'Graduation' beats 'Curtis' for top spot

Kanye West not only won last week’s head-to-head competition with 50 Cent, the rapper-producer-songwriter posted the highest one-week sales mark in 2½ years.

The pair combined to generate the biggest sales week ever for two debuting albums.

West’s “Graduation” (Roc-A-Fella) sold 957,000 copies in its first week, the highest total since March 2005, when 50 Cent’s “The Massacre” sold 1.1 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

The Sept. 11 showdown found 50 Cent’s “Curtis” (G-Unit/Interscope) at No. 2 with 691,000 sold and Kenny Chesney’s “Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates” (BNA/Sony BMG Nashville) in third, selling 387,000.

The week was the first in which two albums by different artists have topped 600,000 in sales. Guns N’ Roses released two albums on the same day in 1991 that sold more than 600,000; those numbers were easily topped.

West’s album also set a record for digital sales, moving 132,000 album downloads to top Maroon 5’s 102,000 mark, for “It Won’t Be Soon Before Long,” set earlier this year. His single “Stronger” has been the No. 1 downloaded track at iTunes for seven weeks.

“Graduation,” West’s third album, is his second chart-topper; all three of his discs have topped the R&B chart. Album also debuted at No. 1 in the U.K., Canada and Japan.

Both albums were released by labels within the Universal Music Group, giving the distrib a record 50.9% current market share — marking the first time a record company has ever been responsible for half the sales of all current music sold. UMG also posted a company record 49.67% digital album market share.

During the week of release, West made in-store appearances in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles and TV appearances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Ellen” and the Emmy Awards. Third single from the disc, “Good Life,” has just been released.

The top four albums in the country — the “High School Musical 2″ soundtrack was right behind the three debuts, selling 133,000 — sold a combined 2.2 million copies, which is more than all of last week’s top 200.

While 50 Cent and West were trading barbs, Chesney kicked off the fall concert series on “Good Morning America” and appeared on “The View” and “The Late Show With Conan O’Brien.”

Chesney, in a statement, hinted that hip-hop albums take heavy hits after their debut weeks, while country music has staying power in the sales department.

“I think the music will do the talking for me in the long run — and I know that our albums tend to keep selling week after week after week,” he said.

Only other debuts in the top 50 belonged to Hollywood Records soundtrack “Grey’s Anatomy Vol. 3,” which sold 27,000 (No. 16); Trisha Yearwood’s “Greatest Hits” (MCA Nashville), 22,000 (No. 22); and B5’s “Don’t Talk Just Listen,” 19,000 (No. 27).

Despite the record numbers, album sales slumped 9% to 9.2 million sold vs. the same week last year, when 10.1 million albums were scanned.

Last week’s VMAs on MTV provided significant sales spikes for Timbaland’s “Presents Shock Value” (up 43% to 27,000 sold), Rihanna’s “Good Girl Gone Bad” (up 28% to 26,000) and Gym Class Heroes’ “As Cruel as School Children” (up 32% to 5,000).

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