As the careers of Ice Cube, NWA, Eminem, Nas, and 2Pac attest, rap's most hated figures have a strange way of doubling as its most beloved icons. New York artist 50 Cent innately understands this duality. On Get Rich Or Die Tryin', he explicitly stated that he wanted to be loved like people loved Pac, but it's equally apparent that he also wants to be hated like people hated Pac. The last track on The Massacre, Cent's eagerly anticipated follow-up to his Aftermath/Shady debut, is a G-Unit remix of "Hate It Or Love It," and it's apparent that Cent is fine with either option. The original version of the song appeared as a standout track on The Game's gazillion-selling debut, and The Game's contribution to the remix succinctly illustrates the pronounced difference between the two rappers, who recently feuded and made up in record time. The Game turns his verse into an earnest platonic love letter to Dr. Dre, pledging his undying devotion to the good doctor with a powerful, uncomplicated ardor. The Game has posited himself as the archetypal good soldier; 50 Cent has cultivated an image as a deranged kingpin, a cackling, real-life supervillain controlling a vicious street army of killers and gangstas. On "My Toy Soldier," Cent channels his inner Donald Rumsfeld as he raps about his vice-like grip over his G-Unit of robotic automaton assassins, seemingly mocking both gangsta rap and The Game's intense loyalty fetish in the process.
The gangsta nihilism runs deep on The Massacre, but as on Get Rich, Cent is willing to pander to important demographics and make the requisite commercial concessions. His current single, "Candy Shop," with its randy double entendres and sex-oozing hothouse production, is strictly for the ladies, as is its tired retread "Just A Lil Bit." Later, Cent issues such patently unconvincing but audience-flattering lines as "You can call me what you want, black and ugly / But you can't convince me the Lord don't love me" (from "God Gave Me Style") and "Before I be your buddy in bed let me be your best friend" (on "Build You Up"). The latter line in particular feels like it was forced on Cent at gunpoint by anxious marketing goons who were worried the album wouldn't sufficiently cater to the rapper's massive female fan base otherwise.
The Massacre suffers from many of the weaknesses common to big rap releases. At nearly 78 minutes, it's far too long, wildly uneven, and not particularly cohesive sonically or thematically. The first half is bogged down by dull, gray tracks ("This is 50," "Piggy Bank," "Gatman And Robbin") that sacrifice Cent's trademark sinister wit for humorless gangsta bloodlust. The second half suffers from overly calculated stabs at mainstream ubiquity. Like Get Rich, this is something of an ungainly Frankenstein's monster of an album. But while its flaws are formidable, so are its strengths, beginning with Cent's dark charisma, belligerent sneer of a voice, fluid delivery, and mastery of hip-hop style. Tracks like "I'm Supposed To Die Tonight," "I Don't Need Em'," "Gunz Come Out," and "In My Hood" resonate with the unabashed fatalism and paranoid, claustrophobic atmosphere of classic noir. Love him or hate him, The Massacre serves due notice that 50 Cent isn't going anywhere. At this point, only violent death could sustain or increase the rapper's iconic standing, so it'll be interesting to see whether Cent becomes the rare living rapper embraced with the almost religious devotion hip-hop has shown its pantheon of martyrs.