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.