September 11 is a day forever etched in the hearts and minds of a nation as the day when America lost its aura of invincibility. Bordered by 2 oceans we had previously remained immune to the pressures of living in a world at war. Six years later the date takes on an entirely different meaning. Though nowhere near as perilous as its predecessor, September 11,2007 is also crucial to the course of a previously invincible nation’s history. On this day, Kanye West and 50 Cent will release The Graduation and Curtis, respectively, an event that could very well determine Hip-Hop’s landscape for the immediate future.
With a looming 2008 election as a backdrop, with pundits arguing the merit of each as impending victor, the two heavy hitters occupy opposite sides of the spectum musically (politically). 50 represents the right wing. Entrenched as the ruling party with a formidable track record of continual hyper-masculine hits, “Fif” has sold an astonishing 20 million records in just four years. Much closer to hawk than dove 50 never hesitates to wage war via politics or lyrical warfare in order to protect his interests. Let’s just say diplomacy isn’t his strong suit. Similarly, Young Buck plays diplomatic Condoleeza; willing to work with burgeoning powers (The South) while adhering steadfast to 50’s imperialist doctrine.
To the left, to the left, we have Mr. West, metrosexual extraordinaire. While some may say that his sample-laden beats and punchline-powered delivery takes rap back to its essence, Kanye is closer to a departure from traditional Hip-Hop norms. Not occupied with proving how tough he is, or extolling the virtues of the streets or “realism”, Ye is more focused on reality…with a sliiight penchant for fashion and outlandish histrionics. Kanye has been a mini movement himself, powering a mini Chicago renaissance with his production and guest spots. He plays underdog to the reigning establishment, carrying the hopes of a Hip-Hop generation tired of the status quo and looking for a change. Kanye represents change in a music that has become spaded and stuck in an evolutionary rut.
Much as America is searching for direction, so is Hip-Hop. Aside from a market under digital duress, the main players are aging, tastes are changing, and the fanbase becoming more difficult than ever to forecast tastes. How do you choose a direction as sales decline, fan disgust becomes more vocal, and advertisers and fringe support becomes increasingly disinterested in association? You get the two most high-profile, commercially viable, active rappers and you face them off in direct competition. The victor will probably set the general tone of the music for the next cycle.
Make no mistake this isn’t about bragging rights (though they will be considerable). This “election” will test the very commercial viability of our music. It is a test to see if our reign on the top was short like leprechauns or long like marathons. It’s a test to see what tone of music will be pushed by labels whose only interest is the bottom line. It’s bigger than Hip-Hop. There are hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, and the final say is finally, maybe more than ever is in the hands of the consumer. No matter which way you vote party people, make sure you vote. Whichever you prefer, or whether you like both (which is definitely allowed) be counted in the marketplace. On September 11th 2007, perhaps more than any election this century(yes that includes Jay and Nas) the choice is yours. Be counted!