Kanye West and 50 Cent

Graduation, and Curtis (Def Jam)

Phases & Stages

Kanye West

Graduation (Def Jam)

50 Cent

Curtis (G Unit/Interscope)

The great ones rise to the occasion. Kanye West gets more credit than he deserves, but his production is top of the line, and his awareness of his place in hip-hop history is on point. That's what separates his Graduation from 50 Cent's Curtis: West is progressive where 50 sounds redundant. Graduation prompts optimism for Kanye's future, while Curtis leaves listeners nostalgic for a time when 50's songs sounded original, the effort authentic. The Bronx rapper's third disc tires on second-rate beats, juvenile hooks, and rote lyrics about money and guns. "Man Down" and "Fully Loaded Clip" play as idle threats over unemotional beats, Eminem adding little when he shows up for "Peep Show." Chicagoan West, on the other hand, innovatively samples Elton John ("Good Morning"), imports Coldplay's Chris Martin for the "Homecoming" hook, and plays to Young Jeezy's ad-libbing ability on "Can't Tell Me Nothing." Lyrically, West sticks to his "I'm so self-conscious" tip, but unlike 50, he knows his rhyme schemes. And cares about greatness.

(Graduation) ****

(Curtis) *.5

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