A Different Type of Hip-Hop Battle This past Tuesday, two rival rappers released new CDs on the same day. Kanye West and 50 Cent both rank among the most popular artists making hip-hop today. But the so-called feud between the two stands apart from others in the history of the genre.

A Different Type of Hip-Hop Battle

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But first, only the most jaded music fan could ignore the week's big hip-hop news. Two dueling artists - that's not always a metaphor - Kanye West and 50 Cent dropped new CDs on Tuesday. Mr. West's album is "Graduation."


KANYE WEST: (Rapping) Now that don't kill me. Can only make me stronger. I need you to hurry up now 'cause I can't wait much longer.

SIMON: 50 Cent released "Curtis."


CENT: (Rapping) She work it girl, she work the pole. She break it down, she take it low. She's fine. She's about the dough. She's doing her thing out on the floor.

SIMON: Mr. Mutafa, thanks very much for being with us.

MAZI MUTAFA: Thank you.

SIMON: And for those who don't follow hip-hop, could you describe the differences in style and image of each of the artists?

MUTAFA: Generally, they're not two artists that are usually compared to each other. In the large part because their subject matter is usually drastically different. The easiest way to describe them would be that Curtis, also known as 50 Cent, would commonly be referred to as a gangster rapper. Whereas Kanye West, his most famous single is actually called "Jesus Walks." And for that reason, he's usually referred to as a conscious rapper, though the truth is that many of his lyrics are filled with same materialism, the same objectification of women. The primary difference between him and 50 is that Kanye has zero songs about killing anybody whereas, the great majority of what 50 Cent has recorded has either being shot by someone, shooting someone, trying to shoot someone.

SIMON: Do you have any reason to think this feud is just show business?

MUTAFA: However - and the first we got with both end the projects because they've been set against each other, consumers have decided to vote with a dollar. And up to this point, Kanye West has been outselling two-to-one 50 Cent.

SIMON: In the 1990s, of course, there was a famous rivalry. There was East Coast versus West Coast. And for many people, it got typified with Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. Is it inconceivable that this rivalry now in the 2000s would wind up the way that one did - in death.

MUTAFA: Part of the reason why you've seen mainstream media and NPR today taking interest in this story is because of what people think it might turn into. But the reality is that it's just about business. It's about slumping record sales for rap music labels and a desire to make better music that consumers actually want. And to draw in the attention who've kind of written hip-hop off.

SIMON: Mazi Mutafa, executive director of the nonprofit Words, Beats & Life, thanks very much.

MUTAFA: Thank you.

SIMON: And you can hear more from 50 Cent and Kanye West online at our Web site, npr.org/music.

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