As we predicted, Kendrick Lamar's untitled unmastered album burst onto the charts in full force a week after its surprise release, debuting number one on Billboard and selling 178,000 copies (including streaming), making it the highest selling rap album of the year so far. That's impressive, particularly because the project isn't a proper studio release but, quite literally, comprised of unfinished songs.
This gives Kendrick his second number one album, To Pimp a Butterfly was his first, and gives him a solid shot at putting out three platinum albums in a row, all of which tells a story that we don't often hear or discuss - Kendrick Lamar is a commercial hip-hop beast.
Particulary after To Pimp a Butterfly, an album that got repeatedly labeled as "weird" and one that "people only pretended to like so they could seem smart," we've almost exclusively talked about Kendrick Lamar as an artist, and rightfully so. He's making art so powerful its affects can be felt all the way from the streets to the White House. But the simple mathematical, quantifiable fact is that Kendrick is also a hugely successful artist commercially. Of all the hip-hop albums released in 2015, only Aubrey "Bigger Than the Beatles" Drake sold more than Kendrick. So while we tend to put Drake and K. Dot on opposite ends of the spectrum - Drake as the mainstream giant doing Super Bowl ads and Kendrick as the avant-garde artist too strange for the mainstream - the truth is that Kendrick is mainstream. It's just that the mainstream is far smarter and hungrier for art than it gets credit for.
The message we hear time and time again is that musicians need to choose between making true art and being commercially successful, but of course that's bullshit. In fact, the lesson of the last two years is that the more "artistic" the album, the higher it has the potential to sell. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, J. Cole finally found platinum success in 2014Forest Hills Drive after finally letting go of trying to please radio, and To Pimp a Butterfly, the album too "weird" for people to actually enjoy, broke streaming records and outsold GKMC. And now untitled, a project with a four minute long recording of Kendrick singing in his dressing room, is number one.
If it feels like this is a message I've been preaching a lot lately, it's because I have been. Artists, don't let them convince you that you need to compromise your artistic integrity to find financial freedom. As Kendrick's proving, the further you push your music, the larger that bank account can become. It's not make art or get rich, it's make art and get rich.