50 Cent invented the mixtape. At least that’s the thinking behind The Lost Tape, the rapper’s first contribution to DJ Drama‘s Gangsta Grillz series. 50 isn’t shy about reminding people of this heritage. On the Eminem-featuring “Murder One” he ad-libs, “Don’t you ever forget it, n*gga, I’m the reason why you made the mixtape, sucker!” He goes further on “I Ain’t Gonna Lie,” ranting, “Wanna hand a n*gga a mixtape? I’m why you handing a n*gga a mixtape! Punk-ass! Don’t give me your motherfukin’ tape!” To this tirade, Drama plays along and yells, “Talk to ‘em, Fif’!”
But the boasts and banter are only half true. 50 didn’t invent the mixtape — he just found a way for a rapper to use a collection of unreleased tracks and freestyles over popular instrumentals — usually based around twisting the words or concepts of the original — to build up enough buzz for a label to offer to pay them to put out music. He’s said in the past that he made his first mixtape because no one would stump up the cash for him to cut an old-fashioned vinyl 12-inch record. But the mixtape scene that 50 was so instrumental in creating has moved on and morphed into something else; now mixtapes are slickly mastered free albums, and his frequent foe Rick Ross and his M.M.G. minions are the rules of this new strain. As for 50 ragging on wannabe rappers attempting to hand him mixtapes in the train station? Well, no one really does that anymore either. In some way, this shift parallels the way his own music career has slowly dipped, with his rugged East Coast-style of gangsta rap usurped by first Kanye West‘s dance-music-sampling outings and now Ross‘s beach-front hustling antics. But while 50 might struggle to coin chart-toppers with the ease he once did, and most of his boasts are based on past achievements, that doesn’t mean he can’t still craft a fine mix.
The Lost Tape, then, is a sturdy and, at times, excellent release. Lyrically, 50 prospers as a gangsta-turned-rap-industry-bully. The tape’s opener “Get Busy” has him rapping with a texture of terror in his voice over an abrasive beat — it’s fight music. And there’s a run of tracks in the middle of the project — starting with “Complicated” and ending with “When I Pop The Trunk” — that sound exactly like you want 50 to be: Backed by non-poppy production, making violent boasts, and showing off his macabre sense of humor. Take, for example, “You A Killer… Cool.” After an assailant attempts to shoot him with a weedy gun, 50 shrugs and says, “What you do that for?” The first of those tracks in particular contain one of the tape’s most persuasive performances, with 50 referencing the Jimmy Henchman trial, throwing a jab at Shyne, then declaring, “These n*ggas so fake it make my skin crawl/ Hope I ain’t the last real n*gga up over the wall.” It’s classic 50, with rhymes that are rooted in his street days and that reinforce his addiction to belittling other rappers. (Less essentially, the bizarre “Swag Level” answers the not-so-burning question of what a 30-something rapper who used to listen to Schoolly D songs would sound like attempting to make something based.)
But for all The Lost Tape‘s merits, it still sits uneasily between two stools: It’s no reminder of the raw excitement of the mixtape form, nor does it contain the crossover moments and super-polished production that many modern tapes are hinged around. It’s just a good mixtape. But for someone who one claimed rap’s ultimate throne, 50 may never settle for simply being another mixtape hawker, even if that mixtape is very good.
Stream 50 Cent’s The Lost Tape below: