Thursday, August 23, 2007

Kenny Chesney: September 11 Spoiler

Rap bloggers are a strange bunch. They (we?) follow and speculate on the personal and professional lives of twenty-to-thirty artists. They link to stories about those artists and circulate relevant mp3s. Generally, their opinions vacillate between "dude is nice" and "shit is garbage." There are two things most of the sites lack:

a) Originality of thought- Everyone covers the same topics and recycles the same tracks to each other. Little thought is put into the writing, and less time is dedicated to actually forming an argument. Most of the politics of the site have to do with where it's based: If the blogger is writing from New York, he's a 50 Cent dick-rider and so on.
b) Frame of reference- Rap bloggers are experts on hip-hop, and it's often at the expense of being an expert--or even being vaguely familiar with--anything else in the world. Their sites--which I frequent and like, which are way more successful than this one--are part of a pretty insular universe.

Because of a, most hip-hop blogs are embroiled in 50 Cent-Kanye West battles, guessing who will sell more records on their September 11 showdown and supporting/discrediting each artist.

Because of b, it's not surprising that no one in the hip-hop blogosphere is picking up the news item that Kenny Chesney has pushed back his album Just Who I Am: Poets and Pirates to, yep, September 11, and that it's very likely the September 11 album sales will look like this:


"Oh, hey. I didn't see you there. I was busy chillaxin' on the private island I bought with all my record sales. Also, I don't own any shirts with sleeves."


"Ten years, man!" (Fuck you if you don't get that.)


"What? Yayo just wasn't cutting it anymore. Springfield, what up? G-g-g-g-g-g-g-Unit!"

It's a shame. All those major news outlets are going to have to throw away their pre-made "Twin Towers" headlines.

Thus far, Kanye has wisely let Curtis shoot himself in the foot. 50--please enunciate instead of doing that white person thing where they say "fiddy" leisurely, as if someone has done that since 2003--has, in a series of ego-stroking videos, stated that he won't release any more albums if Kanye beats him. When his Robin Thicke single leaked, he allegedly trashed his office. He even told MTV they could "suck his dick" because he came in eighth in some irrelevant "Hottest MC's List." In recent interviews, he has already begun to make excuses for a potential loss, claiming that Def Jam will buy up enough of Graduation for it to be number one. And we all know that, with one notable Def Jam exception, Interscope has a much longer history of doing that. Right now he's at Michael Jackson levels of paranoia and self-aggrandizing. Of course, by reiterating on several occasions that album sales are his only measure of success, he has put all the pressure on himself.

West, on the other hand, has just said it's going to be a good day for hip-hop, comparing it to September 29, 1998, when Vol. 2- Hard Knock Life and Aquemini dropped on the same day.

That's not necessarily true though. If Kanye paces first that week--he'll probably need in excess of 900,000 to do so--Curtis will sully the win by calling foul. Kanye would not only need to win handily in week one, he would need to stay ahead for the next few weeks; otherwise Curtis will point to weeks two and three to show that he has more staying power. Curtis is such an insecure, detestable sellout that a win won't even be worth it.

I wanted to add another 50 picture here, but the bottom line is that Kanye takes much better photos. Even a below-average Kanye photo is funnier than a Curtis one.

If 50 Cent wins, then nothing really happens. He'll get to brag about it for the next year or so.

Enter Kenny Chesney. Here's a guy who has released nine platinum albums--one going six-times platinum and four of which sold four million plus--and even his live album last year sold a million. This compared with Kanye's Late Orchestration, which couldn't even get a US release. Additionally, Chesney currently has a number one single on the country charts (which is more than either Kanye or 50 can say for the hip-hop charts), and he has raked in more money in live shows than any other artist of the past three years. Looking at it objectively, especially factoring in that his audience is much more likely to buy a CD than Kanye or 50 Cent fans, he should be seen as the favorite in this race. He even threw his (stupid) hat into the ring this week when he said: "It's funny how with every record that comes out, we're aware of the urban [competition], and none of those acts acknowledge that I exist. Until I have that number one debut on the Top 200.''

Normally, I would welcome this kind of circumvention of people's expectations, a little chaos in a predictable world. I doubt 50 Cent even knows who Kenny Chesney is, so it would be hilarious if he self-promoted so much only to lose it all to someone other than Kanye. But I'm really not looking forward to reading article-after-article about how hip-hop is in a hopeless sales slump and how the two biggest rappers in the world couldn't beat "some country guy" (that "some country guy" being one of the most popular artists of the decade). The racial implications about downloading are going to resurface too. What no one will blame the poor sales on is the real answer, that hip-hop is out-of-fucking-touch. So out-of-touch that it's unaware it's losing its cultural reach.*

The reason September 11 is such a big deal in the first place is that these are the only two bankable hip-hop artists whose albums will be worth a damn sales-wise. And--obvi--the emphasis on sales is ignoring the real problem, that the true pissing contest in music is who is more culturally relevant and whose music has more influence on his listeners. The real question is and always should be: whose music is better and whose music will stand the test of time? The fact that I feel the need to remind people of that is pretty telling.

I'll admit that even I have gotten caught up in stuff like who has more iTunes downloads. ("Stronger" at #2 versus "Ayo Technology" at #19?) I like getting angry when 50 Cent says stuff like, "Nobody is in my league. You go outside America, nobody knows who Kanye or Lil' Wayne is. I can go right now to Japan and make more money than I can here."

But you know why Kenny Chesney will sell more and ultimately please his fans more? Why he's bigger across the world and middle America than Kanye or 50 Cent? Because he doesn't care. He's a musician and wants to make good music. He doesn't pander to his audience, and he hasn't built his career on fake competition. To borrow a phrase from the hip-hop bloggers who will be shocked by his dominance in a few weeks, he keeps it real.

Of course, if the High School Musical 2 soundtrack is still holding onto number one by then, I'll have to re-evaluate this argument completely.

50 Cent feat. Ludacris- "I Get Money (Remix)"
CRS (Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, and Pharrell)- "Us Placers"
Kenny Chesney- "Summertime" [This song is actually a fucking banger.]

* I don't mean to pick on Kanye here. I'm obviously a fan, and I think he's one of the only mainstream rappers actively trying to push the status quo. I'm investigating the importance even he places on sales.

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