It's the thug against the preppy boy. And the battle between 50 Cent and Kanye West goes down starting today.
The heat is on to see which of the pop-friendly rappers will sell the most CDs in the first week: 50's Curtis or West's Graduation. 50 has vowed to stop making solo albums if West outsells him. But the much-hyped beef has been mostly friendly - generating buzz (not bullets) for waning mainstream hip-hop.
What's at stake? 50 is all flash and no substance, whereas West is about 90 percent flash and 10 percent substance. Here's the breakdown of the contenders:
West: Chicago-raised, 30
West: Though not a highly skilled rapper, West boasts a memorable, conversational delivery. His lines are often pointed and funny. But his talent as a producer is far more impressive, employing an engaging mix of samples and live instrumentation.
West: He made headlines in September 2005 when he lashed out against the president during a live Hurricane Katrina telethon. Standing beside a frozen-faced Mike Myers, West blurted out: "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
West: After nearly dying in a car accident in 2003, West issued his debut, The College Dropout, in early 2004. The first single, "Through the Wire," partly chronicles his convalescence and features a sped-up sample of Chaka Khan's 1984 hit "Through the Fire." The album, a critical smash, reached No. 2 on the charts and sold more than 2 million copies.
West: Besides being a producer, West founded the G.O.O.D Music label, whose star attractions include pop-soul crooner John Legend and rapper Common. This year, he will launch his clothing line, Pastel. On Forbes' list of hip-hop's highest earners published last month, West is No. 8, taking home $17 million a year.
ative New Yorker, 32
His distinctive slurred style lends itself to the catchy, pop-rap confections that have made him famous: "In Da Club" and "Candy Shop." But 50's stiff pillow talk, violent street tales and worshipful odes to money are often flat and humorless. And he's at the mercy of hot producers to make him sound interesting.
He identifies with President Bush. Two years ago in an interview with GQ, the rapper said, "I wanna meet George Bush, just shake his hand and tell him how much of me I see in him."
With a flood of myth-building press in which he glorified being shot nine times, the rapper born Curtis Jackson launched his commercial career in 2003 with Get Rich or Die Tryin'. The album made its debut at No. 1 and went on to sell 7 million copies.
Under his G-Unit corporate umbrella, he has launched apparel lines, video games and ringtones, and released a multiplatinum album by the G-Unit rap collective. Holding a 10 percent stake in Glaceau's Vitamin Water, he made an estimated $400 million when the company was sold. On Forbes' list, 50 ranked No. 2 with an annual income of $34 million.