It has all the drama of the “Thrilla in Manila.” It has everyone from Congressmen to the guy making fries talking. No, it’s not the next best thing in technology. And it’s definitely not about Foxy Brown being sentenced to a year in jail.
It’s something far more significant. I guess.
On Sept. 11, the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America, two of hip-hop’s finest will duke it out in the record stores when their much-anticipated CDs drop on the same day.
The battle of the beats between the street fighter 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson), and the Louis Vuitton Don Kanye West, is one of the most cleverly conceived marketing campaigns in the history of hip-hop. And if all goes as planned, the accountants for both rappers will be very busy this week ching-chinging.
The hype has certainly hit record highs.
West, 30, has been bragging for months that his “Graduation” CD is collectively the tightest groove since Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” And the man we call Fiddy, 32, is countering with the promise that if his “Curtis” CD doesn’t outsell “Graduation” this week, he’s never going to record another solo CD ever again.
Although that would be a huge loss to the hip-hop community, I suspect Fiddy’s pseudo-retirement would last about as long as Jay-Z’s. Last time I checked, that brother was still rhyming all the way to the bank.
That’s true. West and Fiddy’s menacing mugs graced a recent issue of Rolling Stone and on Tuesday they’ll battle it out on the mics during an appearance on BET’s “106 & Park.” Additionally, hip-hop site SOHH.com and other Web sites have been polling fans to see whom they think will come out on top and BetUs.com has posted the odds on the outcome. As of Sunday, West was a 2-to-1 favorite to sell more CDs during the first week of release.
West might have an edge because he has a more diverse fan base. According to several music critics, West does a good job of mixing it up on “Graduation.” His first single, “You Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is classic hip-hop and is getting mad airplay on urban stations across the country. “Stronger,” the second single, has more of a techno beat and soared to the top of the charts in the UK.
“I don’t want to say there’s not much difference, but they’re both bringing their signature styles,” said Tosha Thomas, vice-president and managing editor of Urban Network magazine. “So, if you’re a Kanye fan it’s the braggadocio (and) clever use of his words. If you’re a 50 Cent fan it’s the same braggadocio (and the) ghetto element that the folks on the block can relate to. I’m not saying that the folks on the block can’t relate to Kanye West, but he’s the college dropout with the witty repartee. Whereas 50 is just straight street, like yo!”
But even though West is currently the odds-on favorite to top his competitor, Fiddy does have the better track record when it comes to sales.
Fiddy’s last CD, “Massacre,” sold 1.14 million copies during its first four days of release two years ago, making it the sixth-fastest-selling CD since SoundScan started tracking those numbers. It’s also the second-largest-selling rap CD in history, right behind Fiddy’s mentor, Eminem.
Conversely, West’s 2005 release “Late Registration,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard rap charts and sold 900,000 copies.
“I think it’s a toss-up,” says Cherie Saunders, editor of Radioscope’s EURweb.com. “You can argue that 50 is probably more commercial, whereas Kanye has more talent because he produces his own tracks and the beats are usually eclectic. But Kanye doesn’t have as much appeal with the rap crowd that just likes straight-up gangsta lyrics. I’ve heard songs from both CDs online and I think even though 50’s has some high points — like “Ayo Technology” with Justin Timberlake — I think Kanye has the better-sounding album.”
But just how real is this competition? Will Fiddy jack up West’s Range Rover if he doesn’t come out on top? Will West, not exactly known for his tact, say something disrespectful about Fiddy on a talk show? Anything could happen, but it’s highly unlikely there will be any violence involved. As far as we know these two don’t have any beef with each other. They’re just a couple of businessmen trying to sell their wares.
May the best six-pack win.
“I’m not saying there’s not real competition, each side wants to win,” said Parker. “It’s similar to a prize fight and the way politicians campaign.”
Added Thomas: “I would rather see two black rappers working it out in SoundScan instead of on the street where we might lose another Biggie and Tupac. Honestly, I think they’re both going to win. It’s a helluva marketing plan. Fans are competitive and each set wants to see their rapper win. But the genius behind this is that they’re both going to come up. And I think that 50 Cent is clever in the way he put that threat out there about how he will never release another solo project. He didn’t say he was never going to release another album or that he was going to pull a Jay-Z and retire.”
If he wanted to, Fiddy certainly could call it a career. The savvy investor reportedly owns a 10 percent share in Vitawater, which was recently bought by Coca-Cola. If all goes well, Fiddy could net a cool $400 million by the end of the year. On top of that he has his own Reebok sneaker, a successful clothing line and his own video game.
Makes you kind of want to pull for poor Kanye. Fiddy has so much already.
“The thing is Kanye is growing his audience and 50 has the largest fan base of just about any rapper out there,” says Parker, of SOHH.com. “This is a great moment for hip-hop. It’s the gangsta rapper versus the college kid. It’s almost like George Bush and John Kerry all over again but for the hip-hop set.”
Miki Turner is an entertainment columnist for MSNBC.com. She welcomes your comments at email@example.com