1. Killa Tape [Intro] // 2. Rotten Apple // 3. Drop [Skit] // 4. That’s What’s Up (feat. G-Unit) // 5. U Not Like Me // 6. 50 Bars // 7. Life’s On the Line // 8. Get Out the Club // 9. Be a Gentleman // 10. Fuck You // 11. Too Hot (feat. NaS & Nature) // 12. Who U Rep With (feat. NaS & Nature) // 13. Corner Bodega // 14. Ghetto Qu’ran (Forgive Me) // 15. As the World Turns (feat. Bun B) // 16. Woo Kid Freestyle (feat. G-Unit) // 17. Stretch Armstrong Freestyle // 18. Doo Wop Freestyle
All things considered logically 50 Cent’s should’ve died when he got shot-up by what Fiddy claims to be henchmen for Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff for recording Ghetto Qu’ran. 50 Would’ve become a hood legend, Big L style and Columbia Records would’ve released Power of the Dollar even though they originally wanted to shelve it, because martyrdom sells. 2pac’s estate built a whole stack of gold to multi-platinum releases off it. When that didn’t happen, and he got dropped by Columbia, because although he hadn’t died yet there was no question the people who shot him would have another crack at wacking him. And who could predict where and when they would do it or where the stray bullets might end up? (Interscope followed that same logic dropping a freshly gunned-down and locked up 2pac in 1994) by all means logically should’ve been blackballed by the industry, never to find a record deal again. This is because record label executives are scared shitless when it comes to dealing with someone who seems to have a bull’s-eye glued to their back. If they aren’t fearful for their lives then at the very least they may believe they won’t be able to recoup their investment and their employee’s record advance.
Initially this did happen, so mr. Cent being unable to find a label for which to record and a studio that would have him left for Canada, where he wasn’t blacklisted, to record and decided to enter the industry via the backdoor recording mixtapes with and without his crew G-Unit. With Curtis Jackson actually making money off these tapes and his live shows he reestablished his name in the New York rap scene. At one point he decided to collect some of these mixtape tracks, as well as songs off Power of the Dollar which didn’t make the final cut of the EP, and release the collection in the form of Guess Who’s Back? to record stores, I imagine New York wide, via the indie label Full Clip records. Then a bidding war erupted to sign Fiddy Thent. Somehow Guess Who’s Back? had found its way into Eminem’s stack of demo’s and Marshall Mathers liked what he heard so much that he decided to have a crack at signing him, in spite of the surrounding controversy. 50 jumped on the Shady/ Aftermath/ Interscope train and the rest is history as they say.
Guess Who’s Back? sounds like a mixtape/album hybrid, which isn’t surprising since a part of the tracks came from his unofficial output and a part of the tracks was supposed to be released on Power of the Dollar, a major label album. The few guest appearances are either natural (his G-Unit crew, with Yayo, sans Buck) or mystifying (the Bravehearts and Nature, both one time NaS’ weedcarriers. ) It’s especially hilarious to hear 50 bragging about “repping with QB, nigga” since the Bravehears both suck on the mic and never really became famous, whereas Fiddy was arguably the biggest hip-hop star from the mid-naughties. Off course NaS, who at the time of this song’s recording was much more famous than 50, is on here, too so it doesn’t lack complete sense. But it’s still funny to imagine Curtis having to put in an effort to get on this posse cut suckfest, hoping to achieve some mainstream exposure, only to have it disappear in the Columbia records vaults. It is hard to be believe that 50 would’ve dug it up it if it weren’t for the NaS namebrand recognition because the song isn’t very good. Too Hot is much better with a beat that sounds DJ Premier, NaS having one of those “kill everyone else on the track in one verse” days, Nature delivering his best verse ever and 50 coming up with a catchy hook. Since Guess Who’s Back? being a semi-official release, doesn’t come with liner notes it’s impossible to tell for sure who produced what. (Except for the tracks that were supposed to end up on Power of the Dollar and tracks that would later be used as bonus tracks for 50 Cent’s third debut album Get Rich or Die Tryin’.)
The ghetto self-help anthem Fuck You also has that Primo-sound, what with its dusty piano and drums and its refrain consisting exclusively from scratched-in vocal samples. Considering how eager Fiddy was to emphasize “[he is] reppin’ QB” on Who U Rep With, that DJ Premier actually is a big name in hiphop and doesn’t get name-checked even once it’s unlikely that he actually produced on here. Whether he did or not, on here Curtis actually makes a case for that he would actually sound good over a real DJ Premier beat, talking about the events of his shooting and his ambitions regarding the rap game with a commendable passion and a killer wit.
More often than not though the tracks off Guess Who’s Back? are flawed. Rotten Apple has a rather ominous string loop backing it and was apparently this project’s only single, which is surprising because this kind of project typically doesn’t have singles, and also because both lyrically and beatwise it’s one of the album’s least engaging moments. Be a Gentleman is a not-so-subtle Jay-Z diss, which seems to be included only to stir up controversy and thereby interest for Curtis’ fledgling mainstream career. (This as opposed to Life’s on the Line on which Fiddy obviously means business with Ja Rule.) On Get out the Club Curtis goes after women who go after certain men because of their wealth and utters “bitch” more often than Too $hort would on an entire album. U Not Like Me and features some pretty hot verses, and again probably goes after Jeffrey Atkins but suffers from a boring-ass beat and an especially uninspired chorus.
That’s about as far as the new recordings that weren’t reviewed in the Power of the Dollar post go. That leaves a bunch of freestyles: That’s What’s Up, 50 Bars and the three tracks on the tail end of the disc. These work just fine as lyrical showcases for 50 and/or his crew but aren’t really good for anything else, mostly because of low sound quality and shitty instrumentals, as well as DJ Shout-outs disrupting the flow.
Overall Guess Who’s Back? makes for a decent semi-official pre-album mixtape. It is however nothing more than that. It’s too scattershot to function as a proper album. It is however easy to see how Eminem got the idea that signing Curtis would be a good idea, while listening to this. Although not everything on here works, not in small part due to the shoestring budget it was created on, Guess Who’s Back? is a decent showcase for 50’s skills. In the post Candy Shop-world it’s also pretty damn refreshing to hear the man spit with hunger. And especially in hip-hop there’s something to say for grit and style over polish and shine. Style this album serves in large amounts.
Killa Tape [Intro], Life’s on the Line, Fuck You, Too Hot, Ghetto Qu’ran (Forgive Me)
Guess Who’s Back is for die hard Curtis Jackson fans only. Specifically those who hate the direction his music took after *spoiler alert* the man completely fucking ran out of good ideas somewhere halfway during the recording of the Massacre. If that includes you and you find Guess Who’s Back? for a reasonable fee, by all means pick it up. General hiphop fans should just download the above tracks and be done with it.