50 Cent threatens to quit if Kanye outsells him

By Jerome Taylor

50 Cent has never been a one to mince his words.

Even before he was a multi-platinum selling rap star, complete with the obligatory footwear line, sprawling mansion and autobiographical movie, the Queens-bred rapper was renowned on the underground New York scene as a man who had perfected the so-called Art of Beef.

Otherwise known as trashing a fellow artist (be it their ability to rap, wear the correct industry-approved clothes or score with the opposite sex) "beefing" is practically a hip-hop rite of passage and, from the start, 50 Cent was a gifted and somewhat foolhardy natural.

In early 2000, while still a young rapper virtually unknown outside his small circle of local fans, 50 Cent stormed onto the New York scene with the underground track How to Rob, a tongue in cheek instruction manual detailing how best to mug some of the industry's most successful stars, including Jay-Z, the Wu-Tang Clan and Nas.

They responded in kind by attacking the cheeky upstart in their own tracks and the rest, they say, is history.

As a recipe for generating publicity and notoriety beefing has worked every time for hip-hop artists and none more so than for 50 Cent - a man with almost as many aliases as someone on the FBI's most wanted (Fitty and Five-0 being just two).

But now the rap star has taken beefing to a whole different level by opening up a new and unusual feud with Kanye West, the only other hip-hop artist who threatens to steal his thunder when they simultaneously release new albums on September 11.

Hip-hop fans were stunned over the weekend when 50 Cent made the unusual announcement that he would quit rapping if Kanye West's Graduation sells more copies than his own upcoming album Curtis.

In an interview with hip-hop website Sohh.com on Friday 50 Cent attacked supporters of Kanye West, who is himself a highly acclaimed platinum selling artist but generally regarded as likely to sell fewer records next month.

"They would like to see Kanye West give me a problem because I've worked myself into a space where I've become the favorite," he said.

"Everybody roots against the underdog when he goes against the favourite. Put it like this, let's raise the stakes.

"If Kanye West sells more records than 50 Cent on September 11, I'll no longer write music. I'll write music and work with my other artists, but I won't put out any more solo albums."

Hip-hop's biggest showdown for years will pit two characters from distinctly different backgrounds and many are billing it as the music world's latest class war, the 21st century equivalent to the Beatles v the Rolling Stones or Blur against Oasis.

On one side is 50 Cent, a multi-platinum artist who survived on the streets of New York by dealing crack cocaine at the age of twelve and whose music praises the thuggish urban gang culture into which he was born.

On the other is West, the critically acclaimed, born again Christian from middle-class Chicago suburbia who fought off the macho gang culture surrounding hip-hop to revolutionise the way people listen to rap.

Since the announcement, website and blogs across cyberspace have been packed with fans debating which of the two mega-stars will outsell the other and whether 50 Cent would actually stick to his promise to quit rapping if Kanye wins.

The simultaneous release of new albums from two of the rap world's best selling and most talented artists was already being hailed as the mother of all contemporary music battles.

But the New Yorker's vow to turn his back on what he does best has raised the stakes to a whole new level.

When 50 Cent and Kanye West released their debut albums in 2003 and 2004 respectively both critics and fans lauded what was then a much-needed fresh input of raw talent into the increasingly staid US hip-hop scene.

The former's album, Get Rich or Die Tryin', became the fastest selling solo album in US history, shifting 872,000 copies in the first four days of its release.

Alongside his second offering, The Massacre, he has since gone on to become one of the world's best selling hip-hop artists, shifting nearly 20 million records worldwide.

Kanye West's triple platinum 2004 debut The College Dropout, meanwhile, stunned critics and fans for its sheer originality, topping all the major critics' polls and earning 10 Grammy nominations.

His second release Late Registration sold 600,000 copies in the first week alone and picked up a further three Grammys.

The perception that West is the critically acclaimed rap revolutionary while his rival simply sells lots of records appears to have been the major impetus behind 50 Cent's latest attack.

"The people who give out trophies, pick [Kanye] because he's safe," he said.

"But my projects be making a way bigger impression...by actually selling. That's an indication of the public's interest.

"How many people are interested enough to go spend $16 on a CD? I sold 1.1. million records in four days and, I didn't get one trophy for The Massacre, for the entire album, then release Get Rich Or Die Trying as a soundtrack, sell 3 million records of the soundtrack and soundtracks are harder to sell than solo albums...and then, no trophies for the soundtracks. I don't get trophies, I get cheques, he gets the trophies.

