Lords of the Rhyme

Andrew Gaug

Credit: Ron Soltys


Kanye West

Released by

Def Jam Records

Stater rating (out of five): ****


50 Cent

Released by

Shady/Interscope Records

Stater rating (out of five): **

50 Cent and Kanye West have many similarities outside of both being artists of the same genre. Both barely survived life-threatening incidents, are known for their cockiness and bloated egos, have lucrative deals with designers and other business ventures, and now, both share the same date for their release of their latest albums.

Though they are pitted against each other to see whose album will sell, they don’t share the same music sensibilities. Comparing 50 Cent’s Curtis to West’s Graduation is like comparing a summer blockbuster to a midsized-budget drama. Both aim to be intense and engaging, but one delves into the subject’s psyche while the other just has a lot of action.

Curtis is the former. With his third album, 50 Cent is slowly becoming the newest DMX, a capable rapper content on using the same flow and delivery while making music his fans have been comfortable with since Get Rich or Die Tryin’.

Much like a potential Hollywood blockbuster Curtis has sex (“Come & Go,” “Ayo Technology”), violence (“Man Down,” “Fully Loaded Clip,” “I’ll Still Kill”) and tacked-on romance that goes nowhere (the bland “Follow My Lead”).

50 also makes sure to cover familiar territory almost verbatim from his past work. Similar to The Massacre’s “Candy Shop” which compared various genitalia and sexual acts objects to various sweets, “Amusement Park” compares a one-night stand to rollercoaster rides.

Of the album’s 17 tracks, few stand out, most noticeably the boastful single “I Get Money” where Fitty’s braggadocio is elevated with a raw, old-school production from producer Apex sampling Cassidy’s “I’m a Hustla” and Audio Two’s “Top Billin.” Other tracks from Akon and Eminem switch up the style of surprisingly dull production from producers such as Dr. Dre and Ty Fyffe.

Even a mediocre diss track where 50 sets his sights on targets such as Jay-Z, Nas and others with lyrics such as “While Nas was telling Kelis, ‘I love you, boo’/ I was shining my nine/ You know how I do/ While Trina was telling Weezy, ‘I love you, boo’/ She was just running game/ She told Buck that too,” comes off even weaker after being followed with a run-of-the-mill love song with Mary J. Blige on “All of Me.” It’s almost like he forgot he was making fun of other rappers for making bad romantic tracks on his previous albums.

Curtis is 50 Cent on cruise control, and, as he says in “Straight to the Bank,” he’s collecting his money and laughing as he deposits it.

As the title would suggest, Graduation is Kanye West’s rite of passage from being a successful rapper/producer with a lot to say to a consistent emcee unafraid of switching his style up.

From the beginning bass kick where Kanye references Late Registration’s opening skit, this time sans Bernie Mac, it’s a noticeable change.

This is Kanye stripped down. Gone are the numerous skits that lost their edge on multiple listens. The laundry list of guests – out the window, too. His previous albums had close to 20 tracks each, this only has 13.

West has always been the bridge between the conscious rap of Common and Talib Kweli and conventional hip-hop of T.I. and 50 Cent. Despite the noticeable change of pace on Graduation, this is no different.

“Champion,” “Stronger” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” still feature West’s brand of self-congratulation while on a more human level, “I Wonder” follows a battered girl who keeps running back to her abuser, while “Flashing Lights” tells the tale of a self-glamorizing girl who doesn’t “believe in shooting stars/ but she believe in shoes and cars.”

West shows once again why he is a juxtaposition of both being egotistical while exposing his flaws. While 50 Cent’s Curtis is all talk with no real human element to it, West is able to balance brags such as “You don’t see just how fly my style is/I don’t see why I need a stylist/when I shop so much I could speak Italian” with introspective songs such as the piano-laced “Everything I Am” where he admits, “I’ll never be picture-perfect Beyonce/ be light as Al B./ or black as Chauncey.”

Still, the material isn’t far removed from West’s two previous albums. Production-wise, West is able to mesh College Dropout’s lighter fare with return of his signature sped-up sampling on “The Glory” as well as a surprisingly joyful appearance by the red-hot T-Pain on “Good Life” with Late Registration’s dark, brooding sound on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Flashing Lights” and it works.

If anything could be said for a misstep with Graduation is that its middle section containing the “should have been an extra track” collaboration with Lil’ Wayne on “Barry Bonds” and the plodding groupies-gone-wrong track “Drunk and Hot Girls” feel like filler on an album that appeared to be void of it.

In the end it all comes down to taste. Curtis is an album for people who want club tracks with little substance and no emotional depth, while Graduation is an album desperate to make a statement in a genre now dominated by ring-tone rappers.

Much like the smart drama going against the big blockbuster, Graduation’s brains may not equal Curtis’ brawn, but it feels much smarter listening when both albums end.

Contact all correspondent Andrew Gaug at [email protected].