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POP MUSIC REVIEW

50 Cent gets to the point

With violence-laden lyrics and unrelenting energy, the rapper connects with House of Blues audience.

May 20, 2003|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

There are lots of ways you could respond to the trauma of being ambushed and hit with nine bullets.

You might get religion. You might get revenge. You might reconsider the life of crime that made you a moving target.

In the case of 50 Cent, a victim of just such an attack a couple of years ago, the response has been to ride the incident into a realm of violence-as-art, using it as both a hard-to-beat marker in the all-important street-credibility file and the underpinning of his hugely successful album, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'."

Rap narratives about violence are nothing new, but 50 has almost fetishized the theme. Besides its tales of drive-bys and mayhem, "Get Rich" is marked by a recurring sonic motif: the cold, clicking sound of a cocking gun.

The name of his rap "team," the G Unit, can easily be reconfigured as "Gun It," and at the House of Blues on Sunday, he was joined on stage by a crew of cohorts uniformly clad in white shirts and black bulletproof vests.

Security and police presence outside the West Hollywood club was heavy for 50's first L.A.-area concert since his album took over the sales chart in February, and the packed house was primed for his appearance. He was also scheduled to play a second sold-out show Monday, and will be returning to the Southland on what figures to be one of the summer's biggest tours, teaming with Jay-Z.

When he hit the stage, the 26-year-old performer filled the basic requirement of live hip-hop: Get the party started and keep it going. 50, who quickly shed his own bulletproof vest and played most of the 45-minute set bare-chested, zeroed in on the aggression dimension, powered by spare beats from his DJ, Whoo Kid.

50 (whose real name is Curtis Jackson) rapped in a powerful, slightly raspy voice, single-mindedly focused on unflagging energy and spirited rapport with the crowd rather than narrative nuance.

Most of the flavorful instrumental elements of the album (many of them the products of Eminem and Dr. Dre, whose patronage helped bring 50 into the spotlight) were stripped away in the rhythm-based live setting. Like popular music shows since the dawn of time, this one got the biggest rise out the audience with the familiar hits, notably "21 Questions," the bawdy "In Da Club" and the "8 Mile" soundtrack entry "Wanksta."

50's subject matter may make him the anti-Nelly, but rather than strike any sinister or threatening stances Sunday, he turned on the charm, maintaining a 100-watt smile throughout, and even donning a white fedora for the tropical-flavored "P.I.M.P."

Fair enough, but if 50 decides to move beyond the party, the thug life could have its great on-stage orator, someone who might dramatize, expand and deepen the experiences that come to such vivid life on his recordings.

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