Kanye West Vs. J. Cole Showdown! Who Will Be The King Of June 18?
Tomorrow (June 18) marks the biggest hip-hop release date of the year to date, with Kanye West's Yeezus, J. Cole's Born Sinner, Mac Miller's Watching Movies WIth The Sound Off, and Statik Selektah's Extended Play all getting a ton of buzz, setting up a sales showdown that should rival any that have battled in the past half-decade. The buildup to the date has been a long time in the making, with Statik announcing his release date back in March, and J. Cole unveiling in early April that his sophomore album would drop June 25th. Mac Miller tweeted his June 18th date on May 2nd, which doubled as the same day that Kanye West cryptically tweeted "JUNE EIGHTEEN."
What followed was eerily similar to an event that consumed the hip-hop world nearly six years ago—J. Cole, feeling the pressure of an impending Kanye-inspired cultural event, moved his release date up a week to directly compete with Yeezus. It was a move that Kanye had used in 2007, bumping up the date of his third album, Graduation, to September 11th in order to go head-to-head with the then-reigning king of New York 50 Cent's third offering, Curtis. It was a showdown that sparked commentary and (seemingly) light-hearted smack talk from both sides, even earning a face-to-face cover of Rolling Stone and causing 50 to famously say that if Kanye outsold him, he'd retire from rap.
The rest, of course, is history—Kanye outsold 50, eventually winning Best Rap Album at the 2008 Grammys, and 50 didn't retire, but hasn't totally been the same since. Now, with both Yeezus and J. Cole's Born Sinner expecting big debuts—and with both having already leaked to the public—we take a look at both competitions, determine whether or not Born Sinner can emulate Kanye and pull the upset on Yeezus, and decide once and for all: who will be the King of June 18?—Dan Rys (@danrys) & Eric Diep (@E_Diep)
While in 2007 both Kanye and 50 were on their third releases, Yeezus now sees Kanye on his sixth album, while Born Sinner will count as J. Cole's second. However, all three rappers have seen almost universal success on each of their releases, with none of the three having albums that debuted lower than No. 2 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Check out the comparisons in first week sales below.
In just the six years that have elapsed since, of course, the ever-changing nature of the music industry has meant that sales figures are not what they have been, with Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV two years ago the most recent hip-hop album that has come close to the first-week sales of Graduation. Here are the previous sales results for Yeezy's first five albums, and Cole's debut in 2011.
Why Move Up The Release Date?
50 Cent versus Kanye West was the clash of the titans. The showdown was caused by both artists pushing their albums to September 11, which turned into a spectacle as the date came closer. For 50, he chose to move his date up because Curtis’ first two leaked singles—“Straight To The Bank” and “Amusement Park”—were not met with the greatest response. For West, Graduation had several releases dates, but was moved up from September 18 to compete with 50 Cent’s album because a face-off sounded like a good idea.
“This the only sport where people really going for that number one spot, and going for that moment, to be the most important, the most talked about, have the most freestyles, the most airplay, the most show dates,” ‘Ye said of their feud in 2007 to Rolling Stone. "I just wanna make a record that really embodies what people are going through.”
West continued to embrace their friendly competition. He felt that two hip-hop heavyweights releasing their album on the same day was huge. "I'd rather come out on a day like that, up against 50 — where people are excited about going to the stores and it's an event and people talk about it — and be #2 on that day rather than come out and be #1 on a day nobody cares about," West said in an interview with MTV News. "It's about things going down in history. It's not that much exciting stuff in hip-hop right now. I think people are going to make it more than what I'm making it myself. At the end of the day, I'm making music and I'm trying to sell."
J. Cole's second album has been in the works for a while now, and with his first, Cole World: Sideline Story, debuting at No. 1 in September 2011, the expectation was for his sophomore effort to follow suit. After announcing his original June 25th date back in early April—more than a month before Kanye made his announcement—it seemed like a done deal that Cole would return to the top of the charts. But then the word came: Yeezus season was set to kick off a week before, on June 18th, and Cole felt he was forced to react.
"I worked too hard to come a week later after Kanye West drops an amazing album," Cole told Billboard after pushing his date up to compete with Kanye. "It'd be like, 'Oh and J.Cole dropped too, a week later.' Nah. I'm going to go see him on that date. He's the greatest. So it's like, I'm a competitor by nature so it was instant, it wasn't even a thought."
