Tomorrow our country will remember the horrific events of September 11, 2001—the date (now six years ago) that altered history and changed our country’s direction in ways we know only too well. There will be memorials, cable specials, wall-to-wall coverage on Fox and CNN, and probably some pretty somber moments.
But isn’t it about time we got over 9/11? So goes the argument of many who are tired of 9/11 being invoked in culture to induce emotional acquiescence to political, hegemonic manipulation. Not that this is what Interscope and Roc-A-Fella records had in mind, but they’ve come up with a surefire way to divert pop-culture’s attention away from lamentation and towards their wallets on 9/11: release the two biggest rap albums of the year!
On 9/11, the third albums of both 50 Cent (aka Curtis Jackson) and Kanye West (aka Kanye West) will be released. The albums are titled Curtis and Graduation, respectively. Much has been made of the rivalry between the two, as they go head to head to prove who is the biggest name in the game (i.e. whose album will sell the most copies in the first week of sales).
The 50/Kanye rivalry goes back at least to 2005, when Kanye uttered his infamous “George Bush hates black people” line during a post-Katrina telethon. 50 soon responded by publicly supporting George W. Bush and his hurricane efforts (even though it isn’t clear whether 50 has or will ever vote in a political election).
Now the rivalry has gone beyond politics, however, with the epic album battle looming. In recent weeks, 50 has even gone so far as to proclaim that if he can’t outsell Kanye, he’ll retire from rap forever, a claim he later retracted (to the sadness of Tipper Gore), but which did the trick it was likely intended for: increasing the hype about the 9/11 showdown. Kanye has since thanked 50 for the absurd publicity, and brushed off any notion that he’s at all worried about competition from 50 Cent.
In fact, Kanye recently told a magazine that his biggest inspiration and rival in the game right now is not 50 Cent, but Justin Timberlake, who he calls “the only other person that gets an across-the-board response and respect” from both white and black radio. In the same interview he compares himself and Timberlake to Michael Jackson and Prince back in the ‘day—versatile competitors who “pushed each other.”
Without having heard either of the two albums yet, it’s hard to tell which one will be better (though it’s a safe bet, if past is any measure, that Kanye will win over the critics even as 50 wins over the charts). Both albums feature amazing guest stars. Kanye collabs with Mos Def, Chris Martin, and Young Jeezy (as well as uber-hipster producer Jon Brion), while Fitty invokes the talents of a bunch of white dudes (Robin Thicke, Eminem, and Justin Timberlake).
It would seem that Kanye and 50 have different fanbases, so I’m not sure why their head-to-head rivalry is so ballyhooed. 50 is really popular among the TRL crowd, and people who appreciate the fact that he’s riddled with bullet holes and actually did deal crack as a 12 year old. Kanye, on the other hand, appeals to yuppie Obama fans and middle class hipster kids, mainly because he raps as if he actually did graduate 12th grade English, and because he samples people like Steely Dan, Daft Punk, and Michael Jackson (on Graduation).
Whoever wins the 9/11 prize, it will likely make little difference. Both of these albums will be huge sellers, probably in the top five of the year. And it should be clear what all of the supposed rivalry controversy is really about: creating buzz and anticipation so as to sell more copies. That’s what every rivalry is about in Hollywood: making more money. Some wise entertainment guru discovered long ago that audiences love conflict, drama, and competition. It’s our culture’s biggest source of entertainment (i.e. sports). Thus, why not create competition and rivalry where there is none? Everything sells better as a fight. This month it’s Kanye v. 50, next September it’s Clinton v. Romney. It’ll be a knock-down, drag-out ratings bonanza.