Kanye West and 50 Cent

Kanye West vs. 50 Cent

It's the first great rock battle of the year: Kanye West vs. 50 Cent. Both rappers have new albums coming out on the same day, so Jim and Greg will pit the hip hop heavyweights up against one another to see who comes out on top.

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Music News

Each week there are more and more news stories about the failings of the music industry and labels having financial troubles. This week's victim is Bertelsmann, the largest media company in Europe. The German-based company reported a $69 million loss due to legal settlements over the funding of music-downloading service Napster. In 2004, in an effort to stay ahead in the growing digital industry, Bertelsmann invested in the file-sharing company. But, shortly thereafter, the other major music labels sued Napster for copyright infringement. Now Bertelsmann is paying the price.

It's clear that the industry's old model is dying though, and two music veterans think they have the solution. Jim and Greg discuss the much talked-about profile of Rick Rubin in last week's New York Times Magazine. Rubin, who co-founded Def Jam and launched the careers of artists like The Beastie Boys and Slayer, was recently appointed the co-head of Columbia Records. In the article, writer Lynn Hirschberg talks to Rubin about how he plans to save Columbia, and possibly the entire music business. In addition to implementing a subscription-based music service, the crux of Rubin's grand scheme is to put the focus back on quality and back on quality and the art. Jim and Greg completely agree that the key to pleasing music consumers is having better music, but they question Rubin's role as tastemaker. The man has had a golden ear at times, but, as Jim explains, he's also produced a lot of "crap."

Another music man who commented on the state of the union is Creation Records founder Alan McGee. In a blog in the UK newspaper The Guardian, McGee proclaims that consumers don‘t want to pay for music at all anymore. Period. He recommends that labels invest in the scope of an artist’s career and focus on making money through ticket sales and merchandise, not small worthless discs.

In more news about the money-making of music, BMI announced record-setting royalty distributions to the tune of $732 million. But, while the music performing right organization is reporting its success, another is seeking more funds. Earlier this summer ASCAP announced that it has filed 26 separate infringement actions against nightclubs, bars and restaurants in 17 states. Jim and Greg are curious about the goal of the crackdown, which seems to focus on the little guy. First they talk to Vincent Candilora, ASCAP's vice president and director of licensing. Mr. Candilora explains that ASCAP doesn‘t desire filing lawsuits, but that the organization wanted to remind people that there are laws against playing copyrighted music without a license, whether the song is recorded or performed, and whether the venue is large or a dive bar. He realizes that most of these establishments aren’t specifically music venues, but compares paying for the right to play music to paying for the right to serve parsley; it's not something you order off a menu, but it's something that's included in a business' operating cost.

Mike Miller, owner of the bar Delilah's on the north side of Chicago, gives the other perspective. He explains that as a music fan and a supporter of the local music community, he is totally happy to do his part and pay licenses to all three performing rights organizations. But, Mike is dubious about how his payments get disseminated. He also questions the effectiveness of such lawsuits, and wonders if ASCAP can do something better to support individual musicians and the community-at-large.

review

50 Cent

Curtis Jim and Greg review two of the biggest releases of the year this week starting with Curtis from 50 Cent. This is the third album for the Dr. Dre protégé, who has been very vocal about his violent, drug-filled past. In fact, on this album, he isn't vocal about anything else. Jim is completely disappointed in the rapper's creativity and calls him a“cartoon character.”Greg also hoped for more from the man who many thought would fill the shoes left by the Notorious B.I.G. He finds 50 Cent's delivery deadpan, joyless and obnoxious. One track in particular, "Straight to the Bank," made Greg want to stick needles in his ears. We'd say that warrants a double Trash It.

reviewGraduationGraduation available on iTunes

Kanye West Graduation

Another album to be released on the same day as Curtis is Graduation from Kanye West. 50 Cent has publicly challenged West in the sales department, but when it comes to the music, Jim and Greg think there's no contest. The rapper/producer's third album and“dissertation”shows that not only has he grown as a rapper, but also as a producer. Jim calls the album a smorgasbord of sounds and a departure from the traditional Kanye West soul sample formula. He thinks Graduation is musically brilliant, and definitely recommends listeners Buy It. Greg is also impressed with this album. Kanye is an innovator sonically, but also demonstrates a complexity in his lyrics. Where 50 Cent denies he has any weaknesses, Kanye broadcasts them. This is evident in the album's closing track, "Big Brother," which Greg calls one of the best songs Kanye has ever done lyrically. He also gives Graduation a Buy It.

