Chart Watch

Week Ending July 20, 2008: Nas, The N-Word And Number One

Chart Watch

An untitled album by Nas debuts at #1 on The Billboard 200 chart. Nas originally planned to use the N-word as the album title, but ultimately decided not to go there.

Richard Pryor used the word in the titles of two mid-1970s comedy albums, That Nigger's Crazy and Bicentennial Nigger. Both albums reached the top 30 on the Billboard album chart. That Nigger's Crazy also spent four weeks at #1 on the R&B album chart and even won a Grammy for Best Comedy Recording.

Pryor was among the first African American artists to reclaim and repurpose that incendiary word. I'm repeating the word exactly as it appeared on his album covers, rather than attempt to rewrite history by using asterisks or dashes. The other titles in this discussion are also exactly as they appeared at the time.

N.W.A. debuted in 1988, its name an abbreviation for a phrase (Niggaz With Attitude) that is built around the N-Word. In 1991, the group's third full-length album was titled NIGGAZ4LIFE, though the title was shown as an inverse image on the cover (and on the charts) as EFIL4ZAGGIN. The album, which hit #1 in its second week on the pop chart, has sold 2,026,000 copies. In 1996, Yella, a member of N.W.A., bowed as a solo artist with One Mo Nigga Ta Go, which reached #82 on the pop chart.

In 1999, Ol Dirty Bastard had a big hit with N***a Please, which reached #2 on the R&B chart and #10 on the pop chart. Graffiti-style asterisks blunted the visual impact of the title to some degree, but the intent was clear. The album has sold a healthy 721,000 copies.

This is Nas' fourth #1 album, following It Was Written in 1996, I Am... in 1999 and Hip Hop Is Dead in 2006. (Nas was also a member of The Firm, a rap "supergroup" which hit #1 in 1997 with The Firm-The Album.) Only five other hip hop artists have amassed as many as four #1 albums. Jay-Z leads the field with 10. DMX and the late 2Pac have each had five. Beastie Boys, whose appeal bridges rap and alternative, and Eminem have each had four.

Nas bumps Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III to #2 after three weeks in the lead. This marks the second time in six weeks that rappers have held both of the top two spots. In June, Lil Wayne was backed up by Plies' Definition Of Real at #2.

Boffo Box-office: It was a record-setting weekend at the box-office, as you have no doubt heard. The soundtrack albums to the two movies that fared the best, The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia!, are also making noise on the album chart.

The soundtrack to The Dark Knight, which set a new box-office record for the biggest opening weekend, debuts at #20. The album, composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, is the highest-charting instrumental score soundtrack since Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, which opened (and peaked) at #14 in June 2007. Zimmer also composed that score. The Dark Knight is the highest-charting instrumental score soundtrack ever for a Batman movie, eclipsing Danny Elfman's score for the first Batman in 1989, which peaked at #30.

The soundtrack to Mamma Mia!, which set a new box-office record for the biggest opening weekend for a musical, jumps from #7 to #3. It's the highest-charting soundtrack to a film based on a hit stage musical since Hairspray hit #2 in August. (Hairspray, as it happens, is the movie that held the box-office record that Mamma Mia! just surpassed.)

Mamma Mia! is the fourth movie soundtrack to reach the top three so far this year. Juno made #1 in January, Sex And The City hit #2 in June and Miley Cyrus' Best Of Both Worlds Concert reached #3 in April.

The movie's success has lifted ABBA's Gold-Greatest Hits to #1 on the Catalog Albums chart. The 1993 album sold 14,000 copies this week and would have ranked #33 on the big chart if older, catalog albums could compete there. Two ABBA classics also enter Hot Digital Songs. "Dancing Queen" bows at #102. "Mamma Mia" opens at #140.

Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" tops the Hot Digital Songs chart for the fifth straight week, with 166,000 paid downloads this week. This brings its total to 1,728,000. Perry's One Of The Boys album isn't doing nearly so well. It has sold 177,000 copies. Bottom line: "I Kissed A Girl" is a catchy tune, for sure, but not too many people as yet seem to view Perry as a long-range artist beyond this novelty-edged hit.

Two songs from Jonas Brothers' forthcoming album A Little Bit Longer are in the top five on Hot Digital Songs. "Pushing Me Away" debuts at #2. "Burnin' Up" dips from #3 to #4. The brothers have a total of five songs in the top 200, not counting two Camp Rock tunes that are in Joe Jonas' name.

Here's the low-down on this week's top 10 albums.

1. Nas, untitled, 187,000. This is Nas' fourth album to debut at #1, but it starts with a lower total than the other three. It Was Written opened with sales of 269,000, I  Am... started with 471,000 and Hip Hop Is Dead opened with 355,000. About 28,000 copies of the new album were sold digitally, making it the week's #1 Digital Album. Two songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Hero" at #57.

2. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III, 105,000. This album has spent its first six weeks in the top two, the best showing by a rap album since 50 Cent's The Massacre logged its first six weeks at #1 in 2005. The album will probably top the 2 million mark next week. Six songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Lollipop" (featuring Static Major) at #13.

3. Various Artists, Mamma Mia! soundtrack, 91,000. In 1982, ABBA charted with its last album of new material, Meryl Streep gave her most legendary performance in Sophie's Choice and Pierce Brosnan began a four-year run on TV's glossy Remington Steele. Who would have ever guessed that one day their paths would cross? Streep's performance of "Mamma Mia" enters Hot Digital Songs at #80-60 notches ahead of ABBA's performance.

