With Kanye West’s “Graduation” (Def Jam) having trumped 50 Cent’s “Curtis” (G-Unit/Interscope) in debut week sales, Def Jam honchos Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Jay-Z are celebrating. But they acknowledge West’s numbers (957,000) were bolstered by the competition, and that another sales war is not in their plans.
“We all know that the battle was a one-off,” Jay-Z tells Billboard. “That’s not a template on how to do business. We know that we have challenges ahead of us [in regards to the industry’s downturn] but we also know that the consumption of music is at an all-time high as well.”
For his part, Reid is “really optimistic about the state of the industry. When you look at these numbers, if I add in [West’s] catalog sales, he’s sold 1 million records in one week. That seemed to be a thing of the past and everyone had written it off, saying that people no longer bought albums in these numbers.”
50 Cent was gracious in defeat. “I am very excited to have participated in one of the biggest album release weeks in the last two years,” he said in a statement released to the Associated Press. “Collectively, we have sold hundreds of thousands of units in our debut week. This marks a great moment for hip-hop music, one that will go down in history.”
Both executives maintain Def Jam didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to promote “Graduation.” And both agree that West’s music was the catalyst for the album’s meteoric sales.
“The No. 1 reason for the success was Kanye’s genius [and] No. 2 was the music and the videos,” says Reid. “The one thing I know for a fact is that when I listen to the record, it’s amazing.”
West’s camp is currently choosing the album’s next single, which Jay-Z says is between his favorites “I Wonder,” “Champion” and “Flashing Lights.” West’s Glow in the Dark tour will most likely begin in early spring, and Jay-Z is considering appearing on spot dates.
As for what Def Jam’s artist roster can learn from West’s success, Jay-Z suggests it’s all about creativity. “Artistry wins,” says Jay-Z. “If you’re going to emulate something, then emulate art. Because you can emulate a record or a trend, but that doesn’t win at the end of the day.”
Jay-Z went on to say that 50 Cent hit a misstep when he focused too narrowly on his previous sales and not on his current songs.
“50, in his arguments, focused on his numbers and sales,” says Jay-Z. “Kanye focused on making the best art that he could make at that time. He wanted to go with ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ and ‘Stronger,’ and those records worked in two different markets to perfection — 10 out of 10.”