Months before 50 Cent burst into the mainstream with Get Rich or Die Tryin', his "In da Club"-highlighted debut for Shady/Aftermath, the highly touted rapper cleaned out his closet with Guess Who's Back?. The skimpily packaged album, released by the indie label Full Clip and documented by no credits whatsoever, compiles what it terms as "underground classics & freestyles." Unless you're connected to the New York mixtape circuit or happen to own a bootlegged version of 50's unreleased 2000 debut album for Columbia, the Trackmasters-produced Power of the Dollar, none of the 18 songs here are going to be familiar -- they're all previously unreleased, legally that is. However, if you're indeed down with the underground, either via the streets of N.Y.C. or the bandwidth of cyberspace, many of these songs will be familiar. About half come from Power of the Dollar, including such highlights as "Life's on the Line," "Ghetto Qua Ran," and "As the World Turns," while the others, such as "That's What's Up" (a G Unit posse track over the beat to Wu-Tang's "Ya'll Been Warned"), "Too Hot," and "Who U Rep With" (the latter two featuring Nas, who is sampled for the hook to "F*ck You" also), come mostly from mixtapes. A few of the inclusions suffer from shoddy sound quality, particularly the trio of freestyles that close the album, while a few others sound like mixtape tracks, lacking commercially orientated production and verse-chorus-verse structures. It's this occasional underground sense, though, that makes Guess Who's Back? such a worthwhile listen for fans. Granted, this album isn't an authentic N.Y.C.-style mixtape, but it's awfully close, definitely modeled after one and therefore representative of precisely why 50 went on to become the most talked-about upcoming rapper in a decade. There's a reason a million-dollar bidding war broke out for 50 in 2002, and Guess Who's Back? showcases that reason better than any other legal release out there. Before 50 was "In da Club" with Eminem and Dr. Dre, he was here, releasing a plethora of mixtape tracks for the underground with hopes of one day getting rich or dying trying.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
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