The 50 Cent VS Kanye West Showdown: An Album Review

After all the hot air over the so-called “showdown” which was nothing more than a marketing ploy, we now have the goods: 50 Cent’s “Curtis” and Kanye West’s “Graduation”. I don’t think anyone other than hardcore fans were expecting anything more than something slightly a cut above the average release. Both artists are on their 3rd official albums and trying to keep their names fresh.

I wont bore you with detailed track reviews. Just to frame it, both artists have already saturated the airwaves to the hilt over the course of their career. It’s a good “showdown” since neither of them are rappers if you ask me. 50 Cent is a marketing genius and Kanye is a genius producer. Both of them always leave something lacking as far as lyrical finesse is concerned.

Starting with 50 Cent, worth at least $100 million from his stake in Vitamin Water alone, we get yet another “gangsta” album. Of course, he’s been out of the hood for about a decade but you know that never puts a true G out of touch with the streets.

If you heard “Ayo Technology” and “I get Money” you pretty much got the highlights right there. You got the token Akon track with “Still Will Kill”. I pray for the day when Akon stops putting guest vocals on every rapper’s album. About the only track that stood out for a second was “Man Down” but on second thought maybe not. The production is more or less driven by old school soul samples which isn’t bad in itself it’s just the execution makes it sound like production out-takes swept off the cutting floor from a decade ago. Soul samples without soul if you can imagine that. I think a major part of the problem is that these producers listen to their crap in multi-million dollar sound systems that make Britney Spears sound like Aretha Franklin with a room full of teenagers trying to scrounge drugs off them in exchange for general ass kissing sex and whatever instead of bumping it on ghetto boom boxes with weak amps to get a real taste. So sad that this is the best we can expect.

If 50 rapped about what he knew, it would be about meetings with record executives and doing shows, groupies, living in a glass castle surrounded by ass kissers and such. Oh, that is WHAT HE RAPS ABOUT. Only interspersed with memories enhanced with fantasy crimes and imagined tales of hood life. Either way, the material’s run its course. Last century in fact.

The way the rap game works right now is the most you can expect is a fresh perspective from a fresh artist on the same old crap.

Of course, that’s where Kanye comes in. The anti-gangsta college dropout. Just as 50 is obsessed with pretending to still be tuned into street life, Kanye’s still busy overcoming the experience of being a college dropout. This album’s titled “Graduation” so I’m hoping he leaves this “school” theme behind him. Let us pray we wont have “Graduate School”, “PhD”, “Post Doc”, “Assistant Professor”, “Tenure”, and “Nobel Prize”. Kanye, please buy a college degree online.

In the past, I felt like Kanye was still learning to rap. What he lacked in skill he made up with his production skill, unbound ambition to succeed as a rapper, and spoken style of delivery that has a certain authenticity to it. These things came across well in his breakout hit “Through the Wire” where he literally rhymed through his wired-shut jaws after surviving a car crash. Now he’s a better rapper but lost his edge. Imagine that.

This album like “Curtis” has a more “traditional” old school soul sound about it and again sounds tired like any other that follows the formula. The lyrics may have more content that 50’s but there’s not much biting commentary like “the prettiest people do the ugliest things” ala “Lush Life” or the raw, misguided evangelical passion “Jesus Walks”. The only song I see myself enjoying is “Good Life” featuring the other “guest vocalist” T-pain with his enhanced vocoder singing. Whoever can’t book Akon gets T-Pain (who’s on Akon’s label). The song getting airplay is “Stronger” but I know the original Daft Punk being sampled so thanks but no thanks.

Conclusion: the Problem

I think there’s a good reason album sales are down and this showdown proves it. Artists are afraid of taking risks with their music and screw up the formula of success. They’re also so out of touch with ordinary life. Their full-time job is managing their assets (they can probably live off royalties and the interest gained off investments for the rest of their lives) and endless meeting whether for business or with fans making appearances. It’s how the machine devours talent if you ask me.

50 Cent actually had a clear style before he got shot (including a fragment in his tongue and maybe his brain it seems). His scrapped album (due to the gunshot incident) included “How to Rob” which made a sensation with the humor and biting commentary on the kings of the rap game and how he’d rob them. All the stuff he put on mixtapes before his debut was strong too. It was hungry (lots of times jacking popular beats from classics and radio hits to save on production costs).

Alas, these artists aren’t coming back. They might get the scare after disappointing sales to come back stronger but not strongest then sink back into mediocrity. Still, at the end of the day it’s the fans that let these bastards get so full of themselves instead of exercising good taste.

Things that Running Teaches You About Life

The Battle of the Bulge is on. Full on in fact. My weight’s been creeping up on me quite recently. Still thin by most Universal Standards™ except Teen Hearth Throb Standards™. So I decided to take action by getting back into running. I love running. The problem is that I don’t have time with the new job.


Yeah, I commute roughly 2 and half hours a day (my study/reading time), working on a deadline project, and sleep deprived but who isn’t? So I bit the bullet and started running every day. The thing is you need to dive in and keep doing it. The first week or month (depending on how out of it you are or more if you were never in it to start) is always hell. But if you put time between runs, you’ll just have to go through that “re-orientation” phase from hell on endless repeat until you give up, broken in spirit.

