50 Cent’s latest album, Before I Self Destruct, is awful. In fact, aside from Eminem’s guest spot and the artful 'Baby By Me,' this CD should be sprayed with bullets.
But when musical content doesn’t measure up, it allows for other parts of an album to shine. For example, I didn’t care for Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2, but the cover art and liner notes for that album were first-rate. 50’s Self Destruct cover art? Not so much (it’s a Photoshopped headshot of him looking like an “as is” floor model of a T1000).
The sub-par music and art of Self Destruct don't matter though, because the album—or at least the version I checked out from the library—comes packaged with a movie, aptly titled Before I Self Destruct, in which 50 stars, writes, and directs.
In this poignant piece of cinema, 50 plays Clarence, an ex-streetball superstar who, after his mom is shot dead and he loses his job as a grocery clerk, decides to become a hitman. In this role—and especially in the scene where he tells the grocery store manger that he can read—50 separates himself from other rapper-turned-thespians (e.g., Will Smith and Mos Def) by showcasing his raw talent as a gifted method actor. A true student of Stanislavski, 50 outperforms everyone in the film, even Lloyd Banks.
50’s writing and directing are also superb. The film’s complex narrative and innovative mise-en-scène are that of a young Orson Welles, and the use of the Self Destruct album as the film’s soundtrack has Clarence listening to 50 Cent (which, because both Clarence and 50 are fictional, is brilliant). Also, in classic griot fashion, the film ends on a powerfully symbolic note with Clarence dying in a gunfight and his younger brother addressing the camera with the line: "I can't lose nuthin'. I got nuthin' to lose." Like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, this ending is bound to stimulate discussion in undergraduate film classes for years to come. If 50 keeps this up, he'll be on his way to auteur status—something that even Diddy doesn’t have.
Before I Self Destruct is more than a film. It’s an avant-garde social commentary disguised as a movie in which an artist named after a coin faces the ultimate moral struggle: whether or not to kill for lots and lots of money.
Bottom line: 50 and his directorial debut are genius. It’s his best work since Formula 50 Vitamin Water. And he didn’t have to lose 50 pounds to do it.
Watch the 'Before I Self Destruct' trailer.