It seemed to come out of nowhere when the rapper Game accused fellow artist 50 Cent of being gay on Twitter on last week.
Game seems to be trying to spark some kind of beef while promoting his latest album RED by attempting to, well, beef up his album sales. But “beef marketing” needs to be synergistic to survive and Game is missing an important piece of the puzzle -- 50’s support.
Back in the day, the beef between Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace and Tupac Shakur, which ended with both men in the ground, proved that competition compelled consumers to purchase albums. Shakur’s catalog titles spiked by 332 percent overall following the week of his death, with two of his catalog titles spiking by over 1000 percent.
Their posthumous releases were even more successful. Shakur’s Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory sold 664,000 copies in its first week in November 1996. It entered sales charts at No. 1 and generated the second-highest debut week sales total for the year. In comparison, Shakur’s previous album, All Eyez on Me, sold 398,000 in its first week in the same year. By 2010, Don Killuminati had sold nearly 3.5 million copies.
“Anytime there is any publicity around a feud there is a boost in sales,” Dave Bakula, the senior Vice President of Analytics for Nielsen Entertainment which calculates album sales told me while I was working on a chapter about rap beef for my book, “Celebrity, Inc.” “It really comes down to the marketing machine. The more you get the word out there, the more you rally the fans to say I am a fan of this side or that side. Fans want to choose sides.”
The next major hip hop rivalry to follow Wallace and Shakur was between Jay-Z and Nas. Through their lyrical jousting, Jay and Nas also saw a bump in album sales. On his album, Stillmatic, released in December 2001, Nas implied that Jay-Z was gay. Stillmatic sold 343,000 copies in the first week, up from the 232,000 copies sold in the first week of Nas’ previous effort, Nastradamus, in 1999.
In 2002, New York radio station Hot 97 refused to allow Nas to reportedly show a "mock lynching" of Jay-Z on the stage during its Summer Jam festival. The rapper -- who denied the "lynching" reports -- instead appeared on the rival radio station, Power 105, and attacked the music industry’s control over hip hop.
And on and on it went.
Jay-Z attacked Nas on the next album, 2002's The Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse, dissing his street credibility, his stinginess and his spirituality. The beef raised sales for Blueprint 2 to the highest Jay-Z had experienced since 2000, selling 545,000 albums in its first week -- up from his prior album’s first week sales of 426,000.
In his next album, God’s Son, Nas again bit back by comparing himself and Jay-Z to characters in the movie “Scarface,” alleging Jay-Z was weak. But industry insiders believe rap consumers saw Jay-Z as the reigning king by the time God’s Son was released, which sold only 156,000 copies in the first week.
By the end of 2002, the feud had fizzled. Jay-Z won. The beef was over, but it had been successful for both parties.
Their successful feud showed the first rule of beef: Never beef bigger than you. The second rule of beef? Make sure everyone is on board.
You see, beef is a synergistic marketing tool. 50 Cent taught us that when he feuded with Kanye West over album sales in 2007. Remember when they went eyeball to eyeball on the cover of Rolling Stone and 50 claimed he would quit recording if Kanye outsold him?
In the first week, 50’s Curtis sold 691,000 albums, outstripping projected sales of 500,000 by a wide margin. West's album, Graduation, did significantly better than Curtis, selling 957,000 albums in its first week, up from his previous effort in 2005, Late Registration, which sold 860,000 albums during its first week. It was West’s best selling first week since his debut in 2004 and it beat out the first week sales for his subsequent two albums.
When it was all over, West didn’t seek to maintain the illusion that the beef between himself and 50 Cent was in any way real.
“It was a complete publicity stunt. It was my idea,” West told GQ magazine. “I knew it was going to take off as soon as we were going to come out on the same date … Think about it. You got the two biggest shit-talkers in rap history. There's no one in rap history for talking more s**t than me and 50. That's something I will stand on."
Because both rappers were in on the beef, they mutually increased sales. It was beef synergy at its very best. But without 50 on board this time around, Game doesn’t stand to benefit from his beefing.
“I think 50 was the best who ever did it, used beef as a part of his marketing but since then no one has been as good,” Jay-Z’s Senior Vice President for Marketing at Def Jam, Chris Atlas told me. “These new guys, they’ll get maybe 15 minutes of attention but they won’t become stars through beefs alone.”
Game has been down this road before with 50 in 2005 and it did not bode well for him then either. 50 had the last laugh. This latest gay beef will roll right off 50’s back about 15 minutes from now and won’t help Game sell many more albums.