Toe To Toe On Tuesday…
It didn't really sink in until I saw the cover of the Rolling Stone, where Kanye West and 50 Cent are locked in a staredown contest.
While Rolling Stone has had hip hop artists on the cover before, it has been an infrequent event. And this cover signifies something big for obvious and not so obvious reasons, a major one being that only these two could be in this position right now at this time.
50 and Kanye represent the two well known camps in hip hop -Â the mainstream and the underground/conscious. While the lines have been blurred over the past couple of years, they still remain in place. 50 has enjoyed success mainly because he was savvy enough to take advantage of the formula that record labels were using to ensure profits - the persona of the rugged street thug full of menace and venom. Kanye's success is derived from a careful and colorful blend of old school soul, self-consciousness and a taste for the high life that captured ears weary of yet another studio gangster.
For both albums to be released on September 11th is significant because these two artists are true representations of the American spirit that will be talked about on that day. 50 survived being shot multiple times to become a multimillion dollar musician, actor and businessman. Kanye, who dropped out of college, survived a horrific car crash and years of obscurity to become one of the most popular music artists today and a fashion critic to boot. Six years after the most horrific tragedy on American soil, the release of these albums have become a focal point for a part of the public who have grown weary of the hours of tribute to the fallen crafted by the news media. As surprising as it sounds, there are those who have felt that it was time to move on in a way, most notably ABC's New York station which made the decision to not air the reading of the names at Ground Zero this year.
Another reason why Tuesday will be so important is the worry over sales and numbers. Recently the compact disc celebrated its 25th anniversary. For the industry, it was a sober occassion because CD sales have dropped significantly due to the rise of digital downloads and availability of exclusives on the Net. The numbers seemed to be more glaring with regards to hip hop but with the recent successes of Common and UGK, the timing couldn't be more perfect. Finally, the personalities of both men make this an interesting rivalry. Sure, you could mention Jay-Z and 50 going head to head but it wouldn't have the same appeal. The same could be said if Nas' name was thrown into the ring. 50 and Kanye know this all too well. They need each other to shine even brighter on the world stage. Two individuals who are different but share the same qualities will sometimes be more compelling than two extreme opposites. And Curtis and Graduation, from early reports, seem to be both solid albums. Come Tuesday, history will be made and hopefully this will set a trend for other MC's who haven't stepped up to the plate too tough.