In the battle of the hip-hop heavyweights, Chi-town rapper Kanye West easily trounced 50 Cent in first-week sales, selling 957,000 copies of “Graduation” to 691,000 of “Curtis.” It wasn’t exactly unthinkable, but considering West’s previous albums combined didn’t outsell either of Fiddy’s previous releases, it was impressive.
Here are the four main reasons why West emerged the victor:
The bottom line is that “Graduation” was a better album. West was seeking new ground musically, incorporating elements of synth-punk and electronic music into his sample-based beats. While the subject matter was more party-oriented than his previous material, it still found the Louis Vuitton Don exposing himself, flaws and all, to his audience.
“Curtis,” on the other hand, was 50 Cent’s attempt to re-create a played-out thug persona. The production was mediocre at best and the album’s message was divided between death threats, come-ons and poorly executed sexual metaphors. Throughout the album, 50 Cent sounded detached and disinterested, far from the charismatic street sovereign he embodied on his first two CDs. Akon’s human harmonica hook on “I’ll Still Kill” proved to be the nail in the coffin.
Climate of hip-hop
West’s triumph was a reflection not only of the quality of the music on each album, but the mind state of hip hop consumers. Ever since Don Imus’ racist, sexist comments cast a spotlight on the misogyny and violence in hip-hop, gangsta rap has been slightly more difficult to sling to the masses. 50 Cent’s aggressive content was likely less appealing to audiences than West’s champagne-doused philosophies.
50’s ill-advised presale tactics
When 50 Cent vowed to retire from hip-hop if outsold by West, he may have unknowingly padded West’s sales numbers. Although this promise might have been backed by some kind of logic — namely that West has never come close to matching 50’s numbers — it ended up being just another example of a bravado that was once endearing and is now becoming obnoxious. 50’s “I rule the world” approach likely encouraged fans with no interest in either artist to buy “Graduation” for the sole purpose of spiting 50 Cent.
Two stars on opposite paths
In the end, the numbers may be a signal of two stars crossing paths as they head in opposite directions. Kanye’s musical innovation and universal appeal will likely broaden his fan base as time goes on.
50 Cent, meanwhile, is part of a growing legion of gangsta rappers who seem to have a shelf life of two albums. Street thuggery may be engaging in the short-term, but when you live in a mansion the size of a small college and collaborate with Robin Thicke, that kind of hard-edged swagger becomes harder to pass off convincingly.
While 50 Cent’s first-week numbers were far from anemic, musically, the Southside King is running out of ideas. He no longer sounds hungry or even like he cares — and why should he? He has a multi-million dollar business empire and no real need to succeed musically, other than for the sake of pride. If 50 wants to keep making music (which he very well may not based on recent interviews), he needs to find some new material to draw from besides promises of pain and trips to the amusement park.