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reviewNaturalNatural available on iTunes

The Mekons Natural

The final album up for review is less high-profile, but no less worth your time according to Jim and Greg. Leeds-born, Chicago-based band The Mekons have a new album out called Natural. Pioneers and survivors of England's punk era, the Mekons have been making music together for thirty years now, and for this effort they gathered in the English countryside to record. You can hear this“natural”approach in the live sound of the record. This also accounts for the album's accessibility despite many of the songs' dark themes. Greg calls Natural one of the band's bleakest albums, but also one of the prettiest. Jim agrees that the record is gorgeous, and not off-putting. If you are new to the Mekons, this is as good a place to start as any. Both critics give Natural a Buy It.

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Greg

“Train Kept A-Rollin'”Johnny Burnette Rock 'N Roll Trio

The Mekons' 30-year run is an impressive one, especially when you consider that the dominant story in rock is one of instant and fleeting fame. An example of this is the Johnny Burnette Rock 'N Roll Trio, the band behind Greg's Desert Island Jukebox pick this week. The Memphis trio comprised of the Burnette brothers and their friend Paul Burlison only had one recording session in the mid-'50s, but for that brief period they were all the rage. Johnny Burnette was Elvis and then some, and Burlison had a completely unique and groundbreaking guitar style. You can hear this on the song "Train Kept A-Rollin'," a Tiny Bradshaw-penned tune, that has since been covered by everyone from Led Zeppelin to Aerosmith to Motörhead. But it's The Johnny Burnette Rock 'N Roll Trio version that deserves a slot in Desert Island Jukebox.

Featured Songs

  1. Paul Potts, Ness Un Dorma, Live on Britain's Got Talent, n/a, 2007
  2. Spinal Tap, Gimme Some Money, This is Spinal Tap, Polydor, 1984
  3. Modeselektor, Deboutonner, Happy Birthday!, BPitch Control, 2007
  4. Boards of Canada, Korona, Unreleased Track, n/a, 2007
  5. 50 Cent, Ayo Technology, Curtis, Universal, 2007
  6. 50 Cent, I'll Still Kill, Curtis, Universal, 2007
  7. 50 Cent, I Get Money, Curtis, Universal, 2007
  8. 50 Cent, Straight to the Bank, Curtis, Universal, 2007
  9. Kanye West, Good Morning, Graduation, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2007
  10. Kanye West, Flashing Lights, Graduation, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2007
  11. Kanye West, Big Brother, Graduation, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2007
  12. Kanye West, Champion, Graduation, Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam, 2007
  13. Mekons, Hope and the Anchor, Natural, Quarterstick, 2007
  14. Mekons, Dark Dark Dark, Natural, Quarterstick, 2007
  15. Johnny Burnette, The Train Kept A Rollin, Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio, Coral, 1956
  16. JR Writer, Xtacy, History in the Making, Entertainment One, 2006
  17. AC/DC, Hells Bells, Back in Black, Atlantic, 1980
  18. Jason & the Scorchers, Absolutely Sweet Marie, Fervor EP, EMI America, 1983
  19. Interpol, Untitled, Turn on the Bright Lights, Matador, 2002
  20. The Pixies, Bone Machine, Surfer Rosa, 4AD, 1988

Footnotes

bertelsmann.com Bertelsmann SE & Co. bloomberg.com Bertelsmann Posts First-Half Loss on Napster Charges nytimes.com Rick Rubin: The Music Man, Lynn Hirschberg's NY Times profile time.com Rick Rubin profile in the Time 100 defjam.com Def Jam Records columbiarecords.com Columbia Records bbc.co.uk Alan McGee: The alternative music man, BBC profile guardian.co.uk Alan McGee:“No one wants to pay for music anymore” guardian.co.uk The Guardian bmi.com BMI marketwire.com BMI Announces Record-Setting Royalty Distributions of $732 Million to Songwriters, Composers and Music Publishers marketwire.com ASCAP Initiates Infringement Actions Against Establishments Performing Copyrighted Music Without Permission ascap.com ASCAP delilahschicago.com Delilah's club in Chicago 50cent.com 50 Cent mtv.com Notorious B.I.G. hiphopmusicdotcom.com“Straight to the Bank”music video guardian.co.uk Bling for your supper: Hip-hop stars go into battle over the future of a stuttering genre metrolyrics.com“Big Brother”lyrics mekons.de The Mekons touchandgorecords.com Natural album info allmusic.com Paul Burlison allmusic.com Johnny Burnette allmusic.com“Train Kept A-Rollin'”