Kanye West and 50 Cent, two of the hip-hop scene’s most arrogant rappers, are battling for the number one spot on the music charts. Both uber-stars dropped new records Tuesday, so now we have the most hyped showdown in hip-hop history as we wait to see which album blasts from the most headphones of yeah-sayers and comes out on top.
p. This beefed-up feud is a little less daunting than, say, 50 Cent vs. Ja Rule or Kanye vs. Bush; it is more of a healthy competition and a clever marketing ploy to get listeners to actually spend money rather than ripping it online (we’re still going to download regardless). It’s fight night, and each contender is preparing for the all-out, no-holds-barred war that will smash the airwaves. It’s Chi-town alpha-producer-turned-rapper versus NY’s hustler and entrepreneur, both stretching out their collaborations, greasing down their lyrics and making sure their songs are up to par for the hip-hop world.
p. They both have nothing to lose and so much to gain from this star-prized night, but I wouldn’t necessarily be handing out the superior title anytime soon. “Best Rapper Alive” still belongs to the Muhammad Ali figurehead, Jay-Z, and it is difficult to say otherwise. Another title might suit these two ego-tripping lyricists, such as “The Rappers Best-Known for Throwing Tantrums” or something else more appropriate. But enough low-blows — let’s get to the significant part of the battle: the music.
p. Kanye’s third album, “Graduation,” is a true illustration of what it means to be a musical genius, production-wise. He still obsesses over Louis Vuitton (which I find very odd for a grown man) and flashes childish, over-sized teddy bear sunglasses; but when he finds time to stop whimpering about losing awards, he can instantly create utopian sounds which pulsate the dance floor and the streets. With this album, he uncovers his secret weapon to crush opponents through samplings of Michael Jackson, Steely Dan, Daft Punk and other eclectic musicians.
p. In contrast to his previous albums, “College Dropout” and “Late Registration,” one can see the progression in his lyrics, form and technique. The skits are gone (he’s no longer broke-phi-broke), and he cuts his number of collaborations in half. Everything is more polished on this new album — just as he wants it.
p. With the release of his first single, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” Kanye has challenged anyone who tries to steal his shine with blunt jabs and overzealous assertions, such as “I’m in between but way more fresher.” With the haunting voice of Connie Mitchell (lead singer of Sneaky Sound System) and Young Jeezy’s rumbling laugh reverberating throughout the record, Kanye dares anyone to say one word of opposition toward him, as he is ready to attack and devour his distraught naysayers.
p. His second released track, “Stronger,” is purely a club-banger, borrowing from Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” and challenging Timbaland’s “Way I Are.” Kanye amps and layers bass-heavy beats on top of Daft Punk’s mechanistic, robotic sound, infusing electronica/house with hip-hop.
p. The small number of collaborations he adds to the album, are hit-or-miss. Kanye and T-Pain’s (correction: Teddy Penderazdoun) song, “The Good Life,” is definitely a hit. In another sampling track, this time taking a slice of Michael’s Jackson’s “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing),” Kanye and T-Pain sing it up about living like George and Weezie with fast cars and fast women and even give a nod to 50 Cent while popping some champagne bottles.
p. However, on the slow-churning track, “Drunk and Hot Girls,” Mos Def and Kanye self-destruct with this laughable, idiotic mess of poking fun at intoxicated women who are ready to be taken advantage of. As Kanye babbles about real-life experiences, the sluggish, chopped-up, skewed track teems with high-stringed violins and Mos Def’s missed notes and muffled, almost inaudible sounds.
p. The rest of “Graduation” ranges in its subject matter from nostalgic testaments to Chicago to self-righteous boasts that parade through well-crafted, addictive productions. Ultimately, Kanye demonstrates progression as a producer and lyricist who is still stuck on childhood fantasies, but who has certainly graduated from the class of learning to one of teaching.
p. 50 Cent, on the other hand, stagnates on his self-titled album, “Curtis.” Looking at his album cover, weeks of stress seem to be packed on his discouraged face; there’s a lack of confidence in his swagger and his hands are on his head in confusion, as if asking God, “Why did I make another depressing album?” Maybe some Vitamin Water would revitalize him.
p. 50 Cent has always been a confrontational competitor, ready and willing to shoot off his nine and ask questions later. He’s like Kanye — self-righteous lyconceited, but in a way that is meant to scare his enemies and leave them running to buy some Teflon, too. He’s a successful businessman, building the G-Unit empire (whatever’s left of it), creating a fashion line, making an autobiographical film and having Dr. Dre and Eminem as sidekicks. He is charismatic with an angry streak, a teddy bear with a bipolar disorder (watch out, Kanye). He pleases the ladies with his previous songs, such as “Magic Stick” and “21 Questions,” but lacks the flair of LL Cool J.
p. “Curtis” is just another rendition of his past albums. He still talks about dollar signs, his gun is still unloading bullets and he still finds time for his baby mama. But the problem is not repetition, it’s lack of creativity and depth. His first single, “Straight to the Bank,” is a disappointment, as he raps about excessive stacks of paper, while Tony Yayo laughs so heartily it sounds more like hiccups. The record’s first track, “My Gun Go Off,” is merely an interjection for Cent’s enemies, with barrel-loading, gunshot sounds lurking under scratching guitar licks, as the song builds into ’50s-style climactic rage in the chorus: “You see the barrel turnin’ / You feel the hollows burnin’ / N— now you learnin’ / N—, my gun go off.”
p. I do give him points for branching out and working with other producers (DJ Khalil, Havoc), but the majority of his songs sound like Scott Storch remakes with the same piano riffs. His musical guests save the album, with the likes of the producer/singer duo, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake in “Ayo Technology.”
p. Timberlake, who is one step away from flashing a pimp cup, takes over the song with the provocative chorus: “Ayo, I’m tired of using technology / Why don’t you sit down on top of me / Ayo, I’m tired of using technology / I need you right in front of me / She wants it, uh, uh, she wants it / She wants it, so, I got to give it to her.” Timbaland busts out his cyborg yaps and video-game beats to boost 50 Cent’s stamina for this striptease track. Nicole Schrezinger is also featured in a Dre-produced, ferocious and saucy track “Fire,” and the R&B twin of Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke, slows down the album with a mellow, silky love song, “Follow My Lead.” Still, not every guest succeeds. Akon is a letdown on “Still Will Kill,” as he sounds like a constipated Young Jeezy.
p. Overall, both artists hit below the mark — more so for 50 than Kanye — but it’s to be expected in such a high-charged face-off. Musically, 50 Cent keeps chipping away at the tip of the iceberg while Kanye goes under, but not nearly deep enough to need an oxygen mask. The winner will be Kanye, hands down, but go decide for yourself.