Two of hip hop’s heavyweights are vying for the title of king of the hip hop kingdom today with the release of their 3rd solo albums. 50 Cent and Kanye West have been making headlines for months now with their much publicized beef over whose album will outsell the others. Hip hop might not be dead, but I’ve personally felt that its been on life support ever since Eminem provided the last fresh spark to an industry that seemed to be running out of originality at the end of the 90’s.
With the exception of a few artists like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common and Kayne West, hip hop never seemed to stray from the surefire (no pun intended) subject matter of guns, violence, women and material wealth. This was, admittedly, a successful hip hop formula for many years. But now, the appeal of gangster rap has worn off on most suburban kids who were initially fascinated by a lifestyle so different from their own. Even those who were raised with the hardships that hip hop relates to have began to realize that the glamorized life of a thug really isn’t their only option for becoming successful. The next step is for the hip hop industry and it’s artists to create a message that speaks to this new generation of listeners.
Enter Fifty and Kanye. Two rappers at the top of their game, fighting for the bragging rights of the hip hop industry. While their musical style and inspiration couldn’t be any different, they both can agree on one thing— there isn’t room for two at the top. As a result of this clash of colossal egos, 50 Cent has been quoted as saying that he will stop making solo albums if Kanye’s ‘Graduation’ outsells his latest offering, ‘Curtis’. To me this was a very bold statement considering the soaring popularity of Mr. West over the last few years. Of course I became curious as to who was for real and who was all talk, so I listened to both albums to crown the winner for myself.
Fifty’s ‘Curtis’ immediately fell into all of the hip hop stereotypes right from the first track, titled ‘My Gun’. This ode to murder was appropriately followed by songs called ‘Man Down’, ‘I’ll Still Kill’, and ‘Fully Loaded Clip’. Aside from being horribly unoriginal, the beats and hooks were also pretty weak. For me, the standout track is a song called ‘Ayo Technology’ featuring Justin Timberlake. Although I have no idea what the hell ‘Ayo Technology’ is, the songs faster beat and harmonies are a nice change of pace on an album otherwise jam packed with aggressive bass lines and slow rhymes.
Fifty’s music has fallen off since the overwhelming success of ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Back in 2003 we were intrigued by the street tales of a crack dealer who took 9 slugs to the head and still made it out of the ‘hood a millionaire. But in 2007 we’re all having a hard time finding the gangster appeal of a guy who claims to run the streets of New York— from his mansion in Connecticut. It’s time to grow up and find a more responsible message.
Graduation kicks off with the track ‘Good Morning’ that sets the pace for the entire album with feel good, celebratory lyrics and a Jay-Z sample that perfectly compliments the pace of Kayne’s rhymes. Other tracks I’m particularly fond of include the upbeat and harmonious ‘Good Life’, the arrogantly stubborn ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ and the introspective ‘Everything I Am’. I could do without the choppy-paced spoken word track ‘Drunk and Hot Girls’ featuring a typically good collaborator in Mos Def.
Kayne ditches introspection and goes on a “living spree” with a solid album from front to back. The mix of up tempo and laid back beats keep your head nodding and the album’s pace from becoming redundant. Definitely a complete album whose strength won’t be felt in it’s radio singles.
A landslide victory for Mr. West that will undoubtedly be reflected in record sales in the upcoming weeks. I don’t necessarily want to see the end of 50 Cent’s solo career because, regardless of my criticisms of ‘Curtis’, he is still one of the better rappers in the industry today. Original or not, you can’t deny that he makes a good club banger.
This battle has been about credibility from the start, and the best way to lose your credibility is to run your mouth, make incredibly arrogant claims, and not be able to back it up. What would happen if Kanye prevails and 50 quit the game? Something bad. Something nobody wants to see. That’s right, a G-Unit double album.
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