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Radio Hits One: The Long, Long Legs Of Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday

A few weeks ago, my colleague Chris Molanphy broke down how "Super Bass," the late-breaking crossover smash from Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday, presented a rare example of a hit album taking months to yield a top 10 single after moving major units out of the gate. But at the time, I was patiently waiting to see whether the pop-radio favorite would do as well on the urban formats where previous Minaj singles had found the most success, as it had only reached No. 38 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. Within two weeks, however, it rose into the top 10, and has peaked at No. 7. (It's at No. 8, albeit with airplay and sales gains, on this week's chart.)

"Super Bass" has now become the fifth single from Pink Friday to reach the R&B/Hip-Hop top ten—"Your Love," "Right Thru Me," "Moment 4 LIfe" and "Did It On 'Em" all hit No. 4 or higher. In this feature-crazy era, where the concept of overexposure is completely foreign to every rap star and label, those five songs represent just a handful of Minaj's appearances on hits over the past two years. But a rapper releasing that many urban radio hits of that magnitude from a single album is a surprisingly rare accomplishment. A high-profile rap album invariably features several emphasis tracks and pre-release leaks that may make waves among hip-hop heads without serious radio play: the "street single," the big name collaboration, the dis track, the bonus remix, and so on. Usually, though, even the most successful rap albums only have two or three songs that flourish on radio.

In recent history, only a couple of rappers have come close to Minaj's ability to spin off hits from one LP, and unsurprisingly they're her two most famous Young Money labelmates. Lil Wayne's 2008 blockbuster Tha Carter III yielded four top-10 hits on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart, as did Drake's own 2010 debut, Thank Me Later. But where things really diverge is the length of time over which those albums kept a presence on the radio: Tha Carter III's hits zipped on and off the chart in the space of five months, while Thank Me Later lingered for ten months, six of which were dominated by the lengthy reign of "Fancy." It's now been thirteen months since "Your Love" first hit urban radio, and Pink Friday could easily go at least a couple more with "Super Bass" just now peaking.

The further back you go, the harder it is to find other examples of hip-hop albums that have yielded four major radio hits, and those stats usually come with a caveat or two. 50 Cent's Get Rich Or Die Trying and Ludacris's Word Of Mouf each notched four top-10 hits, but both got help from earlier soundtrack hits that were appended to the albums as bonus tracks ("Wanksta" from 8 Mile and "Area Codes" from Rush Hour 2, respectively). Kanye West's The College Dropout contained four smashes, but the first and biggest of them, "Slow Jamz," was released as a single credited to Twista featuring Kanye West, to promote Twista's own album, Kamikaze. Similarly, Ja Rule's quartet of hits from Pain Is Love includes the remix of Jennifer Lopez's "I'm Real" that ruled the charts as Lopez featuring Ja Rule. As it turns out, many of hip-hop's biggest names haven't even come close to approaching Minaj's run; LL Cool J and Jay-Z have two of the largest catalogs of hits in hip-hop, but each only once got as many as three top-10 R&B hits from an album (respectively for Mr. Smith and, surprisingly, The Blueprint 3).

 

Of course, the name of the chart is R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and the former genre has always been a bit more dominant than the latter, particularly in the '80s and '90s. So it's a bit easier to find singers that have equalled or surpassed Minaj's quintet of hits from one album. Michael Jackson did it twice, with six top 10 hits from Bad and five from Dangerous. And his sister Janet did it thrice with the most impressive run of all: She scored six top-10 R&B hits each from Control and Janet, and a staggering seven from Rhythm Nation 1814. In the same era, Boyz II Men's debut CooleyHighHarmony had six top-10 hits, and a few years later R. Kelly's R. had five.

The only singer to approach Janet Jackson's record in recent memory is Usher, whose 2010 album Raymond Vs. Raymond yielded a total of six top-10 R&B hits. (One of them, "Hot Tottie," was only a bonus track on later deluxe editions of the album as well as the follow-up EP, Versus.) Keyshia Cole notched five from her 2007 album Just LIke You (although again, one was a bonus track, the Diddy collaboration "Last Night" that was a hit for his album Press Play). Beyonce's five hits from 2006's B'Day include the soundtrack hit "Check On It." Chris Brown's self-titled 2005 debut had five R&B top 10s, and his recent comeback album F.A.M.E. only needs one more urban radio hit to equal it.

With the five hits off Pink Friday, Nicki Minaj's debut has yielded one of the biggest album campaigns in the history of urban radio, and easily the biggest by a rapper. And that's not even the sum total of push tracks released off the album: the album's lesser singles include the underperforming lead single "Massive Attack," the will.i.am-assisted pop radio hit "Check It Out," the Eminem collaboration "Roman's Revenge," and the international single "Girls Fall Like Dominoes," which reached the top 40 in the U.K. and New Zealand.

With modern rap stars dropping albums back to back and staying in the spotlight with guest verses, the importance of milking as many singles from one project as possible has been greatly diminished. Furthermore, so much emphasis in hip-hop is placed on first-week sales figures that labels tend to pull the plug on promoting even successful albums after a couple of months. But Nicki Minaj has had the big first week as well as the new singles six months later, the solo smashes as well as the features. The freakishly extended limbs Minaj sports on the cover art have become strangely appropriate: Pink Friday really does have legs.


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