''Graduation'' may have outsold ''Curtis,'' but both rappers are laughing straight to the bank

By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Updated October 01, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

After weeks of trash talking from both corners, Kanye West has knocked out rival 50 Cent on the charts. West’s Graduation sold 957K copies, easily beating 50’s Curtis (691K) as well as Kenny Chesney’s Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates (387K) in the first week after their shared Sept. 11 release.

Each of those debuts ranks among the year’s best, and West reaped the highest first-week total since 50 Cent’s own The Massacre, which bowed with 1.14 million in 2005. ”It shows that with the right music, you can do some serious damage,” says Shawn ”Jay-Z” Carter, CEO of West’s label, Def Jam. Island Def Jam Music Group chairman Antonio ”L.A.” Reid agrees: ”I hope people notice that even in bad market conditions, great music sells.” Kanye’s cross-genre appeal only helped, adds Roy Trakin, a senior editor at trade magazine Hits: ”If this were a political campaign, you’d say he’s the center.” Indeed, West’s ”Stronger” claimed No. 2 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart; of 50’s four singles, only ”Ayo Technology” has reached its top 20.

So will 50 actually retire from recording, as he promised in the event of a rout? Not likely — he retracted that ultimatum days after making it. (”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.) Besides, he ultimately profited from the PR blitz surrounding the face-off. ”Both numbers [would have been] lower if they weren’t on the same day,” says Jay-Z. Billboard charts director Geoff Mayfield warns that this battle isn’t quite over: ”The big story will be if [West and 50] can be meaningful sellers throughout the holiday season.”