than 50 Cent’s. After building up a feverish buzz through extraordinary work on the mixtape circuit (don’t get it twisted—conferences or not, Maybach Music Group has no claim to the mixtape game like G-Unit does), 50 Cent released the highest-selling Hip Hop debut of all time: Get Rich or Die Tryin’. 50 came out the gate a dynamic, larger-than life personality with a unique energy on the mic. The similarly (though not as) successful The Massacre followed. Rather than go the Poppier route, Fif’s music on his sophomore release was decidedly darker.

Then, the magic stopped.

Try as he may, 50 hasn’t been able to recreate the magic of his first two releases. It hasn’t been for lack of trying: 50 has worked with a bevy of half of Hip Hop’s producers and artists, and drummed up beef with the other half—some real, some imagined.  Regardless, though 50 may still do numbers, it’s clear that his fans’ devotion has waned. So what’s music mogul to do? Simple—go back to what got him to the top: the mixtape.

With The Lost Tape, it’s not entirely fair to say 50 has gone back to the same old formula. Sure, there’s plenty of gun talk (“O.J.”), as well as the obligatory “thug love” joint (“Planet 50”), but this Gangsta Grillz project has the Queens rapper experimenting at times with a southern sound. Much like Jadakiss, 50 Cent has decided to switched his style to southpaw. “Riot Remix” featuring 2 Chainz is a prime example, with Fif sound right at home rhyming about wood grain.

50 Cent purists shouldn’t fret; the New York sound 50 made vibrant again in the early 2000s is present here as well. “Murder One” is one such instance, as AraabMUZIK’s bleak production is on the grimy tip. The only complaint? The recent trend of artists claiming that an artist is featured on a track when they’re really just being sampled or, as in Eminem’s case here, saying literally one sentence. It’s ceaselessly annoying, and screams desperation. “You A Killer..Cool” also hearkens to Fif’s NYC roots with its horns and Soul samples.

“Remain Calm” has 50 Cent at his most comfortable, mixing the high life with the street life: “Try to remain calm, you fuckin’ with a don / Pocket full of green, green in the bong / …Niggas still want me dead like Osam / But they ain’t gonna make it, they come at me wrong / …Money is power, you niggas better wake up / My earrings blinkin’, that’s “oh shit!” from Jacob / …Blackjack, we do that, ten grand a hand / You could get shot fuckin’ with Floyd, that’s my man / Billionaire brotherhood, we call this the Money Team / Pinky ring flawless, my god, I’m gorgeous.” Snoop Dogg and Precious Paris capably assist on the cut, which ends up being one of The Lost Tape’s best offerings.

For those yearning for 50’s return to the top of the Rap game, The Lost Tape is an encouraging sign. Sure, Fif needs to rediscover consistently great production, and ought to surround himself with better artists (do we need three tracks with Kidd Kidd?), but the bottom line is that this mixtape has 50 Cent having fun again. It he can carry it over into his next studio album, it will indeed be something to write home about.

DX Consensus: “EP-worthy” 

Listen to The Lost Tape by 50 Cent