Don't hold your breath waiting for 50 Cent to retire.
Sure, the trash-talking MC may have uttered what seemed like famous last words, vowing to hang up his mike if Kanye West's "Graduation" were to outsell 50's third album, "Curtis," in their first week of release. Now, just days after both CDs went on sale -- and a month after his challenge began generating a din of promotional hype -- Nielsen SoundScan has tallied the albums' early returns, putting West on pace to best 50 by about 125,000 copies by Tuesday.
But a closer reading of 50's original invitation to throw down, taken with comments the Queens, N.Y.-born rapper made in an interview with The Times just before "Curtis" was released, makes it clear that even if the sum of all of 50 Cent's fears were to materialize, rap fans -- and haters -- probably haven't heard the last from hip-hop's most diss-prone MC.
Since August, media scrutiny has focused on only one part of the commitment 50 made on the hip-hop website SOHH.com: "If Kanye West sells more records than 50 Cent on Sept. 11, I'll no longer write music. I'll write music and work with my other artists, but I won't put out any more solo albums."
But even with his future solo output seeming to hang in the balance, little attention has been paid to 50's opt-out clause -- his promise to quit only if certain terms and conditions are met.
"And I bet this, when Kanye West's sales come in, he's gonna have a 70% decrease [the second week] 'cause Def Jam is gonna buy records to keep him closer to 50 Cent," he continued. "So watch the first week and then watch the second week. Watch his . . . drop off the planet. We keep our angles covered before we make a decent bet."
In a conversation with The Times, the rapper confirmed that a steep second-week sales drop for "Graduation" is a central part of his challenge. That would be evidence, 50 said, that West's record company, Island Def Jam, had been using some kind of market manipulation to artificially boost West's first-week numbers.
"I think the perception on some levels would be that Kanye West is generating more interest than 50 Cent regardless of actual record sales," 50 said. "He's never had a fraction of the sales 50 Cent has. So when you see him come out and it's like they were close? They could have one scan and have it count four times."
In fact, West's personal best came in 2005 with opening sales of 860,000 for his album "Late Registration." 50's first-week benchmark is 1.14 million for 2005's "The Massacre."
Billboard magazine's director of charts, Geoff Mayfield, took some of the air out of 50 Cent's market-rigging theory, explaining that safeguards are in place to prevent the kind of chart manipulations 50 worries about.
Further, 50 Cent says he plans to release another solo CD next year. The rapper has 12 songs in the can he recorded before he challenged West. That album, his final release under his contract with Interscope Records, titled "Before I Self Destruct," is due in 2008.