Last week's numbers are in, and Wiz Khalifa's new pretty boring album, Blacc Hollywood, landed at number one with 90,000 albums sold first week. That's right, numero uno, and it's the first number one of Wiz' career! Let's twerk in celebration!!! And...now that we're done twerking (are you sure you're done with the twerking?), let's nerd-out and dig into some math.
First and foremost, it's interesting to think about where that places Wiz in hip-hop's hierarchy. Album sales can be misleading, especially in the age of the interwebs, but despite all the changes in how we measure an artist's popularity, they're still a powerful indication of an artist's weight in the marketplace. Speaking of marketplace, 90K first week puts Wiz well under the top tier comprised of Eminem (792K), Drake (658K), etc., over that middle tier currently comprised of Future (53K), French Montana (56K), etc., but not quite that upper-middle tier comprised of ScHoolboy (139K), Wale (158K), Mac Miller (101K), etc.*
That actually sounds about right. It's interesting to think that a few years ago he was out selling his peers like Mac Miller and ScHoolboy, but in the last couple years his position has slipped while their's has grown. However, the raw sales numbers aren't what I'm primarily interested here. I'm primarily interested in the sometimes giving, sometimes cruel, mistress that is the number one album.
Fucking duh, but having a number one album isn't about selling units, not really. At its core, it's about selling more units than any other artist who happened to drop that week, which is often largely out of an artist's control. Wiz is now a fascinating case study, since he now earned his first number one with an album that dramatically under-sold his previous two efforts, Rolling Papers (197K) and O.N.I.F.C. (148K). The only difference? When Rolling Papers dropped he was going against the goliath that was Adele's 21 and ended up number two, and when O.N.I.F.C. dropped he was number two again behind One Direction.
Blacc Hollywood, however, was released during one of the slowest quarters for major album releases in recent memory, and during one of the slowest weeks. The previous week's number one was the Guardians of the Galaxy movie soundtrack, and there wasn't a new urban album release even really worth mentioning. Unlike Wiz's previous two albums, the musical cosmos aligned perfectly and even though the numbers say Wiz should be worried about his consistently falling album sales, that number one spot means he also gets to chalk up this album as a success.
That doesn't take anything away from Wiz, a number one is a number one and no one can take it away, but like any artist, it needs to be looked at in context. If Blacc Hollywood dropped in the middle of the summer it would have been buried by Coldplay and there'd be nary a celebratory ass shake from Amber to be found.
I like to think about number one albums like championships in sports. If a team beat every other team that gets put in front of them, there's nothing more they could have done. They earned that ring, period. But at the same time there are plenty of hall-of-fame athletes who don't have rings - is it "fair" that Brian Scalabrine has more rings than Charles Barkely? - and plenty of teams who would have rolled to a championship in more average years had the bad luck to play at the same time as a transcendent team (word to the 92-93 Suns).
Similairly, although Macklemore and Ryan Lewis can claim that "The Heist" has sold well over one-million copies to date (and earned a Grammy), making it one of the most successful albums of the last two years, they're still in search of a number one. Or to take a more historical perspective, despite Dr. Dre's "Chronic" and "2001" indisupted classic status and overall commercial success, the good Dr. will have to wait until Detox drops for another shot at number one; 2001 spent three consecutive weeks at number three behind Carlos Santana's Supernatural.
Or on the flipside, you know who can also claim that coveted number one status? Silkk The Shocker; his 1999 Made Man album found this pocket in between new albums from DMX and Britney Spears that allowed him to lay claim to that top spot for a week.
So yes, that means Silkk The Shocker has as many number one albums as Wiz Khalifa, who has more number ones than Dr. Dre, who has two less number ones than Danity Kane, who has one more number one album than Tyga. (Although, in their defense, in researching this I kind of forgot that Danity Kane was a legit force in the game at their peak. Things are going awesome for them now.)
What does all this mean? Like sports championships, everything and nothing. A number one album can be as much the result of circumstance as achievement, and knowledgeable, dedicated sports music fans, they know not to put too much stock in that top spot. Still, the world still largely measures an artist's status based on their number one albums, which is exactly why Wiz earned highly positive coverage when Blacc Hollywood went number one, even though by other indications it came at a low-point in his career (relatively speaking). And exactly why Jay Z can justifialby settle any GOAT debates, at least when it comes to sales and commerical performance, by simply pointing to his 13 number one albums.
Frankly, despite the fact that I just made you read over 1,000 words on the subject, it's probably best to not really take that number one status from any artist too seriously. It's just one number among many that can help us understand an artist's place in the industry, and one of the least important; it says as much about their label's marketing and scheduling prowess as their individual accomplishments. In the end, we should probably all just go watch Amber Rose's butt cheeks jiggle until we forgot I even brought the subject up. You're welcome.
* Those numbers are the first week sales of each artist's last album.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]