"But how you gon' give him a trophy now when he comes out the same time I come out? And I'm just all over his ass. You gone clearly see the favouritism. He's gonna still get the trophies."

But is 50 Cent's animosity for real or was his announcement a cleverly crafted media stunt to garner as much publicity in time for the release of his new album? After all both artists were spotted and supported by the same people, particularly Eminem who helped launch both their careers.

"There's a lot of clever PR going on here," says Hatie Collins editor NWD magazine, one of the UK's best selling hip-hop publications.

"It's a tradition in hip hop that if you want to sell a new album then you come out and take a pop at another artist.

Kanye and Fitty are friends, I think Kanye's even got a track coming out on 50's upcoming album."

Apart from their single parent backgrounds and long struggle to get into the industry, 50 Cent and Kanye West's have very little in common.

The early life of Curtis James Jackson III, the man who would later be known as 50 Cent, was virtually a blueprint for the endemic violence that has plagued America's inner city poor for decades.

Forced onto the streets after his drug dealer mother was murdered when he was just eight-years-old, 50 Cent quickly learnt that the only way to get out of the urban poverty he had been born into was to make money fast.

(His stage name, 50 Cent, is a reference to the way the star survived the streets of New York through providing for himself "by any means").

The quickest way to make get cash in the drug infested inner suburbs of 1980s New York was to sell crack cocaine and at the age of twelve he became a dealer.

While 50 Cent was dodging rival dealers and police as a teenager, Kanye Omari West was attending the Polaris High School in Oak Lawn, Illinois.

His mother, a teacher, had moved there after divorcing the singer's father, a former Black Panther, and the young singer enjoyed the type of American suburban idyll that his rival could perhaps have only dreamed of.

After dropping out of art college Kanye West looked to a career in hip-hop and soon found himself producing tracks for top artists such as Jay-Z, The Game and Alicia Keys.

But while Kanye's middle class background allowed him to jump into the hip-hop scene as a producer, many felt he would be hard pressed to gain the legitimacy needed to be a rapper on stage in an industry that lionized gang culture and violence.

Both 50 Cent and Kanye West, for instance, cite near death experiences as events that forced them to turn their lives around, but whereas Kanye's was a near fatal car crash, the moment 50 Cent's cheated death was by miraculously surviving being shot nine times at point blank range.

In the world of hip-hop, being shot is simply sexier than crashing a car.

"We all grew up street guys who had to do whatever we had to do to get by," said Jay-Z in an interview with Time magazine in 2005.

"Then there's Kanye, who to my knowledge has never hustled a day in his life."But then fans of Kanye's music and style would say that the rap star has never been about hustling in the first place.

In contrast to most of his contemporaries Kanye West has resolutely distanced himself from the violence, misogyny and homophobia that is often endemic in modern popular hip-hop.

Where 50 Cent's lyrics largely revolve around the hip-hop mainstays of guns, sex and drugs, Kanye brought criticism and skepticism to his own industry and culture.

"Kanye never really tried to be a gangster," says NWD editor Hattie Collins.

"He always questioned why anyone would want to be part of that ethos.
When he came onto the scene you knew it was hip-hop but with lyrics that were different and original."

On the upcoming showdown between their two albums Kanye West has remained noticeably non-combative.

His only comment so far has been deliberately conciliatory simply stating: "When my album drops and 50's drops, you're gonna get a lot of good music at the same time."

But in an industry where feuds have often spilled out into open warfare, between rival rap stars, is it not a little dangerous to start a rivalry between two of the hottest properties on the hip-hop scene at the moment?

"Feuds are simply a great way to generate publicity," says Collins.

"I admit they can get a little sinister when it comes to hip-hop but with 50 and Kanye its pretty much a clever PR stunt dreamed up by the record labels."

Whether the rivalry is real or not, however, bosses at both the artists' record labels will undoubtedly be licking their lips at the prospect of a showdown between the two people that have arguably done more to revolutionise hip-hop music and widen its appeal in the last five years than any of their other contemporaries.

And suggestions that the feud is class based will only help grease the already well-oiled publicity machine.

- INDEPENDENT

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