4. Coldplay, Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends, 90,000. The album dips from #2 to #4 in its fifth week in the top five. The band's previous album, X&Y, spent its first seven weeks in the top five. Two songs from the new album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Viva La Vida" at #6.

5. Various Artists, Camp Rock soundtrack, 78,000. This is the #1 TV soundtrack for the fifth straight week. Five songs from the album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by the Demi Lovato/Joe Jonas duet "This Is Me" at #26. For some kids, this is the very first album they've ever owned. Today, Camp Rock. Tomorrow, Coltrane.

6. Kid Rock, Rock N Roll Jesus, 73,000. The album has logged six weeks in the top 10-three when it was first released and these past three weeks. The album has rebounded on the strength of the hit "All Summer Long." Incidentally, this is only the second #1 album in the 52-year history of Billboard's weekly album chart to mention Jesus in its title. Jesus Christ Superstar, in 1971, was the first.

7. John Mellencamp, Life Death Love And Freedom, 56,000. This is Mellencamp's highest-charting album since Human Wheels opened at #7 in 1993. The veteran singer had five top 10 albums in a row from American Fool in 1982 through Big Daddy in 1989 and has returned to the winners circle with Human Wheels, Mr. Happy Go Lucky in 1996 and this album. T Bone Burnett produced the two-CD set.

8. David Banner, The Greatest Story Ever Told, 52,000. This is the rapper's third top 10 album, following Mississippi: The Album in 2003 and Certified in 2005. (I guess he called it Mississippi: The Album so there would be no confusion with Mississippi: The River.) Three songs from the new album are listed on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Get Like Me" (featuring Chris Brown) at #23.

9. Taylor Swift, Beautiful Eyes, 45,000. This Wal-Mart exclusive, a new entry this week, gives Swift two albums in the top 20. Her eponymous debut jumps from #14 to #12 in its 37thconsecutive week in the top 20. That album has sold 3,203,000 copies, which would have been impressive for a debut album even in the music industry's boom years. Swift has four songs on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Should've Said No" at #40.

10. Rihanna, Good Girl Gone Bad, 41,000. This is the fifth straight week in the top 10 for Rihanna. How has she done it? By releasing an album so hit-studded it could almost be called Rihanna's Greatest Hits. Four songs from the album are featured on Hot Digital Songs, topped by "Disturbia" at #7.

Four albums drop out of the top 10 this week. Beck's Modern Guilt dives from #4 to #16, NOW 28 dips from #6 to #11, G Unit's T*0*S (Terminate On Sight) drops from #9 to #24, and John Mayer's Where The Light Is: John Mayer Live In Los Angeles falls from #10 to #22. Sales of Modern Guilt fell by 66%, a steeper decline than any other album in the top 200. Memo to Beck: I'm not sure "guilt" is the most enticing word to put in an album title.

O.A.R.'s All Sides debuts at #13. This is the Ohio-based group's highest-charting album to date. Its previous high was #40 for Stories Of A Stranger in 2005.

Randy Travis lands the highest-charting album of his 22-year recording career as Around The Bend debuts at #14. Travis' previous highest-charting album was his sophomore release, Always & Forever, which reached #19 in 1987. Around The Bend is Travis' first new country album since 1999. He has since released four gospel-oriented works and a compilation of his country hits.

The Hold Steady's Stay Positive re-enters the chart at #30. The album was finally released as a CD last week after a month of being available only as a download. Tim McGraw's Greatest Hits: Limited Edition, a Wal-Mart exclusive which debuted at #10 in May, re-enters the chart at #44. It was doubtless boosted by fans heading to Wal-Mart to pick up the Taylor Swift CD. Sales surged 606% compared to last week, the biggest gain of any non-debuting album.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band's Magic Tour Highlights opens at #48. The digital-only EP is The Boss' fifth live set to reach the charts, following Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Live/1975-1986 (#1 in 1986), In Concert/MTV Plugged (#189 in 1997), Live In New York City (#5 in 2001) and Hammersmith Odeon, London '75 (#93 in 2006). Profits go to the Danny Federici Melanoma Fund, in honor of the E Street Band's long-time keyboardist, who died in April.

Creedence Clearwater Revival's Chronicle (The 20 Greatest Hits) this week tops the 5 million mark in sales since Nielsen/SoundScan set up shop in 1991. What's most impressive about this stat is that the compilation was first released in 1976. It sold millions of copies in its first 15 years of release that aren't included in the Nielsen/SoundScan tally. It's good to know that great music from all eras is still finding an audience.

Heads Up: Miley Cyrus and Sugarland will have the top two albums next week--but who will come out on top? Cyrus' Breakout is her first strictly solo album. She opened at #1 in 2006 with the first Hannah Montana soundtrack and again in 2007 with a Hannah 2/Meet Miley Cyrus hybrid. Sugarland's Love On The Inside is the country duo's third album. Both of its previous albums, Twice The Speed Of Life and Enjoy The Ride, have topped the 2 million sales mark. Sugarland is releasing a "Deluxe Fan Edition" of the new album with extra tracks and videos, before following up with a pared-down, regular edition the following week. Both acts have hot singles. Cyrus' "7 Things" is #3 on Hot Digital Songs. Sugarland's "All I Want To Do" is #21. Also due: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's CSNY/Déjà vu Live. The quartet's studio album Déjà vu reached #1 in May 1970.

 

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