50 Cent vs. Kanye West vs. Kenny Chesney

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The press is responsible for making up its share of bogus celebrity feuds — Beatles vs. Stones, Sammy Davis Jr. vs. Sandy Duncan, Fall Out Boy vs. Get Up Kids — but this phony three-way smackdown was just handed to us on a silver platter, an indication of just how desperate even platinum artists with long-awaited albums are to get punters back into record shops. Especially on a national day of mourning — the tragic sixth-year anniversary of Mariah Carey's Glitter debacle. It's amazing the stores even stayed open.

This SoundScan massacre should've been a slam-dunk. The school bully (50 Cent) kicking the shit out of the school nerd (Kanye West). In case you hadn't noticed, Fitty initiates a new feud a few weeks before a new album drops — the same way that Osama bin Laden always finds the camcorder eight weeks before one of our elections.

With rap music sales dropping 21 percent from 2005 to 2006, there were few formidable gangstas for Fitty to take on. That's why Fitty proposed that if Kanye "West sells more records than 50 Cent on Sept. 11, I'll no longer [perform] music." Of course he's already backpedaled!

Fitty used to be a guy folks feared. Now he's a welcher, a guy who lip-syncs at the BET awards, plays at private bar mitzvahs for the spoiled brats of wealthy CEOs and throws monopoly money with his face on it into crowds. All this is in clear violation of the basic tenets of the 1987 "Keepin' It Real" Accord. Next we'll probably find out he was shot nine times with blanks.

On 9/11, that fateful record-release day, Kanye's Graduation was the projected winner on Amazon, with Bruce Springsteen's advance orders for an album not out until next month pushing Fitty's Curtis to third place. Beaten by Bruce? That's like having the school janitor sucker punch you! And Fitty just narrowly beat his other 9/11 challenger, country music's top seller Kenny Chesney, who told Entertainment Weekly, "None of those [urban] acts acknowledge that I exist. Until I have that No. 1 debut on the Top 200.'"

Kinda like Richard Simmons piling on a barroom brawl with wrist slappin' and Deal-A-Meal cards.

(Billboard showed Kanye hitting No. 1, with 957,000 copies scanned opening week, ahead of Fitty, at No. 2 with 691,000. Chesney's Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates landed third, with 387,000 sold.)

Fitty's loss not only spells the death of gangsta rap but also "new country," the music that rap-scared whites scrambled to. What does it say about the state of country music that a brand-new Kenny Chesney album couldn't outsell two rappers and just barely beat High School Musical 2?

For those of you with limited budgets and attention spans who stayed away from the fray, we break the albums down on every superficial front.

Most Progressive Album Title

Winner: Kanye West's Graduation

Graduation is the perfect forward-looking title and the logical successor to Late Registration and The College Dropout. Kanye could've also called it G.E.D. but then critics might've accused him of just mailing it in.

Losers: Talk about regression — Curtis Mayfield named an album Curtis back in 1970! This title suggests that Clive Davis is advising 50 Cent on image softening (i.e.: "This should be your 'get to know me, niggas' album, Fitty").

For a guy whose divorce papers from actress Renee Zellweger accused him of being a "fraud," Kenny Chesney's got a lot of nerve calling his album Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates and then not writing one song or wearing at least one eye patch. And somewhere in Margaritaville, Jimmy Buffett's brooding, 'cause he can't name his next album Parrots and Pirates. I hope you're happy, Chesney!

Most Tasteful Cross Promotion

Winner: Kanye West's Graduation

Kanye's only inner-CD shill is for Kanye West ringtones, which aren't nearly as traumatic as Fitty's, as anyone who's had his skull grazed by the "Official 'My Gun Go Off' Ringtone" can attest to.

Losers: Inside the Curtis CD, Fitty shamelessly hawks Vitamin Water, his own G-Unit footwear and Pontiac, which is sponsoring a contest where you can win a G6 GXP Street Edition to be delivered to your house by Fitty himself — only after he gets stopped numerous times by the cops.

Chesney's CD has an offer for a Sony Credit Card plus a number you can text message to get his news sent directly to your phone. Who wants to keep paying 15 cents every day just to find out "Kenny's Still Not Gay"?

Most Modern Album Cover

Winner: Kanye West's Graduation

Kanye's Care-Bear-goes-to-college shtick is rendered by Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami, bringing the Kanye brand ever closer to Hello Kitty status.

Losers: 50 Cent's first cover without simulated bullet holes has something even scarier — an extreme close-up of Fitty looking like he could use a couple of Anacin.

Like every other "new country" album, Chesney poses in pressed pre-worn jeans, a bright white shirt and a spotless white hat. This might have been how Hank did it — but only with help from his funeral director.

Greatest Innovation

Winner: Kanye West's Graduation

As a subliminal come-on to crossover pop audiences, Kanye includes sped-up samples of Elton John, Laura Nyro, Mountain and Michael Jackson. This guy can make anyone sound like Alvin & the Chipmunks!

Losers: Because Interscope objected to Fitty talking about killing a cop, even the explicit version of "Man Down" has bleeped-out lyrics. This means the "Clean" version has been doubly sanitized for your protection. This is either hip-hop's version of an Embassy Suites toilet or the twice-baked potato.

Employing subliminal mind control to further prove he isn't gay, Kenny duets with George Straight, I mean Strait. See?

Biggest Surprise Guest

Winner: Kanye West's Graduation

Instead of scrambling around for a new guest, Kanye fooled everyone by bringing back Chris Martin, in blatant violation of most people's "I'm still sick of Coldplay" edict.

Losers: There are more guest emcees and singers on Fitty's Curtis than a USA for Africa reunion album. But few expected Eminem's protégé to be working with Shady's favorite whipping boy, Justin Timberlake.

Joe Walsh and his talkbox are excavated for Kenny's "Wild Ride."

Best Mixed Metaphor That Might Come Back to Haunt A Guy

Winner: 50 Cent's Curtis

During a costly and unpopular war, it's probably not the best idea rapping, "I'm the general, salute me, soldier" on a track called "Laughing Straight to the Bank." And the forced "ho ho ho's" will just remind people about the Imus thing.

Losers: Kanye from "Barry Bonds": "I'm doing pretty good as far as geniuses go" might keep him out of the Hall of Fame someday just by association.

Kenny on "Demons": "When I'm not chasin' demons/there's demons chasin' me ..." Must be talking about those darn High School Musical 2 kids again.

Neediest Motive Behind an Album

Winner: Kanye West's Graduation

Even at the top of the game, Kanye still feels he's not respected enough by Chi-Town, mentor Jay Zee, the NAACP, MTV and "Drunk and Hot Girls" who get record deals just by saying, "Aaaah."

Losers: Every song on Curtis boils down to "I'm still on top, I can't spend all this crazy money I make and that's why you haters still want to kill me. But I'll kill you first." Which now has been amended to "I'm now No. 2, I should've spent some of that money buying up copies of Curtis, and I'll kill the first guy who says, 'I told you so.'"

For some reason, Kenny Chesney desperately wants to have a wife and kids someday but isn't ready for either of them. So girls, if you think his tractor is sexy, expect a John Deere letter.

Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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