It looks like 50 Cent might be retiring at the ripe old age of 32.
The Queens, N.Y., rapper announced a few weeks ago that if his new album, Curtis, did not outsell Kanye West's new collection, Graduation, during their first week in stores that he would call it quits as a solo recording artist.
Well, both albums hit the shelves Tuesday, and the early results nationally and in Baltimore suggest 50's sales aren't as big and bold as his words.
"There are a considerable amount of people buying both albums, but Kanye has a 158 to 88 lead so far," says Juan Armero, manager of Soundgarden in Fells Point.
During the store's first hour yesterday, he says, it sold 10 copies of Graduation and two of Curtis. Both are priced at $11.99.
"Some of the response I hear from customers is that they're tired of hearing the same thing from 50," Armero says. "Kanye tries to reinvent himself. His production is better."
Customer response was similar at the more mainstream-minded Best Buy at the Inner Harbor.
"Kanye is shooting past 50 in sales," says the store's media specialist, Octavia Thompson. "I can't reveal the exact numbers, but we had more 50 CDs in stock than Kanye, and he's definitely selling more right now."
That can't be pleasant news for 50 Cent, who touched off a tempest when he threw down his gauntlet last month with the hip-hop Web site SOHH.com:
"They would like to see Kanye West give me a problem because I've worked myself into a space where I've become the favorite. Everybody roots for the underdog when he goes against the favorite. ... Let's raise the stakes. If Kanye West sells more records than 50 Cent on September 11, I'll no longer write music. I'll write music and work with my other artists, but I won't put out any more solo albums."
50 Cent has been locked in plenty of feuds with other artists through the years, but even he has been candid that in taunting West he was merely stirring the pot at retail; in an interview with a Los Angeles radio station, he chuckled when asked if there was any bitterness behind his words. He answered that "you don't pull a gun" on someone just because he picks the same day to release his CD.
The stunt certainly caught the attention of the media and landed 50 Cent and West on the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone, which has them posed like glowering heavyweights at a boxing news conference.
50 Cent has history on his side. West, 30, has strong critical acclaim and robust sales, but his numbers have lagged behind 50 Cent's. West's 2005 album Late Registration sold more than 900,000 copies in its debut week; 50 Cent's The Massacre topped 1.4 million its first week in stores (and that despite a shortened week due to a last-minute rush to deter piracy).
An Amazon.com spokeswoman said the site would be tracking sales for the two albums on its music page all week. At midday yesterday, West was outpacing 50 Cent more than 2 to 1. Billboard magazine will publish the official Nielsen SoundScan sales Wednesday.
Todd Martens writes for the Los Angeles Times. Sun pop music critic Rashod D. Ollison contributed to this article.