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50 Cent loses his bet – but vows to go on anyway

How much do you want to bet that when a certain rap megastar vowed recently to retire if his latest album ended up being outsold by a rival's he was really just blowing bubbles? No celebrity with millions in future earnings at stake could be so foolish. More than half a dollar says it was fakery and posturing.

Well, very soon we will know. The artist was 50 Cent, whose third album, Curtis, came out last Tuesday, the same day that his sparring partner, Kanye West, put out his latest CD, Graduation. The pledge, first made on a hip-hop web site, seemed simple and watertight. If Kanye's record outsold his in the first week of sales, 50 Cent would quit.

"If Kanye West sells more records than 50 Cent on September 11, I'll no longer write music," he proclaimed on SOHH.com. "I'll write music and work with my other artists, but I won't put out any more solo albums." You can't get much clearer than that.

Five days into that first week and it seems that Mr Fifty should be expecting his gold watch any day now. According to Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales, it is the Kanye horse that is way out front. As of last night, his latest offering had outsold 50's by about 125,000 copies.

What happens next is either supremely important or entirely uninteresting depending on your level of attachment to the rap genre. These are two of the highest selling artists in the entire industry today. On the other hand, even fans of rap may take the view that the spat between Kanye and 50 Cent is best ignored as nothing more than an ill-disguised exercise in hype.

Both men have become very practised at generating noise beyond their singing. Mr West managed to make a spectacle of himself at last week's MTV Music Video Awards by storming out and vowing never to return after being nominated but passed over for a gong. Are they embarrassing themselves? Not according to Jonathan Cohen, senior editor at Billboard magazine, who said this of West's outburst: "These tantrums, these outlandish comments, they don't really hurt him. If anything, they've got more people interested in what he's all about."

50 Cent will nonetheless need to engage in some nifty back-pedalling soon unless things turn around for him before Tuesday. Listen closely, and you will see that he has already started grouching about his own label for bungling the promotion of Curtis, and suggesting that West's record company has been manipulating the sales numbers.

"To be honest, the process of selling this record hasn't been fun," he commented. "I'm happy with the performance, but I'm not happy with the set-up. It was the label. They're dropping the ball all over the place. I'll release my next album and then I'm a free agent."

Those don't sound like the words of someone preparing to quit the business. In fact, he already has a number of songs recorded which will go into the next album, which even has a name, Self-Destruct. It may or may not be the last he makes with his label, Interscope.

The truth behind the theatre is that 50 Cent's third record may not be as good as some expected and the singer knows it. The first few singles released in the spring and early summer fizzed on the radio dial and the record company then pushed back the album's release by several months.

"It has just not been a good run-up to this record for him," says Cohen.