by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & SAD 4TH ESTATE OF AFFAIRS
Did the last cover of Rolling Stone piss you off? It infuriated me. The one with Kanye West and 50 Cent staring each other down. I couldn't have been angrier at a magazine if it were Nazi Pedophile Jaywalking Litterers Monthly (though the previous RS, with a half-naked Zac Efron on the cover, came close).
I haven't trusted Rolling Stone as a harbinger of music taste since, like, ever. Irrelevant as it gets, though, the magazine is still undeniably a symbol of the counter-culture, and I want the damn thing to avoid trumped-up rap-beef marketing ploys. (Ye and 50 are on separate labels owned by the same parent company, Universal. Kanye took 50's advice in making "Stronger" his first single; 50 covers Kanye songs. They're friendly acquaintances, not bitter rivals. The two album releases, originally scheduled to drop weeks apart, were both moved to Sept. 11. The rappers immediately began trading barbs about which album would sell better, and a media frenzy was born.)
The winner was never in doubt. On release day, Ye's "Stronger" was at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 song chart and had been in the Top 10 for seven weeks; 50's wack "AYO Technology" had been floundering in the high teens. The result is unsurprising: Kanye outsold 50 easily. There's no story. there never was. The hype was groundless. Even half-assed rap fans knew it.
Hype is still hype, though, and it works the same for magazines as for record labels. Buying into the hype means Rolling Stone sells more issues, just as creating hype through a fake beef sells more records. As long as I can remember, Rolling Stone has been behind the times. With the beef cover and the Efron cover, they've become the poster child for how cynical, self-serving and disingenuous the media have become.