Kanye West Killed 50 Cent AND Gangsta Rap 10 Years Ago (Video)
Ten years ago this week, Hip-Hop experienced a real watershed moment. On September 11, 2007, 50 Cent and Kanye West squared off. It was not physical. It did not even include diss tracks or beef of any kind. Instead, Graduation faced off against Curtis. Two of Hip-Hop’s biggest stars of the decade put their third albums against one another in the name of popularity through sales. If he lost, 50 Cent vowed to retire. He did, and he didn’t; he did lose, and he very clearly did not retire. Curtis sold 691,000 copies, behind Graduation‘s 957,000.
A decade later, some can argue that 9/11/07 was major label machinery at its best. People voted through commerce at a time when the old guard music industry saw its doomsday on the horizon. Others could contend that the rivalry was out of place, just a few years removed from Nas vs. JAY-Z, and the like. It was neither skill nor anger based.
However, in 2017, Hip-Hop sees the implications of what Graduation vs. Curtis really meant. In this week’s TBD episode, Justin “The Company Man” Hunte looks back at the score, and how ‘Ye’s win restructured the sound, face, and feel of Rap music ever since.
Hunte examines Fif’s meteoric 2000s since joining Eminem and Shady Records. Curtis Jackson was undefeated. He was not just besting anybody in his path, those who fought back wagered their relevance. Ja Rule and Murder Inc. appeared to be casualties, paling in comparison to their stature pre-2003.
But if Rap operates on five-year cycles of dominance, the buzzer was up. “By 2007, 50’s once G-Unit artists Lloyd Banks, Young Buck would go from platinum to gold. Each received lukewarm critical receptions with their sophomore albums (Rotten Apple and Buck The World). There was also rumored dissension in the crew and A Great Recession nationwide and a music industry putting itself back together after Napster came through and crushed the buildings,” says Hunte. “We knew the business of ‘Brand 50’ was booming. His Vitamin Water deal netted him a major haul. His movie, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ impressed as well as the soundtrack. He’s an incredibly astute entrepreneur, the rare individual who sees’s the forest and the trees and was undoubtedly aware of the musical landscape—The macro challenges all around and the micro challenges within his own collective.”
50 Cent put it on the line. It was “go hard or [threaten to] go home.” The Company Man summarizes what the numbers that don’t lie meant. “We knew 50 Cent’s music career felt on the wrong side of the bell curve. But lose to Kanye? A guy he once told MTV was only successful because of 50 because people wanted non-threatening Rap music because his run was so devastating or something. Do we really know if 50 inside his heart of hearts believed he would outsell Kanye West? I always wondered that.”
TBD then pans to ‘Ye. “Who knows if Kanye West actually believed he would outsell 50 Cent when he decided to release Graduation on the same day 50 Cent’s Curtis. We knew the cocky college dropout etched a lasting impression on the culture as a whole not only through his music but through his outspokenness.” As 50’s movement was perceived by some to be losing momentum, West was mashing the gas—on the charts, at radio, and in the greater consciousness of the genre.
“We knew Kanye was the people’s champ back then, that it felt like Kanye’s career was just beginning to rise. But did he really think he’d out sell 50 aka Ferrari F-50 who went diamond and half diamond in the two solos he’d released since 2003 when he moved up Graduation’s release date to match Curtis’? I always wondered that, too.”
That is up for speculation. But the music speaks for itself. TBD looks at how both 50 Cent and Kanye West represented different qualities celebrated in Tupac. By ’07, Fif’ had gotten them to love him, pretty much like they loved Pac. He was an underdog on top, bullying his oppressors and “peeping the weakness in the Rap game.” ‘Ye’s thoughtfulness, his arrogance, and vanity, along with his outspokenness recalled strong elements of early Shakur.
Through his ties to Interscope, Dr. Dre, Snoop, Nate Dogg and other post-Death Row affiliates, 50 Cent was the last arm of that N.W.A. Gangsta Rap lineage. And he lost, very publicly. The whole sub-genre of Gangsta Rap was affected. T.I.’s next album Paper Trail would send a message of atonement over Pop beats. JAY-Z’s American Gangster (released that November) was a concept album, inspired by a film. It allowed Hov poetic license to loosen up his tie from the board room and kick hustler’s narratives—especially in the wake of a Kingdom Come misfire. Jeezy and Ross, sought out deeper than Rap themes, putting gangsta subject matter in a recession. Snoop chased ’80s synth-R&B. Nas stayed a conceptual course.
Besides what the vets were doing, Hip-Hop showed the outcome of 9/7/07. It was not until ScHoolboy Q, YG, and Kendrick Lamar that Gangsta Rap as Heads knew it came back. Q and K-Dot have cited Fif’s influence, while all parties are clearly affected by Kanye. Drake, Kid Cudi, J. Cole, Wale, A$AP Rocky, and Wiz Khalifa were just some of the trickle down byproducts of Graduation’s win. These were arts-forward MCs who basked in concept, narrative, and personal tales above street tales or industry exploits. From Pac Div to Kidz In The Hall, Blu to Black Milk, labels across the industry clamored to find fashionably relateable Everyman artistes. Even with 50’s labels, Gangsta Rappers from Cashis to Spider Loc and a litany of others gave way to the trends.
If Curtis won, would the numbers have made a case for Drake? If Graduation lost, could G.O.O.D. Music ever really become what G-Unit was trying to be?
Justin closes his episode with questions of his own. “I’m not sure if either of them expected the outcome to play out the way it did. I’m not sure how many fans expected the same. But is there an argument that 10 years later each is on the other side of the coin? Has Kanye been the hero so long that he’s officially a villain? Does that make 50 Cent the underdog?”
What do you say?