Sales for Drake and Future's collaborative album, What a Time to Be Alive, plummeted this week, and I mean plummeted. It fell of harder than Iggy Azalea's whole career. It fell off harder than a drunk Post Malone onstage. It fell off harder than...you get the point.
Drizzy Hendrix sold an astounding 334K albums in its first week, but second week sales clocked in at a meager 65K. According to AHH, that first-to-second week drop really does place WATTBA in historic territory. For example, sales of Kanye West’s Yeezus dropped a staggering 80%, from 327,000 to 65,000, and Jay Z’s Kingdom Come dropped 79%, from 680,000 to 140,000.
Well, so what? Good question, I'm glad I asked.
First, it means the music's just not that good. First week sales are always driven by core fans and intense interest, that percentage of the population who were going to listen to WATTBA the second it dropped regardless of what it sounded like (myself included), who just wanted to be a part of the moment. These are the fans, the serious music lovers. Second week sales are driven more by the the casual fan, the vast middle. Those are the people who were on the fence, who needed to be persuaded to listen, who need a "yo, you really need to hear this!" push to actually buy the album. And clearly there just wasn't enough interest in the actual music to sway the vast middle, and deservedly so. Short of a couple hot songs like "Diamonds Dancin" and "Jumpman," WATTBA's music was as watered down as the lean Drake pretended to drink in the studio.
Of course, there's another factor at play here - just how meaningless album sales figures are in 2015. I'll admit it, we get caught up in Billboard fever too. But as Pigeons and Planes pointed out in a recent article I wish I had written, it's becoming increasingly absurd to treat album sales as the primary metric by which we judge an album's commercial success. We're talking about an album that was first streamed exclusively on Apple Music, then put on iTunes for purchase, then made its way to Spotify and the other major streaming services, plus downloaded however you might choose to download albums. In what world is first week sales an accurate reflection of how many people listened to an album and its sustained reach? Not the world we live in. Maybe all the people who were going to buy Drake and Future's album bought it in the first week, or maybe all the people who still buy albums period, for any artist, bought it in the first week. Probably both.
The current Billboard model puts an undue premium on first-week sales in a world where scarcity has been eliminated and the album is forever accessible. An important example to this end: Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album good kid, M.A.A.D city. Since the start of 2015, GKMC has sold roughly 2,000 to 6,000 copies a week (according to Nielsen Soundscan). Its streaming activity—nearly three years since its release—remains impressive, averaging between 3 million and 6 million streams per week in the same timeframe. - Burn, Billboard, Burn
So while nuance and complexity is an endangered species in the internet age, that's where the truth lies here. The steep sales decline for WATTBA is the result of less-than-stellar music and simply the realities of the current music ecosystem. Drake kept his name hot while he lives in Views From the 6 purgatory, Future solidified his wave by letting Drake hop on it, they'll keep making far more money through live shows than music sales and streams, by any measure this album has been a big success for both artists, and if you don't think so, you're measuring the old way.