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50 Cent + G-Unit at the O2, review: ‘business as usual for the bankrupt rapper’

Originally published by the Daily Telegraph.

For some musicians, filing for bankruptcy and performing an arena show in the same week might seem like a cosmic joke. However, for 50 Cent, a man who’s weathered multiple feuds and nine bullets to the body, it’s simply business as usual.

On Monday the rapper filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy under his real name, Curtis James Jackson III – a move that called his status as Forbes’ fourth wealthiest hip-hop artist of 2015 into question. The press declared him broke, while Jackson described the situation as “a strategic business move”. The truth lies in an uncomfortable middle ground: after leaking a sex tape in 2009 involving Lestonia Leviston, the mother of rival Rick Ross’s children, he is now seeking financial protection in an effort to avoid paying her $5m in court-ordered damages.

Eight years have passed since he last played the O2, and with the reorganisation of his financial affairs weighing heavily on his mind, the arena found Jackson taking stock of his musical assets, albeit with mixed results. Tracks from his most recent album, Animal Ambition, were played to relative indifference in the wake of crowd-pleasers like In Da Club. Recent single Hold On, a sluggish attempt at Wu-Tang Clan pastiche, felt particularly undermined by the work from his six-time platinum debut album, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’.

What saved the set from descending into a directionless mess was the sense he was giving something of an ironic commentary on his current troubles. I Get Money, an ode to fast cars and fat stacks of cash, was delivered with a knowing smirk, while the chorus to P.I.M.P (“a b—- can’t get a dollar out of me”) gave more than a whiff of maliciousness in light of his lawsuit. For better or for worse, Jackson wasn’t just in on the joke: he was laughing the hardest. With the tension of the week diffused, hits like Many Men and Candy Shop were allowed to shine purely on the heftiness of their hooks.

At each turn G-Unit – his rap collective of longtime friends including Lloyd Banks – charged these cuts with added aggression, but their efforts felt at odds with a young fan Jackson invited on-stage. It was certainly a well-intentioned gesture, but after 90 seconds of interaction the child was awkwardly propped on top of a speaker. In the hour and a half that followed, he didn’t move an inch.

It was an uncomfortable reminder that in 50 Cent’s self-aggrandising worldview, we are merely spectators. This week’s events have only strengthened his reputation for stirring controversy, and the timing of it all has hardly hurt his ticket sales. However, he would do well to refocus his brand if he wants to create music that rivals that of his golden era.

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