Running teaches you a lot about life.

Just Do It

I’ve also been taking cold showers since my hot water broke (it’s fixed now thanks). The first time was hell. Running late for work (as always) and sweaty from a good run, I had the hot water turned to the max but still nothing. It was broken and I only had minutes to jump out. Do I just get out of the shower and wipe off the sweat, hoping no one will notice? Do I stop running and wait until the weekend till I can catch the repairman?

No, I just dove in. I just grit my teeth and started by showering my limbs and then trunk. It woke me up more than a cup of coffee. I certainly knew why those British boarding schools thought it built character. I had to do it for the next three days until the repairman visited on Saturday. It always felt great afterwards and I still kept doing it after the hot water was fixed. Now that summer’s about to end I don’t know how long I’ll last but I’m gonna keep trying.

The point is you just have to dive in, do it, or whatever. Our minds are built with superior intelligence and we can practically rationalize anything and probably do. It’s easy to weigh the issues when you don’t have to do something.

Would you be asking yourself “should I run today?” if a blood hungry lion came running after you from a little distance? Even if you damn well knew that you could never outrun a lion you’d run for your life.

When we rationalize things we tend to cut ourselves slack and lean towards the option with the least effort. It’s the primal urge to conserve energy when we really need it. The problem is modern life rarely confronts us with moments when we “really need that energy” and when it does we’re too out of shape and uncoordinated to do anything of use.

Do It Every Possible Day and Make it a Habit

The only way to overcome our inborn procrastination is to make something a habit. Habits can be addictive even when work’s involved. The only time you shouldn’t exercise is when you physically can’t. Muscle cramps from the day before? Take it a little easy but run it off. Not feeling like it? When was the last time you “felt like it”?

Life has its ups and downs. Exercise is short-term self-punishment for long-term gain. Back in the day we used to have motivation coaches like lions, tigers, warring tribes, and who knows what. We didn’t have computers, televisions, radio, or desk work to keep us tied down.

I get my runs out at the beginning of the day. The rest gets squeezed so I might skip reading the morning paper. I can run when I get home at night but realistically no. When the thought of skipping my run crosses my mind I immediately think of the calories I’ll have to cut or how I’ll have to hustle to regain lost exercise.

The more you run the more motivated you get to keep running.

Focus on Small Victories, the War will Follow

If you’re going to stick to a program you need to know your limits. The classic “good pain” versus “bad pain” is one. If you don’t listen to your body right (and that includes being too lenient) you make mistakes. You’re not going to be a chiseled Greek God in a week and if you gun for it, you’ll probably hurt yourself bad. You just have to take comfort in the fact that you’re involved in a long-term program. There’s no hydrogen bomb solution, just them sum of all efforts that adds up to something greater than the parts.

Boundaries Stretch

All training reaches a plateau, not just running. Even intellectual pursuits reach a point of monotony. How do world-class pianists train? By playing scales and classics over and over again. The only way to improve and not stagnate is to push the boundaries and stretch them without snapping or breaking them. Remember, there are always two boundaries: the ones we set and the ones set for us (you can only play the piano so hard without going insane). Your mission is to find the boundaries set for yourself and challenging them without crossing your absolute threshold.

I’ll never be a pro runner and don’t want the baggage (pressure and injuries) that comes with it.

That’s Life

These things equally apply to life. We’re constantly faced with ungrateful tasks or things that feel painful but pay off in the long term. I’m constantly drawing parallels to the software project I’m working on. Sometimes I don’t feel like coding, sometimes I don’t have the inspiration, sometimes I… All of these are nothing but excuses. The more excuses I make the more tedious it gets, the less polished my skills. It’s true of everything.

Running makes me aware of my surroundings. It’s like a safari running in urban Japan. On any given day I’m dodging cars, pedestrians, little school children, cracks in the road, random animals, and various road obstacles (dog droppings being one of the important). It gives you a certain awareness when strolling about town.

Running gives me rhythm. Even after some heavy coding sessions I know that I can hit the sack, wake up, and run off the petty stresses that come with the turf of office life. You’ll find me sleepy but never chronically drained or exhausted.

So Far…

After spending a couple years away from a dedicated and focused exercise program I’ve gotten my rhythm back this month. So far I’ve lost 3 kg (6.6 lbs) of fat. This is also because I cut out snacks. I stopped eating candy or junk food which was becoming a daily craving and subconscious form of stress relief. I do allow myself one can of sugared coffee (lots of black coffee) a day and a couple (5-7 max) candy drops. Other than that I’m drinking copious amounts of mineral water sometimes laced with pure lemon concentrate (for energy burning citric acid). When I do feel like I’ve reached a milestone or feel absolutely dead tired or repressed I might allow myself one dessert. I can tell you that an ice cream sandwich or piece of chocolate after abstaining is absolute heaven. The funny thing is, you find yourself craving that “rush” more than pigging out on sweets ever day. I just don’t miss junk food after getting through the first week or so of withdrawal. It’s actually scary how these junk foods addict you either by intention or design.

I’ll probably have a health checkup next month or so. Let’s see how it goes!

links for 2007-09-09