The expiration date for Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. 50 Cent, was obvious from the moment he made his mainstream debut with "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" in 2002: No matter how strong your ear for catchy hooks and thumping beats, there's only so much mileage you can get from the "baddest of the bad-ass gangstas" routine when we've heard it so many times before, especially when you have little to add besides endless prattle about how many times you've been shot and stabbed.
Fiddy tried to show a bit more range with "Curtis" in 2007, timed for a celebrated showdown on the pop charts with Kanye West's "Graduation." But you'll recall that West won, commercially and artistically. The melodramatically entitled "Before I Self Destruct" actually was recorded before "Curtis," but the "more personal" effort was swapped out for the darker disc at the last minute, and the 16 tracks here haven't grown any fresher while sitting on the shelf for last two years as 50 Cent's been busy selling vitamin water and courting Hollywood.
There are enticing moments, to be sure--it would be impossible not to have a few, with a top-dollar roster of production talent including DJ Premiere, Dr. Dre and Polow da Don. But the cameos by Eminem (on the tired and tossed-off "Psycho") and R&B superstar R. Kelly ("Could've Been You," one of two ill-advised Fiddy smooth jams) add nothing, and the millionaire businessman's rhymes about scheming bitches, treacherous drug dealers and his allegedly unrivaled ability to beat all rivals to a bloody pulp have never sounded more predictable, boring, contrived or thoroughly insincere.