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Behind the scenes: Kanye rises to the top

  • Story Highlights
  • Kanye West triumphs over 50 Cent in CD sales battle
  • West: "I feel good about being number one"
  • West celebrated at GQ 50th anniversary party
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Kanye West is not an artist who is known for his modesty.

West

Kanye West was all smiles at the GQ anniversary party after receiving the news his album had debuted at No. 1.

Listen to his current album, "Graduation," which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, besting 50 Cent's "Curtis" in a much ballyhooed face-off, and you're more likely to hear the sounds of chests being thumped than backs being patted.

But Tuesday evening at GQ's 50th-anniversary party at Cedar Lake, a club in Manhattan's popular Meatpacking District, West was surprisingly gracious.

"I feel bad about beating 50," he said, "but I feel good about being number one."

According to Nielsen SoundScan, West to date has sold more than 957,000 albums. Fifty, who has said that he'd retire from rap if West was victorious, sold 691,000 copies in the past week. Will 50 be heading to Shady Pines? His people would not "confirm or deny his retirement."

No matter. The GQ party was as much a celebration of the magazine's storied history as it was of West. "He's the perfect marriage between artistic integrity and mainstream," said GQ's editor Jim Nelson. Video Watch Kanye talk about how he'll celebrate »

Supermodel Cindy Crawford, who arrived solo in a silver micro-mini dress and matching pumps, gushed about the magazine and then quickly moved on to the 50-Kanye tiff. She remained neutral.

"I love both of them," she said, referring to the rappers. "I could never pick sides, but I heard Kanye kicked some serious butt. 50 shouldn't retire," she added. "We still love him."

West worked the red carpet in a white Calvin Klein suit and matching canvas sneakers. His fiancee, Alexis, opted for a curve-hugging black number that looked more befitting a dominatrix than a bride-to-be. As she quietly hovered in the background, West was showered with congratulations, hugs and handshakes, declarations of his genius and even a few who took to quoting his lyrics.

Earlier in the evening West reminisced about the days when he wasn't so beloved. After spending an entire summer perfecting his game, he tried out for his high school's basketball team. He made all of his shots, completed all of the drills, but was cut nevertheless. The coach told him he wasn't tall enough, the 5-foot-8 rapper recalled. "And I keep feeling like all these awards shows, it's just them telling me I'm not tall enough. It's like what else do you want me to do?"

He said some of his temper tantrums (the latest backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards), stem from that moment. They are less about his ego and more about his passion. "I play to win. I look at it like it's a sport, man. And all I'm doing is basically screaming at the refs," he said.

Jay-Z, the rapper turned Def Jam executive, said that Kanye's current success was owed to his obsessive work ethic. "There are 75 iterations of 'Stronger,' " he said, referring to West's current hit single. "There are 16 versions of the 'Good Life.' He cares more about the music than anyone."

In recent days 50 Cent has alleged that Island/Def Jam purchased albums to bolster West's sales. It's a charge that the label's CEO, L.A. Reid, vehemently denied shortly before posing for photos with West on the red carpet.

"This is a very clean and legitimate success," said Reid. Did he expect 50 to retire? "No, I expect him to go back into the studio and make a better album."

Moments later, hip-hop mogul P. Diddy sauntered down the red carpet, toothpick firmly in mouth, black Gucci loafers gleaming. Like Crawford, he refused to choose sides.

"I'm very political," he said, grinning slyly, "and this is a very emotional situation."

Ever the businessman, Diddy quickly launched into a sales pitch about his new women's fragrance, Unforgivable, which hits stores today. "I had so much success with my men's fragrance and the women were demanding their own fragrance, so I had to oblige them," he said.

He also had his own dares to make. In a video that was released to YouTube earlier in the day, he challenged Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Sarah Jessica Parker and any other female celebrity with a fragrance to a "scent off."

"I know mine will win," he said. "I'm going to invite all of them to my penthouse suite, and if any of their scents smell better than mine I'll take 'em shopping and they can run up my credit cards." As of yesterday, none of the ladies had obliged.

British crooner James Blunt, of "Beautiful" fame, was also ready for his own showdown. Blunt's sophomore album, "All the Lost Souls," was released on Tuesday and he joked that he was eager to take on 50 and Kanye. "I'm throwing my hat into the ring," he said. "I'm comfortable coming in from behind and if my album sells more than either of theirs this week, I will retire from the American music industry."

West hit the stage shortly after 11. He did not come alone. He was accompanied by a band, an elaborate string section, several back-up singers, a DJ, fog and a highly choreographed light show. He ran through his past hits ("Gold Digger") and current chart-toppers ("Stronger"), whipping the crowd of tastemakers, fashionistas, and celebrities like Beyonce into a frenzy.

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He danced. He freestyled. He thanked his fans profusely. Halfway through his show, he wiped his brow and paused for a brief moment of reflection.

"To be a true champion," he said, "You've got to take out a champion." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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