By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
By some ingenious twist of fate (or at least marketing), Kanye West and 50 Cent are set to square off on September 11. Make no mistake: This isn’t just about two rappers battling the enormous expectations that accompany album No. 3. This isn’t just the greatest rapper-release face-off since A Tribe Called Quest (Love Movement), Jay-Z (Hard Knock Life Vol. II) and OutKast (Aquemini), knocked skulls on September 29, 1998. This is a referendum on the future of hip-hop.
50 Cent has already gone on the record as saying that he’ll retire if Kanye’s Graduationoutsells his Curtis, a statement possibly inspired by an affinity for professional wrestling’s steel-cage winner-leaves-town matches and/or contemporary politics (which, if you think about it, might be the same thing). Of course, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Professional wrestling, politics and Kanye vs. 50 are all manifestations of a similar duality: good guys vs. bad, blue states vs. red, the super-ego vs. the really, really super-ego.
So consider this an election, one of those rare occasions when you’re forced to pick a side and all the baggage that accompanies it. The old cliché states that people get the politicians they deserve. Well, if that’s the case, they get the rappers they deserve as well.
50 Cent(Curtis James Jackson III)
Born:July 6, 1975 (age 32)
Past First-Week Sales Performance:Get Rich or Die Tryin’(2003): 872,000 units; The Massacre(2005): 1.14 million
Ideology:In late 2005, 50 Cent told GQ magazine that president George W. Bush was “incredible. A gangsta president,” one who he would’ve voted for if he hadn’t been a convicted felon. He also expressed a desire to “shake [Bush’s] hand and tell him how much of me I see in him.”
A true conservative, Get Rich or Die Tryin’and The Massacrewere N.W.A retrograde, a reactionary trying to update the gangsta-rap template. And like Bush reheating Ronald Reagan Republicanism and recasting it as “compassionate conservatism,” 50 craftily schemed to widen the gangsta-rap tent by including a few “for the ladies” songs on each record. (See “21 Questions,” “So Amazing” and “A Baltimore Love Thing,” a song presumably not about crab cakes and/or the Orioles.)
Gay Rights:Yet to proclaim his views on the gangsta president’s Federal Marriage Amendment, 50 did recently release a mixtape cut called “Part Time Lover.” In the song, he drops a Li’l Wayne/gay-bashing hook: “It’s more than your body, baby, damn it’s your brain/You make me wanna kiss you like Baby kiss Wayne/And make you call me daddy like Baby do Wayne/Damn, that shit sound gay, it’s insane.” Which leads one to believe that despite his homoerotic predilection for appearing shirtless and covered in baby oil on every one of his album covers, 50 is probably against gay marriage.
Economic Policy:50 Cent would be the staunchest advocate of traditional conservative laissez-faire capitalism around. The guy never met a Fortune 500 company he wouldn’t shill for, inking deals with Reebok for G-Unit sneakers, Time Warner for G-Unit books and even his own line of condoms. Most notably, the sale of Glaceau’s Vitamin Water brand netted him anywhere between $100 million and $400 million, according to various media estimates.
Emblematic of the corporate-wealth explosion of the Bush years, 50’s video for his latest single, “I Get Money,” consists solely of shots of 50 Cent waving $100 bills while alternately partying and/or sitting on green Italian sports cars. The lyrical content revolves around one theme: that, yes — shock of shocks — 50 Cent “gets money.”
Struggles With Cabinet:Like Bush, who has only retained one original cabinet member (Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao) in the six-plus years of his presidency, 50 Cent has had his own share of problems with his confidants, including a high-profile internecine squabble with the Game. Most recently, 50’s reportedly been at odds with G-Unit goombah Young Buck.
Kanye Omari West
Born:June 8, 1977 (age 30)
Past First-Week Sales Performance:The College Dropout (2004): 441,000 units; Late Registration(2005): 860,000
Ideology:Well, there was that whole “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” thing (which 50 said he disagreed with). He appeared at both Live Aid and Al Gore’s Live Earth. And a Barack Obama endorsement isn’t unthinkable considering their shared Chi-town roots and the fact that Common gave Obama love on the West-produced “The People.”
Kanye might not be as sonically inventive as DJ Premier, Pete Rock or the RZA in their prime, but compared to whatever’s left of major-label hip-hop, he’s light-years ahead of the pack. Enlisting Jon Brion to help with Late Registrationand sampling Thom Yorke, Daft Punk and Peter, Bjorn & John on his last mixtape, Kanye’s tastes seem to suggest a serious Ecstasy habit or manic depression. Perhaps both.
Gay Rights:West became the only major rap star to speak out against hip-hop’s rampant homophobia when he equated the gay rights movement to that of civil rights. In an MTV special, West claimed that hip-hop has always been about “speaking your mind and about breaking down barriers, but everyone in hip-hop discriminates against gay people .?.?. We need to stop that.” He also added that some of his favorite fashion designers ?are gay.
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