Zombie Politics

I drank your milkshake.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Flip a Coin



I weigh in on the whole 50 Cent/Kanye West brouhaha in this Week's Weekly.

My article is here, but sadly missing are some jokes. So I've printed my original version below, and made sure you know where the extra jokes are (they're in bold)!

The transparency behind the 50 Cent (nee Curtis Jackson)/Kanye West feud, both of them with high-profile albums that came out on September 11th, came to light when numbers were released for that week’s album sales. It served as the culmination of weeks, if not months, of an endless, carefully orchestrated hype storm, one that included the face-off on the cover of Rolling Stone, the showdown at the MTV Video Music Awards, the real-time sales comparisons on Amazon, and the big-ass claim that 50 Cent would retire from music if Kanye outsold him. It was exhausting.

The least publicized aspect of this old school rap-world pissing contest is that monolithic corporation Universal Music employs both artists. Um, okay. The boasting, the exaggerated name calling, the raucous fun that you could easily find yourself getting caught up in, is nullified. They’re both working for the same soulless machine, so either way your money is going to one place. Maybe it’d help to order a ring tone, too?

That was Universal’s thinking, anyway. When the staggering numbers were released (Kanye’s Graduation came in at first place with 957,000 copies sold, with 50 Cent’s Curtis in second with 631,000), it was noted that Universal occupied a whopping 50% of the total US market share.

This is not only amazing for the company, but for music in general – look at those numbers again – 957,000 physical copies of Graduation were sold and tracked by SoundScan. That’s a lot of fucking records. Especially since both albums leaked more than two weeks ago – on the same day! The numbers fly in the face of common music-industry logic. After all, I keep hearing that the physical album was dead; that people didn’t pay for music anymore; plus other carefully worded sound bites. This apparently isn’t the case for rap fans engaged in a corporately run dust-up (or fans of High School Musical, for that matter – that shit’s unstoppable!)

But what about the albums? With everyone worried about who sold what, did anyone stop to think about what they actually, sounded like?

The short answer is, the right man won.

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, or an album by its sleeve, but just looking at the outside of these records tells you what lies inside. 50 Cent’s Curtis features a stark picture of, looking agonized in a slick, black-and-white photo that could have been taken in prison. It is doubly offensive: grim and unoriginal. Kanye West’s Graduation, on the other hand, is a psychedelic delight. Takashi Murakami, an influential Japanese artist and designer, did the jacket illustration. The bear on the cover, a staple of Kanye’s, is wearing Nike Air McFlys. They’re the shoes Michael J. Fox wore in the “future” section of Back to the Future, Part II. What part of this isn’t awesome?

The dizzying, Day-Glo futurism of the sleeve permeates much of the musical innards of Graduation; it’s a pop masterpiece that stands as Kanye West’s most mature, accomplished album to date. Gone is the overwhelming sonic opulence of Last Registration. It’s been replaced by a gooey kind of electro fuzz. Sure, the soul samples are still there, as are some of the strings, but it’s been processed and refined into a more easily digestible (thirteen tracks, clocking in at less than an hour, with only a handful of guest vocalists), but no less fascinating (he samples Can!), pop music package. It’s almost unbelievably great.

Curtis, on the other hand, is the same old shit. A bunch of rickety, rattling beats by a host of big rap producers (Dr. Dre, Timbaland) adorned with lyrics about girls who know how to “work the pole.” I’m not sure what pole he’s referring to, but one thing is for sure: it’s an album full of songs that exotic dancers will be undressing to for years to come. I guess that’s something. It’s just not a great album, or even a particularly listenable one.

The battle’s done. The sales have been totaled and one evil corporation made lots and lots of money off of a trusting public. It’s the American dream. At least we got one great album out of it.

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