The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
CD Reviews  |  Classical  |  Download  |  Live Reviews  |  Music Features  |  New England Music News
--> -->

War of the words

50 Cent versus Kanye West
By RICHARD BECK  |  September 12, 2007

VIDEO: 50 Cent, "Ayo Technology"

50 Cent has a long history of initiating beefs before he releases a new album. His debut, 2003’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, rode a well-publicized dispute with Ja Rule — remember him? — to six weeks at the top of the charts. His second album, 2005’s The Massacre, was shaping up to be a disappointment until 50 kicked the Game out of his G-Unit crew. But 2007 has been 50’s worst year yet. G-Unit haven’t come up with a hit; worse, a video he shot with Robin Thicke leaked and in a storm of fury he threatened to fire everyone in G-Unit but Tony Yayo. So it was neither surprising nor particularly exciting to hear that 50 had put Kanye West in his sights. At least, not till he promised the hip-hop Web site that he’d stop making solo albums if Curtis (Aftermath) is outsold by Kanye West’s Graduation (Roc-a-Fella) — both were released on September 11 after the usual leaks. Suddenly, there was a reason to pay attention.

Of course, 50 doesn’t care about Kanye West, not even enough to waste one single line on Curtis dissing the little chipmunk. Curtis turns out to be a pretty conservative effort, stocked with the tropes you expect from a gangsta-rap mogul. The worst are the lover-man tracks, in which he always sounds like a jerk. Even though, on “Follow My Lead,” he asks the object of his affection to “put your trust in me,” the clumsy Romeo can’t even be bothered to take her panties off. “Just move ’em to the side,” he advises on “Amusement Park.”

Then there are the frowning, violent tracks, but 50 has never been quite unstable or paranoid enough to make those work. As Jadakiss said on his diss track “Animal,” “Since when has it become cool to get shot/And not shoot back?” The target audience for 50’s crime songs have been mostly angry eighth-graders and wanna-be gangsters who enjoy laughing over how much of a “faggot” Lil Wayne is.

A few tracks come together. His collaboration with the Timberlake/Timbaland hit factory, “Ayo Technology,” isn’t a monster or anything, but the buzzing, up-tempo, schizoid synths are satisfyingly dizzying. The best track, “I Get Money,” works because 50 sounds as if he were having fun with his arrogance. “Get a tan? I’m already black/Rich? I’m already that. . . . I ride, wreck the new Jag/I just buy the new Jag/Now nigga why you mad?/Oh, you can’t do that.” He even sounds like the guy who once “had a vision and made a decision/Bein’ broke is against my religion.” Petty cynicism can be fun if the jokes are good — but the odd bit of laughter and greed can’t save an album that otherwise seems terrified that next year will be just as bad.

A bad year might be the only thing that links 50 and Kanye, especially since 50 has now told MTV that he intends to keep making solo albums even if Graduationdoes outsell Curtis. Unlike 50, Kanye has managed to stay off the radar except for the fit he threw at the MTV Europe Music Awards when his video for “Touch the Sky” lost. “If I don’t win, the awards show loses credibility,” he yelped. And just like that, he was no longer the guy who went off-script to announce on national TV that Bush didn’t care about black people. He wasn’t the guy who had done more than anyone since OutKast to blur the line between racially neutral pop and hip-hop (scary and black). He’d become “The Most Arrogant Man in Show Business.” Again.

VIDEO: Kanye West, "Can't Tell Me Nothing"

On Graduation, Kanye lives up to his own ego. Again. His last disc, Late Registration, sprawled: it seemed to introduce a new sound on every track, and the harmonic nuances that popmeister Jon Brion brought to the table had the power to surprise. Graduation is much tighter. Kanye produced it himself, and he settled on a sound that is equal parts warm, electronic fuzz and melodramatic orchestral sweep. Strings are trembling all over the place, and every now and then a brass section will leap out of the background. Kanye has always had a characteristic sound, but this is the first time he’s narrowed it to such a fine point.

The first half slowly works its way through the complexities of his professional success till it reaches a hollow, rotten core at “Drunk and Hot Girls.” Here, Kanye sounds as pathetic as the wasted models he’s fumbling around with. On “Everything I Am,” however, he realizes what he’s almost lost. It opens with “Common passed on this beat,” and even though he tries to talk up his solitude as independence, he comes off as an orphan. There’s a devastating little piano line, a melancholy vocal loop, and poignant, understated scratching by DJ Premier. Kanye starts remembering home-town Chicago, the 600 person who were killed there just last year, and though he wants to protest — “Man, killing’s some wack shit” — he knows he hasn’t earned back the platform: “My 15 seconds up, but I got more to say/‘That’s enough, please, Mr. West, no more today.’ ”

1  |  2  |   next >
  Topics: Music Features , Entertainment , Hip-Hop and Rap , Music ,  More more >
  • Share:
  • RSS feed Rss
  • Email this article to a friend Email
  • Print this article Print

Today's Event Picks
Share this entry with Delicious

 See all articles by: RICHARD BECK

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

Wednesday, December 24, 2008  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2008 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group