9-11 column

September 14th, 2007

Kanye West or 50 Cent?

That’s the conflict Universal Music Group is pushing. The two A-list rappers released new albums Tuesday, “Graduation” and “Curtis,” respectively. They faced off, literally, on the cover of Rolling Stone.

For me, it’s a no brainer — Kanye, all the way (he won the first day, according to Reuters, over 100,000 units ahead of 50). But even if 50 leaves me less than enthusiastic, I understand rap fans who had Sept. 11 circled on their calendar for months, waiting for two of the highest profile hip-hop albums of the year.

I did the same thing — the last time Sept. 11 fell on a Tuesday, in 2001.

Two of my favorite recording artists had albums out — Ben Folds’ solo debut and They Might Be Giants’ first proper album in five years. Neither is nor was as high profile as Kanye or 50. A nerd rock face-off certainly isn’t as interesting as a rap feud, but I was pretty excited for both.

My plan was to swing by the CD Game Exchange in College Park after class and pick up both discs, which I’d reserved. I had tickets to see Folds at the 9:30 Club later that night.
Nineteen terrorists — some of whom were supposedly in College Park the night before — thought otherwise.

We could see the smoke at the Pentagon from the top of Byrd Stadium. News of the second tower’s collapse came in during my junior English class. A good portion of the University of Maryland student body comes from the greater New York area. It was an awful, awful day.

After class — most of which was spent, to the instructor’s credit, discussing the events and venting emotion — I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to go back to the dorms. I checked in with some friends. I stopped by the Diamondback offices, the student newspaper where I was a cartoonist. There, and all over campus, people were huddled around televisions and radios, watching the looped footage of the plane hitting the tower.

Maybe it was looking for some sense of normalcy, maybe it was pure selfishness, but I eventually picked up the albums, They Might Be Giants providing my soundtrack to the worst day in recent American history.

Folds’ concert was rescheduled for that Friday. I was expecting an emotional affair, full of acknowledgement and support, as was the case from many celebrities in the days after 9-11. Instead, he barely acknowledged the attacks.

Later, I read in an interview that he felt his job was to entertain and take people’s minds off the horrors of the week.

If only he kept to that credo. In the years — and political fallout — following 9-11, Folds and the Giants became increasingly politicized, resulting in some of their worst material.
For them, 9-11 was an unfortunate coincidence. For West and 50– maybe someone up the chain at Universal– it might have been part of a marketing plan.

I don’t mean to suggest that either rapper chose the date himself  for its historical significance or shock value. Lots of lesser-profile acts released discs on Tuesday, without much fanfare. Although, given West’s public proclamations (“George Bush doesn’t care about black people”), who knows?

West vs. 50 is the subplot, not the story. “Graduation” is among the best albums I’ve heard all year — focused, clever and thankfully without skits. He samples Elton John, raps over Daft Punk and duets with Coldplay’s Chris Martin. First single “Stronger” is irresistible — especially its video, an homage to “Akira.” Sure, West boasts his way through the songs, but the only thing greater than his ego is his talent.

But the real story is how Sept. 11 has become just another day.

Sept. 11, despite memorial services and special programming, was like any other Tuesday, where music fans headed out to pick up the latest discs from their favorite artists. 

Pop quiz: What’s the significance of Nov. 22?

If you’re from my generation, it’s probably just a date. But, for my parents, Nov. 22 will always be the Kennedy assassination. (Interestingly enough, the Beatles released “The White Album” five years, to the day, of that time in Dallas.) For my grandparents, Dec. 7 will always be Pearl Harbor.

But here’s the difference: with Sept. 11, the date has become the title of the event. 

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072.

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