Do fans still care about 50 Cent? Five years ago, with the commercial flop Before I Self Destruct selling a shockingly low 159,700 copies in the first week, it seemed like they didn't. 50 saw a gradual decline in his popularity after he took an L from Kanye West during their competitive album showdown between Curtis and Graduation  in 2007. He saw his spot at the top of the hip-hop food chain in jeopardy, leaving him no choice but to reevaluate how to maintain his staying power. So, the G-Unit general tapped into his hustler's ambition and focused on building his empire. From Self Destruct on, Fiddy took a step back from music, made lucrative business deals and became known for his quotes rather than his chart-topping songs. But these days, 50 feels invigorated musically once again. There’s a lot to be said about him in recent months: leaving Interscope, a viral marketing strategy for his new album, G-Unit reuniting at Summer Jam 2014. On Animal Ambition, his fifth studio LP and first indie release, 50 Cent is trying hard to be musically relevant again. The Queens rapper wants to prove that the game still needs him.

The album is his welcome back moment for 50, who sounds like his hiatus didn't affect his ability to create his signature street records. In a recent interview with The Breakfast Club, he addressed his low sale predictions and the true intentions of Animal Ambition. “I can’t do good. In my head, what [is] good is because of the success I’ve had in the past, that’s so much lower. I’ve done so much that having the music that makes people enjoy themselves, that actually means something at the moment, is the goal.” 50’s been on track. Animal Ambition is an attempted return to form, where he tapped into familiar topics of gangsta and street with ferocity. While 50 had promotional singles like “Major Distribution” and “We Up” that sparked curiosity, he fed fans a large majority of Animal Ambition to generate some buzz. For the most part, it worked. “Hold On” is intoxicating and filled with menace, reliving shades of the old 50 from his earlier output. “Irregular Heartbeat,” which features Jadakiss and G-Unit's newest signee, Kidd Kidd, captures the cold-hearted streets of NY through storytelling lyrics. The gritty realm 50 has dominated is also found in the title track, where he’s just as entertaining as the lion roars and elephant trumpets on the Swiff D production. He spits, “Got the eye of the tiger, I’m on that animal shit/I got the heart of a lion and the looks of an elephant/Damn scared of rats, but I’m ready for anything/It’s the unit, my nigga, take a look at my face.”

But as 50 once ruled hip-hop with his hit-making abilities and charismatic flair, his struggles are found in delivering an LP that surpasses best-sellers Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ and The Massacre. Animal Ambition’s one track every week definitely brought the attention back to him, however, thrown together as a full-length and there are plenty of holes that are hard to overlook. Take his attempts at radio-friendly hits with “Twisted” and “Smoke,” where he sounds unmotivated to create a better ladies' anthem and leaves his core fans wishing for something less predictable. Even more suspect is “Winner’s Circle,” meant to be the theme song to feeling like you’re on top of the world but is instead filled with lines that just don’t inspire: “I got that disease ambition, success is the cure/They wanna win, I gotta win, I sell the shit pure.”

50 Cent does, however, have a trusted group of producers he’s been working with throughout his career. His ear for setting the right tone for all his projects has always been something he's good at. Some of the beats on Animal Ambition are a few years old, with the earliest dating back to 2008. Seattle veteran Jake One steals the show with dark, atmospheric production found on “The Funeral” that makes 50 thrive in his comfort zone. Additionally, Ty Fyffe’s “Chase The Paper” and Nascent and QB’s “Flip On You” are cold, rider music that’ll age well in his catalog. Animal Ambition exchanges the expensive roster of Interscope talent for the homies around the block that bring the same quality, if not better.

50 Cent’s credibility as a viable solo artist is still being tested every day. In a rare occasion for Fif, Animal Ambition has got everyone back on the 50 bandwagon and rooting for the second wind in his career. Now, with talks of a G-Unit album later this year, 50 Cent is on the fast-track to becoming the unstoppable force he once was. All of this only means 50 has to push even harder to elevate his status to that level, and with Animal Ambition, he shows he's ready to put in the work.—Eric Diep

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