Believe it or not, at one point Kanye West was considered an underdog. Before we were watching the throne, before the critics heralded his albums as flawless and even before Jay Leno, of all people, had to give him a reality check following the Taylor Swift incident, West was seen as the little Chi-town engine that could. Everyone loves an underdog, especially when he goes one on one with the biggest bully on the playground. That's exactly what happened five years ago today when West and 50 Cent had a release date showdown on September 11th, 2007.
Only six years removed from the terrorist attacks, the wound still felt too fresh for the entertainment industry to really use 9/11's anniversary weeks at that point to release product. The first year after 9/11, only one CD was released, a Run-D.M.C. Greatest Hits compilation. In the years to follow, this didn't really change. Along with being a seldom eventful week, hip-hop sales in 2007 were comparatively the worst they had ever been. At a time when even Dane Cook was moving two-million units, the previous year saw only one rap album (T.I.'s King) go platinum. That's why in July 2007, when Kanye West announced he was moving his new album Graduation's release date one week forward from September 18th, to a day when he would be in direct competition with 50 Cent's Curtis, it became the most buzzed about release date in years.
The road to the Kanye-50 smackdown was a bumpy one, with controversy rising around every turn. After a few weeks of tumultuous speculation, 50 declared if he didn't outsell West, he would retire. At this point, 50 seemed to rule hip-hop with an iron fist. After effectively excommunicating one-time chart-topper Ja Rule from the genre at the start of the decade, he became an unstoppable juggernaut, engaging in feud-after-feud and making his name a permanent fixture in hip-hop headlines. More than just wars on wax, 50 had embarrassed his opponents by utilizing the internet in a way no rap beef really had before, unearthing a video of former labelmate The Game losing on dating gameshow "Change of Heart" and spreading unflattering photos of rival Fat Joe on the beach. His titanic media empire made him seem like a diabolical comic book villain, resulting in West, by comparison, resembling a plucky Disney hero.
West's likability made his supporters (as well as 50's detractors) come out in droves and, by mid-August, pre-sales projected West would outsell 50 by at least a 2-to-1 margin. This lead to 50, as expected, going back on his word and now promising if West outsells him that he'll release a new project every time Def Jam (West's label) had a major release for the foreseeable future. 50 also took credit for West's surge in sales, promising Graduation would suffer a significant drop the following week and that Curtis would continue to ultimately be the bigger seller. Further media speculation predicted that both 50 and West might both fall short of the number one spot as country sensation Kenny Chesney's Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates was also being released that day, as was a new album from former Ruff Ryder Eve, whose "Tambourine" single had been her biggest hit since leaving Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment.
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Finally, the big day arrived with Mr. West comfortably on top. While both Graduation and Curtis outsold 2007's then-biggest first week release, Linkin Park's Minutes to Midnight, 50's 691,000 units didn't come close to West's 957,000 copies sold. Ironically, West's victory marked the biggest first-week sales since 50 Cent's 2005 album The Massacre. Elsewhere, Chesney came in at a distant third with 387,000 copies sold and Eve's album got pushed back to the point where, as of September 11th, 2012, it's still yet to be released. The next week saw both West and 50 taking a significant, but expected, sales drop (West's by 76%, 50's by 79%) resulting in Reba McEntire's Duets topping the charts.
Ultimately, contrary to the popular internet rumor that suggests 50 sold more copies worldwide (the alleged 5 Million number is the most absurdly unfounded hip-hop statistic since the "70% of Rap consumers are white" myth) West moved the most units by going double platinum in the states, platinum in three other countries and gold in two more. Meanwhile 50 had the then-lowest sales of his career, moving just over a million copies in America, with three gold and two platinum plaques outside of the states. But, in a way, hip-hop and the music industry as a whole was the biggest winner, proving if fans are truly invested in an artist, they will come out in droves to support them.