Poets & Pirates
Here's the real reason Kanye is winning: singles don't sell albums albums anymore. Sure, Kanye has dropped bigger singles than 50 this time out, but I suspect that has very little to do with why he's selling records. It's because he's presented himself as an artist. It's an image thing. Both 50 and Kanye are arrogant rap divas who make pop music, but Kanye does it under the auspices of creativity. 50 Cent presents himself as a businessman first.
Those who interpret yesterdays sales results as a triumph for positive, creative conscious rap over the evil gangsta mass marketed ringtone contingent fail to realize that the supporters of the later category weren't even coming out to the polls. Those heads haven't bought an album in years. Hell many of them have probably never bought an album in their life (poor kids). Having spent most of the past year working in a record store, I can definitively say that nobody under the age of 19 is buying physical albums anymore. But you already knew that.
On the other hand the type of people who are still buying albums have a knee jerk aversion to this ringtone model, and this is why album oriented, old head rap - Kanye, UGK, Common - has consistently charted so highly this year, regardless of quality. Just the other day, a friend of mine who has never purchased a UGK album to date, but has always enjoyed their singles said something to the effect of "maybe I should buy that new UGK because I don't think I will be buying any other albums in 2007." The album oriented rapper appeals to the listener who feels abandoned by the industry, but retains a desire to support hip hop, even in the face of complete indifference. Sales haven't risen dramatically for these artists but their numbers have proven noticeably resilient to the drop that has affected their "shallow" counterparts. As a pop artist and not just a pop artist Kanye is able to work both sides of this crowd (of course a highly publicized feud with a rap supervillain didn't hurt his sales either).
For the time being this is a win win situation. Fans of disposable pop and club rap can still cop that 99 cent itunes jump off and do youtube dances while labels, run by the same change fearing old heads, will hopefully recognize this trend and put more of a promotional emphasis on the album oriented rapper. At least for a few years, until the best and brightest of the LED rap generation become the label execs. So, by my calculations, you (I'm talking to you, Sickamore) got roughly ten years to make the next Illmatic. Let's get it!