Radio Hits One: Lil Wayne Tops The Chart Ubiquity Index
This week "How To Love," the third single from Lil Wayne's forthcoming (if delayed) album Tha Carter IV, debuts on several Billboard charts, including bows at No. 69 on the Hot 100 and No. 50 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. "How To Love" is also the 15th song by or featuring Lil Wayne to appear on a Billboard chart this week; on the R&B chart alone, he's on 12% of the entries in the top 100, and he appears on three songs in that chart's top ten that include its current No. 1, Kelly Rowland's "Motivation." Put simply, Wayne is everywhere.
"How To Love" is Tha Carter IV's R&B-flavored "crossover" single following the more straightforward rap singles "6 Foot 7 Foot" and "John"; think of it as IV's promotional equivalent of "Lollipop," the multi-format smash that helped Tha Carter III join the Million-Weeker Club in 2008. At the time, Lil Wayne was capitalizing on years of buzz building, having given away albums' worth of music on mixtapes and appeared on countless hits by other artists. Guest verses have been commonplace in hip-hop for decades and were a measure of a rapper's starpower for years before Wayne's ascent, but he took the practice to a whole new level. Where previous superstars like Jay-Z or 50 Cent often appeared on multiple hits at the same time at the peak of their careers, they were still somewhat selective about who they worked with, sticking mainly with labelmates and other stars of their caliber. Wayne, on the other hand, has been open about giving 16 bars to pretty much anyone willing to cut him a check.
Lil Wayne has appeared on at least a dozen songs that made the Billboard singles charts every year since 2006, and in 2008 and 2009 that number skyrocketed well past 30. 2010 was an off year by Wayne's standards, mainly because he spent eight months on Rikers. By any other artist's standards, though, he was prolific; he released two gold-selling stopgap albums, the critically reviled "rock" album Rebirth and I Am Not A Human Being. The latter yielded two radio hits while Wayne was locked up, while more guest apperances on singles by Drake, Eminem, and Wayne's Young Money Entertainment crew kept him on the radio.
So when Wayne was released from prison last November, he didn't have to do much to recapture his ubiquity. He hit the studio almost immediately and churned out "6 Foot 7 Foot" and several of the collaborations now on the charts. Half a year later, he's reached perhaps his greatest Billboard saturation point yet. For lack of any preexisting term to describe this achievement, I'll call it the Chart Ubiquity Index and rank Wayne at No. 1.
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No other pop star currently has anywhere near as many songs scattered across Billboard's charts as Wayne, but those who come closest are primarily working in the collaboration-heavy worlds of hip-hop and R&B; many are his friends. Rick Ross is on eight charting songs this week, four of which are collaborations with Wayne. Resurgent R&B star and professional horrible person Chris Brown has seven hits on the charts, the biggest of which, "Look At Me Now," features Wayne. The Young Money Entertainment roster has launched the two most ubiquitous rap stars of the last couple of years: Drake appears on seven songs on the charts this week; Nicki Minaj is on six. And one of Drake's most frequent collaborators, Trey Songz, also has seven current entries.
All this is to say that when urban radio embraces an artist, there's no such thing as too much of them. Too many times in the last year I've flipped between the three R&B stations programmed on my car radio and heard the same artist (usually Usher or a Young Money rapper) on all of them. It also underlines how much music an artist needs to pump out to stay relevant in the urban radio marketespecially whencompared to the rock, pop or country worlds. Lady Gaga had an oppressively huge and effective marketing campaign for Born This Way, but this week only two of that album's three advance singles are on the Hot 100, along with two more deep cuts that received an iTunes bump the week after its release. Her only collaboration of recent vintage, "3-Way (The Golden Rule)" with The Lonely Island and Justin Timberlake, is a song from a Saturday Night Live sketch that was released to iTunes.
Since iTunes sales started having as much influence over the Billboard singles charts as radio airplay, one artist having multiple simultaneous songs on the charts has become more common. But without sustained airplay, those songs pop up for a week or two after their on-sale weeks, then disappear. This week there are four songs by the cast of TV's Glee on the charts, but they're completely different from the six Glee songs on last week's charts. Last November, Taylor Swift made headlines by getting 11 songs from her album Speak Now on the Hot 100 the week after its release, a feat which was widely compared to The Beatles having 14 songs on the chart at once in 1964. But most of Taylor's songs were getting an iTunes bump, something that obviously didn't exist when The Beatles were taking over American radio. The nine Lil Wayne songs on the Hot 100 are all airplay hits, although most of them simply feature one of his guest verses on a track by another artistMike Posner, Enrique Iglesias, Young Jeezy, or DJ Khaled. And the week after Tha Carter IV is eventually released, he may trump Swift's accomplishment; several tracks from Tha Carter III and I Am Not A Human Being vaulted onto the charts after those albums were released thanks to iTunes.
At this point, Lil Wayne's ubiquity feels a bit inevitable and tiresome. Hip-hop has been moving forward with a whole slew of new artists who are generating more genuine excitement among fans than Wayne has in years, but the only ones that have the kind of radio presence to give him any competition are his labelmates, Drake and Nicki Minaj. Throwing Wayne on a songespecially after his brief, highly publicized incarcerationjust seems like an easy way for a label to help an artist get a hit. Tha Carter IV will likely have eye-popping first-week sales, but it'll be tough for Wayne to have the biggest album of the year like he did in 2008. And his main competition for that distinction, Adele, has moved millions of units off of just one single; "Rolling In The Deep" has been the only U.S. hit off 21 to date, with the follow-up "Rumour Has It" only reaching the Triple A chart so far. It goes to show: Sometimes ubiquity is defined not by how many hits you have, but how big one song can be.
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