Curtis, the million-selling third album released by dominant ’00s rapper 50 Cent, will likely primarily go down in hip-hop history for being a loser.
As remembered by no shortage of fans and critics today (Sept. 11) on the 10th anniversary of the album’s release, the album was involved in a high-profile, much-hyped — perhaps by no one more than 50 himself — first-week sales battle, in which the rapper set his sights on Kanye West’s third LP Graduation and claimed he would retire if Yeezy’s set outsold his own in its opening frame. 50’s hubris proved misplaced, as Graduation sold 957,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen Music — career-best sales for West at that point, out-pacing his foe (Curtis sold 691,000 in its first week) by over a quarter-million and serving as his unofficial coronation as the hottest MC in the game.
Of course, 50 didn’t actually retire from music at that point, and he wrote off the L as an everybody-wins exercise in proto-viral marketing. But the man born Curtis Jackson’s career never quite recovered — his moment in the limelight had seemingly passed, with Kanye’s global, genre-blurring, masculinity-redefining artistry pointing the way more towards hip-hop’s next decade, as Jackson’s defiantly New York-based, more tradition-based rap model appeared quickly outdated. 2009 follow-up Before I Self Destruct failed to sell a million copies or spawn a true crossover hit, and his musical career only faded from there.
Because of the place Curtis holds in 50’s career arc, it could be concluded that the album was a failure, a flop that proved how quickly the musical world was passing him by. But such reductive remembrances would discredit what was, in its own right, a smash hit LP — for one week, at least.
Consider that the album’s first-week numbers of 691,000 units sold — before streaming equivalent albums and track equivalent units (SEA & TEA) were accounted for in Billboard‘s album-sales accounting — would make it, fairly easily, the best-selling single week of 2017. In terms solely of traditional album sales, the album would nearly double 2017’s best performer: Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., which moved 353,000 copies in its first week. Even accounting for SEA & TEA, Curtis would still top this year’s tally, beating the 603,000 total equivalent album units moved by DAMN. in its opening frame.
Of course, a decade ago, album sales were more robust across the board; even with equivalent album units added to Billboard‘s calculations, 2017 can’t really compete with 2007 in terms of best-sellers. But even by 2007 standards, Curtis‘ first-week numbers were impressive — including Graduation, only three albums bowed with better numbers in ’07, the other two being Alicia Keys’ junior effort As I Am (742,000) and Eagles’ long-awaited comeback double-LP Long Road Out of Eden (711,000).
And as far as first-week “losers” go, Curtis remains in a class of one. In the entire Nielsen Music era (where the firm began electronically tracking sales in 1991), no album has ever posted stronger opening numbers than its 691,000 and not debuted at No. 1 on the chart.
In total, the album did still represent a downturn for 50 Cent: The set’s first week was still off the mark set by the debut weeks of his first two albums, 2003’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (872,000 copies) and 2005’s The Massacre (1.14 million, sold in its first charting tracking week, which was only four days of sales, because the album’s release was pushed forward). And Curtis‘ overall sales — 1.4 million to date — were similarly underwhelming by 50’s standards: His sophomore set, The Massacre, has sold 5.4 million while his major label debut effort, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, has moved 8.5 million. (Critical appraisal was no more favorable: Jackson saw his scores on review-aggregating site Metacritic slip from 73% to 66% to 58% over his first three LPs.)
Nonetheless, if nothing else, the blockbuster debut week of Curtis shows just what a lofty perch 50 Cent was operating from back in 2007. Even if the set marked the beginning of the end for his reign over ’00s hip-hop, he was still on a level of superstardom that few artists in hip-hop have ever reached: The kind where you can post the kind of sales figures 99% of the music world would sacrifice a vital organ to achieve, and still become a punchline as a result.