Immediately, people set the date up as a battle of sorts, with the young guns lining up to take shots at one of the two occupants of The Throne. Cole, for one, wasn't shying away from the importance of his album's move. “I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about me, but it just put me in a situation where I was forced to just come see him on his date,” he told MTV News. “He hasn’t reached out yet [to me]. I’m sure maybe he’s heard, but I don’t know how he feels about it. But you know, it’s all respect.”
Though 50 Cent and West used the beef as a publicity tool, the G-Unit general made some outstanding claims that got his fans responding. Fif wasn’t threatened by West’s new release date—in fact—he raised the stakes. “If Kanye West sells more records than 50 Cent on September 11, I’ll no longer [perform] music. I’ll write music and work with my other artists, but I won’t put out any more solo albums.” It was a bold and confident claim that added fuel to the fire. While it was entertaining to hear 50’s boasts, ‘Ye was humble and looked at the brighter side of things.
"I think we push each other," Kanye told MTV at the time. "I feel I wouldn't have some of the tracks on my album if it wasn't for 50, and he wouldn't have some of the things he had if he wasn't up against me."
This time around was much different. With J. Cole continuing to talk up a showdown, West's camp remained silent, granting only one solitary interview to the New York Times in the buildup and not acknowledging the release date controversy or potential battle during the conversation. At his album listening party in Manhattan June 10th, Yeezy told the assembled crowd that the album was about "not giving any fucks at all," seemingly echoing his indifference to the J. Cole/June 18th conversation.
“Straight To The Bank,” “Amusement Park,” “I Get Money” and “Ayo Technlogy.” The latter was the highest-charting of his official singles, and peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 prior to the album's release.
"Stronger," “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “Good Life.” The former stood at No. 2 on the Hot 100 as the album was coming through the pipe (later reaching No. 1), and the latter was debuted over the ending credits on an episode of Entourage.
This go-around has been anything but standard, especially in comparison to the single/promo-fest that characterized the 2007 face-off.
Yeezy has not formally produced a single for Yeezus, though he did premiere "Black Skinhead" and "New Slaves" on SNL, and performed new material for the first time during his headlining set at Governors Ball in New York June 9th.
Only one official single has premiered from Born Sinner: "Power Trip" ft Miguel, which dropped on Valentine's Day and peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100/No. 5 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. It currently resides at No. 23/No. 6, and has maintained a steady, if unspectacular, position its entire time on the charts.
What Other Rappers Have To Say
With the media blitz spearheaded by 50 and Kanye dominating the headlines in 2007, there was almost no point in any others having a say. This time around, with Mac Miller dropping the same day and Wale keeping his release date steady at June 25, both were asked for comment on the showdown.
"His inspiration was Kanye," Wale told The Breakfast Club. "That’s not my inspiration. I like Kanye, but I’m not going to adjust what I was initially trying to do.” He continued, ”[Cole] told me a couple days before he was gonna do it, but I wasn’t going to be like, ‘Oh, can I come to y’all sandbox and play?!’ I’m straight where I’m at.”
“I’ll tell you who’s gonna have the best first week: Kanye West,” Mac told Sway Calloway on RapFix Live. “If some crazy thing happens, then maybe, but it’s Kanye West. He should have the best first week, but the first week isn’t really what matters.”
"[J. Cole]'s gonna sell more than Kanye, I'm tellin' y'all," said DJ Drama on his radio show. "I'm just saying, Kanye West doesn't have a single out... but J. Cole is very smart in doing what he did."
So, who will be the King when it all breaks down? Both albums have leaked, and both have generated a serious amount of buzz in terms of the artists' progression as rappers, producers and visionaries in the field of hip-hop. But with Billboard's industry sources chalking Yeezus up for a 500,000-selling first week, it seems improbable that J. Cole would be able to keep up. Then again, with Jay-Z re-entering the fray with last night's announcement that his new Magna Carta Holy Grail album is set for release the Fourth of July, the crown may not sit atop Kanye's head for very long. Kanye may have to keep watch over his shoulder if he's going to hang on to the Throne.