Monday, September 17, 2007

The Showdown So Far: Kanye v. Curtis

Okay, so both Graduation and Curtis have been out for a week now, and as pretty much every single person related to music predicted, Kayne is outselling 50 Cent. Not a very big surprise, considering 50's ultimatum that he would quit the buisness if he didn't outsell Kayne sounded much more like a publicity stunt and an empty threat than he wanted it to.

I've managed to get a hold of both albums in ways that didn't disrespect my music tastes...for me, there is very little rap that I will actually pay for out of my own pocket (Dizzee Rascal, Nas, and a few select others...) so I relied on some friends.

Now, I'd like to say that I could put my thoughts about the artists aside when looking at these two albums, but I think that you have to consider how Kayne and 50 are perceived to fully look at how these two albums stack up against each other.

50 came out as a protege of Eminem and Dr. Dre (how many of those have we seen...honestly...) with expertly produced tracks that became huge club hits and were played way too many times at high school dances with only white kids. His personal story is somewhat of a charmer, what with surviving being shot 9 times and moving up from dealing drugs to putting out records (which he's trying to get kids addicted to...just like drugs...). I've always seen 50 as solely a buisnessman in music, and have never really enjoyed anything he made in any way other than on the surface. His music is danceable, yes, but it isn't rewarding to listen to multiple times. Nothing reveals itself to you after repeated listenings, no lyrics are decoded, no bigger theme emerges. 50 has always been, and always will be, out for the largest chunk of change he can get his hands on with the catchiest beats he can put on a record.

Kayne will always be a better producer than he is a rapper, which tends to show itself in the weakness of his lyrics over an entire album. Sure, there's a great song here and there, but he can't hold up lyrically to his idols that started out as rappers. He samples other great music way too much. There's a lot to be said for a rapper that uses an original beat and catchy lyrics to create something where there was nothing. Kayne loves using samples as a stepping stone into different musical tastes; it allows him the widest audience possible when he samples Ray Charles, Daft Punk, and Shirley Bassey on different tracks. Maybe it's an artistic choice to sample such a wide array of artists, but I still feel like when I listen to those songs that its a carefully calculated buisness decision to attract a huge listening audience.

He does push artistic boundaries where 50 does not, but the double-edged sword that is his arrogance gets in the way. Yes, he strives to do something different in rap, and his charisma for his art is admirable, but it causes him to believe that even his weakest songs hold up against other great tracks simply because they are his. That kind of headstrong certitude is something that he tragically has in common with a man he ridiculed on national television: our President.

Ok, attitudes towards the artists aside...I thought both albums were pretty...average. Lots of credit is being heaped on Kanye and a ton of shit being piled on 50, but to me they both just seemed like more of the same from both of them.

The largest failing of Curtis to me is that 50 Cent wanted to seem more honest. This album was supposed to be his Marshall Mathers LP (which for the record is one of a few rap albums I consider great, after Illmatic). Eminem on that album was very honest about himself, Marshall Mathers, and conveyed a deep sense of self in his songs. On Curtis, 50 just seems like he's creating a character, the Curtis he wants people to believe he's honest about. The album wasn't supposed to be about creating another fake moniker to rap behind, but when it comes down to it, that's what Curtis sounds like.

Graduation, on the other hand, has some spectacular tracks. I got the iTunes edition, and the two tracks that bookend the album ("Good Morning" and "Goodnight") are just fantastic. That being said, it still bothers me that Kayne samples so much that it seems unnecessary. Kayne is a great producer, and when he makes one great track with one great sample for another artist to put on their CD, the gimmick works really well. However, almost an entire album of that just gets tired to me. The skills of Mr. West as a producer far outgain his abilities as a lyricist, and it starts to show as the album drags in the middle with some forgettable tracks. Granted, the beginning and end to the disc are both great, but this album is no College Dropout, the surprising genius isn't there anymore. People have come to expect absolute perfection from West, and in that sense this album is a small disappointment.

So who's the winner of the album battle? That answer is very clear: Kanye. His album is selling more, his album is more artistically adventurous, and it comes off as more real, even in its heavily produced atmosphere. The two albums seem like a perfect example of my taste in rap. 50's music is a distinct "rap" style, while Kayne could be classified as more "hip-hop" which is less about the street image and more about musical style. That's not to say there are not great rap albums, it's just that 50 has definately not made one with his latest effort. Kanye emerges victorious, and now 50 has to crawl away and declare himself un-retired or something...we all know he isn't done yet.

Kanye West - Good Morning
Kanye West - Goodnight (feat. Mos Def)


Michael said...

I got pointed here from your "famous friend's" blog (Truth in a Bullet Fedora) and am loving everything I'm reading. I noticed your disclaimer, however, over on the right side and the live links below and that led me to a question: did you already get takedown notices for the Kanye songs?

esreverniuoy said...

I luckily have not gotten a takedown notice yet...those links were just broken...they're fixed now though, so give 'em a listen if you haven't, I was definatly surprised at how good they are.

Krolik1157 said...

Your "famous friend" is having a weird day. Have you ever come back from class to find 41 comments on your blog, most of which are some kind of variation on how retarded you are? It's weird. Anyways, here's what I thought of Kanye's album, as he's my favorite artist and me and this guy argue about him constantly. As always, because of the huge variety in his beats, Kanye is hit-or-miss; here is my ranking of the "hits."

1. "Stronger": If this comes on at a party and nobody grinds on you, you probably smell like dead bear. Pushes the limits of bumpability.

2. "Can't tell me nothing": One of the few tracks on this album that showcase Kanye's conflict and ability to self-examine. Also, the beat gave me chills. Also, this is what led me to turning in a paper for American Lit. comparing Ben Franklin to Kanye West.

3. "Everything I am": Beat gave me super-mega chills. The lyrics inspire because there seems to be actual truth behind the self-aggrandizement; instead of making himself larger-than-life, he describes himself as someone who has overcome his own faults.

4. "Homecoming": Love the piano. Love the Chris Martin.

5. "Champion": An uptempo beat made from a Steely Dan song is either going to be really good or really bad; I found it to be the former.

6. "Good Morning": Kanye's in a grove with more laid-back beats on this one; they all just seem to work out well. And I don't know why I love the line "You got D's, Mothafucka, D's, Rosie Perez," but I do.

7. "I Wonder": See above quote about laid-back beats.

8. "The Glory": An in-your-face move to his critics, even with the ultra-chipmunking of the sample.

9. "Big Brother": I'm sorry, but I'm just not interested in hip-hop feuds, especially when they're closer to Coke-Pepsi than Biggie-Tupac.

"Drunk and Hot Girls" and "Barry Bonds" didn't really do it for me. But damn, I love Kanye. Do you move in today?

Michael said...

Nice! Thanks for fixing the links! I'd heard "Good Morning" but the copy that I snagged didn't have "Goodnight" - it's waaaaaaaaay better than the other song that has Mos Def on it. Thanks for sharing! Like I said, I'm enjoying the blog, thanks for the insightful writing.