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 SOHH.com 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.

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