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50 Cent

Rap marketing may have grown more sophisticated with the years, but you couldn't prove it by the pimping of 50 Cent. After all, the man born Curtis Jackson is being sold to the public on the strength of two primary achievements: one, that Eminem likes him, and two, that he's been shot nine times but hasn't expired yet. Given that Get Rich or Die Tryin' hit the top of the Billboard charts during its first week of eligibility, bitch-slapping the poor little Dixie Chicks in the process, the folks at Interscope are probably getting ready to machine-gun more Eminem buddies at this very moment. Hint: Aim for the extremities, or expenses -- not to mention cadavers -- could start piling up.

The body count throughout Get Rich is potentially pretty high, too, given lyrics like "Front and find out how my P-40 glock hit" (found in "Like My Style") and "I'll hunt and duck a nigga down like it's sport" (from "What Up Gangsta?"). In other words, 50 Cent is the latest in an unfathomably long line of hip-hoppers to portray himself as the baddest man to ever spit a rhyme. True, he offers the occasional hint of Tupac-esque ghetto sensitivity, titling one song "Gotta Make It to Heaven" and declaring in "Many Men (Wish Death)" -- upon him, of course -- that "Joy wouldn't feel so good if it wasn't for pain." But in general, the only stereotypes he blows away concern the poor quality of inner-city emergency care.

Does that mean 50 Cent isn't worth a plugged nickel? Fortunately, no. From a musical standpoint, his solo disc is a worthy successor to "Wanksta," the irresistible track he placed on the 8 Mile soundtrack (it appears here as a bonus cut), thanks to contributions from a crew of ace producers; they include Darrell "Digga" Branch, DJ Rad, the esteemed Dr. Dre and the aforementioned Eminem, whom Mr. Cent describes as "my favorite white boy" on "Patiently Waiting," the first of two collaborations. But more important are 50 Cent's vocals, which underplay the mayhem-filled verbiage with quiet confidence. On "High All the Time," his flow is appropriately sleepy, but without embracing the dopey stoner tone of late-period Snoop Dogg. And during "Heat," he maintains his cool even as cocking revolvers, squealing tires and automatic weapons turn up the temperature. Such effects have been rap cliches since the '80s, at least, but the juxtaposition between them and his surprisingly subtle delivery helps the song build up more drama than anyone would have a right to expect.

Simply put, 50 Cent sounds like a guy who's caught nine bullets, and in this genre, that's priceless. If you want to go gold, eat lead.