In Part 1 of @CalebCaitlin‘s Revisiting 50 Cent & Kanye West’s 2007 Sales Battle, we got to the nitty-gritty of who came out victorious in 50 Cent and Kanye’s infamous 2007 sales battle – the victor was clearly Kanye West, with Graduation outselling Curtis by approximately 266,000 albums its first week.
Now @CalebCaitlin poses an new question: in an alternate universe, what if 50 Cent beats Kanye in their 2007 sales battle? Would that change the landscape and soundscape of Hip-Hop? Would a victorious 50 Cent have extended his reign on top? So many questions, @CalebCaitlin‘s got answers:
To take it a step further: what if 50 Cent not only beat Kanye West in the sales battle, but also managed to put out a more critically-acclaimed record than Graduation? What does 50 and Kanye’s respective careers look like afterward? What does the current music landscape look like today, if, in 2007, 50 Cent defeated Kanye in the sales battle, and Gangsta rap reigned supreme for several more years to come?
A production tactic that Kanye utilized during the Graduation-era was the fusion of futuristic, alternative-pop with Hip-Hop. Ye made the glitzy, glamorous side of pop, alternative rock, morph under Hip-Hop’s vast umbrella. “Stronger” samples House-band Daft Punk, but yet is still fundamentally Hip-Hop, with authentic and charismatic rap verses by Kanye. The mesh of Daft Punk’s sample, the pulsating beat, and the sticky hook enabled “Stronger” to be a crossover success. But more importantly, Kanye pushed the limits of Hip-Hop by incorporating futuristic House-pop into the same album where he also uses his signature, tried-and-true sped-up Soul sample technique. Ye could’ve thrown off even his most diehard fans with such a stark change in sound. He risked rubbing his fans the wrong way with such a drastic change in sound from his sophomore record, Late Registration – but it worked in his favor.
With this in mind, it begs the question: what if Graduation doesn’t work? What if Kanye falls flat on his face in 2007, and loses to 50 Cent’s Curtis in the sales battle?
What if GRADUATION flopped?
In the event that Graduation doesn’t reach its projections and 50 Cent’s Curtis LP ends up on top – where does this leave Hip-Hop music? Immediately, 50 Cent’s ego would skyrocket even higher than it already was, and overall, his legacy would be viewed a lot differently. Whatever 50 released after Curtis could have ended up bad, with low sales and no acclaim, but if Curtis succeeded in 2007 the aftermath of a post-Curtis decline doesn’t hurt 50’s legacy nearly as much as the embarrassing loss to Kanye in 2007 and lukewarm critical acclaim that followed did.
The only way 50 Cent falls off a cliff in this trajectory, is if he decides to challenge another Hip-Hop megastar, like Lil Wayne, in the same sales battle in the next year (2008) as Wayne hit his peak with Tha Carter III. Wayne infamously sold 1 million records the first week of Tha Carter III’s release, so in that scenario it’d still be a definite loss for 50. But rather than crash and burn, at the very least, 50 fizzles out slowly in an honorable loss to Wayne as auto-tune grows and the new wave of rap artists (Kendrick, J. Cole, Drake, Wiz, etc) come to form in 2009.
What if 50 Cent won?
50 Cent has made it clear that he doesn’t change up what works. He strongly follows the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra. It’s part of the reason why some of his music doesn’t age very well, because he’s very strong rooted in tradition – for better or for worse. The reason a Lil Wayne or T-Pain’s music has aged well thus far – because it was ahead of its time when it was released, thus it transitions well into the contemporary musical landscape. The same can be said about some of Kanye West’s music. You can pick a variety of artists today and attribute their music to Wayne, Kanye or T-Pain. But you can’t really say the same about 50’s music – although ScHoolboy Q cites 50 Cent as a major influencer. 50 Cent’s music and albums are, to me, very specific to the time period they were released in. Regardless of a theoretical triumph over Kanye West in a sales battle, 50 Cent would have eventually fallen victim to the change of the times.
Maybe 50 wouldn’t have fallen off a cliff immediately, but his reign as top of the food chain was nearing an end regardless of if he won or loss to Kanye in their infamous sale battle of 2007.
The aftermath of the Kanye/50 album showdown would affect both rappers’ legacies in a number of ways. In this hypothetical timeline, Kanye still makes 808s and Heartbreak – Kanye’s real-life events wouldn’t have allowed any other outcome. The death of Donda West and the end of his relationship with fiancé Alexis Phifer was going to play a major role in how the sonic output of 808s came out. The feeling of personal and emotional despair still would’ve been apparent regardless of the sales outcome of Graduation.
Did Kanye West’s Graduation Kill Gangsta Rap?
I view Kanye’s Graduation LP as the album that put the proverbial nail-in-the-coffin to commercialized Gangsta-rap – the wave of the 2000s. Killing Gangsta-rap is quite an interesting footnote in Kanye West’s career. Graduation is an album that took risks, rather than fall in line with an already successful soul-sampling formula.
Taking risks by moving your art in a different direction, yet still retaining your audience is an under-appreciated feat. It’s a key component that differentiates the good from the great. 50 Cent’s Curtis single “I Get Money” was good. But Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” was GREAT. The reason why Graduation stands so tall over Curtis is the same reason why Get Rich or Die Tryin was so refreshing when it came out. It was a contrast from what was the norm. On GRODT, 50 was a blazing hot phenomenon, but time couldn’t keep the flame lit. 50 neglected to take musical risks different from what his audience expected from him. As a result – over time he became repetitive.
As an artist, it’s important not to feed your audience the same content with every dish. 50 Cent vs Kanye West dueling on 106 & Park was interesting and unique for the times. It was a breath of fresh air, different from what audiences were used to.
Hypothetically, the only way Curtis wins over Graduation, is if Kanye recluses in 2007, taking exponentially lower risks (artistically) than 50 Cent. But in reality, Kanye West was ready for something new – and it was unlike anything his audience had from him before. ✋🏿