It took four tries to get a single anywhere near the top of the charts in advance of 50 Centâ’s third album, Curtisâ"the first three singles stalled and pushed the release date of the album from early summer to early fall. (The one that finally made it, â“Ayo Technology,â” benefits from a Timbaland production and a guest spot from Justin Timberlake.) The albumâ’s commercial difficulties, though, say more about the current state of hip hop on the radioâ"dominated this summer by a string of young, indistinguishable Southern rappers and R&B croonersâ"than they do about Curtis, a solid enough mid-career effort with a handful of legitimate highlights.
Only two songs on the new discâ"â”All of Me,â” with Mary J. Blige and â“Iâ’ll Still Killâ” with Akonâ"are as immediately engaging as any of 50 Centâ’s early hits, but the club bangers â“Come & Goâ” (with Dr. Dre), â“Peep Showâ” (with Eminem) and â“Curtis 187â” come close. Even the ultimately ridiculous â“Amusement Park,â” with its carnival-music hook and bald-faced come-ons, reaches for the sexy-sweet appeal of â“Candy Shop.â” (Never mind â“Follow My Lead,â” a dreadful collaboration with the inexplicably popular Robin Thicke.)
Curtis is, in the end, more of the same, but the sameâ’s been pretty good for 50 Cent so far. This is what he does. Itâ’s easier to imagine him disappearing than it is to picture him doing anything besides whatâ’s already worked for him.
No big surprises on M.I.A.â’s second album, which is to say that, like her 2005 debut Arular, itâ’s full of surprises. Kala is based on the same fundamental template that made Arular an Internet sensation months before it was even released: electronic beats, familiar and far-flung samples, shout-along club choruses, and a vaguely defined exoticism that blends Maya Arulpragasamâ’s Sri Lankan roots with her East London upbringing. Sheâ’s a remarkably catholic scavenger, finding influence in hip hop (Kala features a guest spot from Timbaland), Brazilian funk (â“XR2â”), grime (â“Bird Fluâ”), and punk (â“Paper Planesâ” samples The Clashâ’s â“Straight to Hellâ”).
But M.I.A. is far more than just a poacher; while she borrows ideas from all over the world, she puts them together into something entirely her own. And the songs on Kala are stronger, overall, than the ones on Arular. â“Boyzâ” and â“Husselâ” are as frantically catchy as â“Galangâ” or â“Sunshowers,â” and â“Paper Planesâ” and â“Jimmyâ” show a restrained, if not altogether traditional, side to her songcraft. M.I.A. may not be ready for the American chartsâ"plans for big-label collaborations with U.S. hip-hop and R&B acts fell through when she ran into trouble over the rights to the music she sampledâ"but sheâ’s already made the big time. â" Matthew Everett
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