How do numbers for the best-selling hip-hop offering since 2011 stack up?
Kanye West's "Yeezus" is the No. 1 album in the country, according to the Billboard 200 chart, making it the strongest-selling rap album since Drake's sophomore effort "Take Care" moved 631,000 copies in November 2011.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that West — or his label, Def Jam — have cause to celebrate. Sales success is in the eye of the beholder.
"It kind of depends on whom you talk to and I guess what their level of honesty is," said David Bakula, senior VP at Nielsen Entertainment, which tracks sales figures.
The Friday before West's latest album was released, some industry insiders predicted "Yeezus" would sell half a million copies in its first week. It actually sold 327,000, according to Billboard.
"If people were expecting 500,000, I think that was a bit unrealistic, based on where everything is right now," said Bakula. "I think hardcore number-crunchers with all of the metrics … probably wouldn’t have come up with that number."
All West's other albums have sold at least 400,000 units in their first week, according to Keith Caulfield of Billboard's charts team.
It was however, a big week for rap music. J. Cole's "Born Sinner" entered the Billboard 200 chart at No. 2 this week with a very strong 297,000 album sales. Mac Miller's "Watching Movies With the Sound Off" started at No. 3, selling 102,000 albums.
All three hip-hop albums were leaked before release, but only the illegal distribution of West's high-profile project was widely reported.
Leaks — especially of hip-hop music — are more common than many people realize.
"I don’t know of a record that doesn’t leak," said Bakula. "I'm sure people are listening to records that won't be coming out for months right now."
Most albums leak the same way: CDs are shipped on a Thursday for a Tuesday release. Somewhere along the distribution line, boxes are opened, discs taken and their contents uploaded on the internet. Music is illegally downloaded on file sharing sites, and the leak has infiltrated the industry.
There are ways around it, but leaks are not always bad. In J. Cole's case, the leak of his album likely boosted first week sales, said Bakula.
To prevent a leak on West's previous album with Jay-Z, "Watch the Throne," the record label posted it to iTunes three days before physical copies were available. It did not employ the same strategy with "Yeezus."
But it's not doom and gloom for West and Def Jam. There are many positives that come out of the opening week. This is West's sixth No. 1 album, which ties him for second among rap acts in history. He joins Eminem and Nas with a half dozen. Jay-Z doubles the number with 12 — and 13 is likely on the way in the form of July's "Magna Carta Holy Grail."
Music industry insiders say that the sales figure met realistic expectations within Def Jam itself.
And the debut sales of "Yeezus" are very strong in music's current climate. This is an album that had no single, limited promotion and no cover art. It is a dark, experimental project — different than anything West has done previously.
Drake's "Take Care" also had the advantage of being released in the fourth quarter, which helps sales.
"Looking at it in the context of how other records are doing, particularly in that genre … in context, this is a really great number," said Bakula.
All of West's albums have gone platinum and there is plenty of time for this one to join the million-sales club, too. Bakula says he'd be surprised if "Yeezus" had not gone platinum within a year.
← Previous Story