Kanye Vs. 50 and Thoughts On Rap’s Future

kanye_west_-_graduation.jpg fiddy.jpg

Apparently Kanye West’s new album, Graduation, has won the ridiculously hyped “album sale” battle with 50 Cent by outselling him by over a few hundred thousand copies this last week. OhWord has a pretty hilarious summary of the situation:
‘Curtis Milhouse Jackson Concedes Defeat to J.F.Kanye.’

People were actually framing the whole thing as a “battle over the direction of rap.” I chose which side I was on and bought a copy of Kanye’s album, which is awesome, but I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t a former 50 fan. His first album, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, brings back good memories. I was a bright young college freshman at the time, and rap was in need of another strong personality. ‘Fiddy’ grabbed that role with no hesitation. He had major swag and there was really no better mainstream rap album to get drunk and high to that year. However, he’s now on album #3, and my college days are over. The guy seems too much like an overblown cartoon character of rap cliches now, or maybe I’m just gettin old.

Kanye on the other hand, continues to surprise me. It was so easy to get wrapped up in this ‘battle’ because of what these two figures seemingly represent: 50 as the thugged out establishment vs. Kanye the self-absorbed but always musically innovative/progressive. Rap no longer illuminates the complexities of crime, it simplifies the equation down to a gleeful and unrealistic glorification of the criminal lifestyle. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be pretentious and I still love me some occasional Young Jeezy. But with the new album, its almost like Kanye is asking, “how long can this really last?” The declining sales of music, and rap especially, shows that he’s on to something, and at the same time, his production skills continue to challenge the audience to redefine what they think rap should sound like. Not to mention the fact that he’s a middle class guy from Chicago who never sold drugs and was always into rocking pink and purple sweater vests.

I was really feeling this blog No Trivia’s review of Graduation. In describing Kanye, it says:

‘Of course, he’s not a “concious” rapper, so he has as much fun with serious, political rap as he does with those crack rappers; he obviously has an affinity for both. The line “I’m like a fly Malcolm X/ Buy any jeans necessary” is just one of many lines that if you unpack it, is just trying to define himself through contrast. He’s a guy no doubt informed by Malcolm X (Poppa West was a Panther) but also a guy really into hot clothes and also okay with sort of mocking Malcolm’s words’

In thinking of rap’s past, present and future, Kanye is really a reflection of where we are at today in a lot of ways, while his music hints at where rap might (hopefully) be going.

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