Thu, Sep 13, 2007 - Page 14 News List

CD Reviews

AGENCIES

Kala
M.I.A.
Aug. 21

50 Cent invites scorn from hip-hop idealists and as long as he keeps making hits, he will remain one of pop music's best-compensated scourges.

After the first two singles of his new album, Amusement Park and Straight to the Bank, failed to ignite, he pushed back the release date of his new album, Curtis, his namesake. (He was born Curtis Jackson.) Then he tried again, with I Get Money and finally Ayo Technology, which sits at Number 20 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.

Make no mistake: Curtis isn't some corporate-rap train wreck. Even when he rhymes mischievously about his lucrative investment in Vitamin Water, 50 Cent seems less like a suave chief executive and more like a mischievous member of the brat pack.

Despite everything, his mush-mouthed delivery is still charming, and so are his endless provocations. In Fully Loaded Clip, he chuckles at high-profile couples. And Come & Go, a thumping collaboration with Dr. Dre, describes something more efficient than casual sex.

As usual, 50 Cent front-loads the album with snarling threats and vignettes. Also as usual, the shoot 'em ups exist mainly to add context to the sex songs and club tracks. All of Me, an elegant duet with Mary J. Blige, almost makes up for Follow My Lead, a snoozy one with Robin Thicke.

50 Cent has already challenged Kanye West to a sales battle and no doubt he has more tricks up his sleeve.

It's a battle that will go down as the day the nerd fought the bully, soulful hip-hop fought gangster rap and good fought evil all at once.

West, the college dropout has matured on his third album of synth and sample-driven hip-hop, to mixed results.

Graduation is not just West's third album, it's another journey in sound that takes him from 1980 to 2080 via Daft Punk samples, anime porn, and glitch-in-the-matrix Max Headroom sound effects.

However, as West raps on Graduation, it's also what made him successful. Over the simplest boom-baps, piano strums, and scratches from DJ Premier, West raps, I never rocked a mink coat in the wintertime like Killa Cam/Or rocked some pink boots in the summer time like Will.i.am./Let me know if you feel him, man/Cuz everything I'm not made me everything I am.

West carved out his own soulful sound on his debut, 2004's The College Dropout then sought Brion to add richness to it on his follow-up, Late Registration. DJ Toomp adds the same accent marks to Graduation, overdosing on synths to give the album the futuristic feel that was West's aim.

The album has flaws with recycled tracks like Bittersweet, a song with John Mayer that was meant for Late Registration but didn't fit the sound, and Homecoming, on which West takes a song from a four-year-old mix-tape and awkwardly rides heavy drums and piano taps with Martin replacing John Legend on the hook.

But on the whole, Graduation reaffirms the notion that West doesn't duplicate sounds. Every album's a new adventure.

This one deserves a Grammy for its marketing alone - big pre-release fluff pieces in all the national papers and mags, a refused-visa backstory, tonnes of online-generated street buzz, and the coup de grace: a price so low it's almost cheaper to buy the thing whole instead of just downloading the good songs.

Then there's the fantastic first 2 minutes in which the Sri Lankan-British rapper channels Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner. It's a loaded way to start a futuristically inclined album, considering the song's importance at the birth of UK punk in 1976.

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