Yesterday Billboard reported that Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV—the hyperactive MC’s proper followup to 2008’s Tha Carter III, which moved a million copies in its first week—might go on to sell as many as 850,000 copies in its first week out. That’s an impressive number for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that not many chart theorists were expecting its week-one sales to even pass the 436,000 first-week mark of Kanye West and Jay-Z’s recent album Watch The Throne, let alone nearly lap it. I called on two Wayne watchers to offer their theories on this album’s blowup: Andy Hutchins, who gave the record a rather lukewarm review in this space shortly after it dropped; and Chris Molanphy, who made some predictions regarding the album’s first-week sales. Gentlemen?
Tha Carter IV is going to prove that a 28-year-old rapper with a prodigious work rate and well-established ubiquity can still sell more copies of a disappointing album in 2011 than two 34-plus rappers who made a far better album. Lil Wayne’s latest LP is slated to nearly double Watch The Throne‘s first week, with projected sales topping 850,000 to WTT‘s 436,000, and it could well lap its purer-pedigree critical superior. Look at screen time and for reasons why.
Throne was a massive event on Twitter, with a virtually leak-free release creating a 140’d frenzy at midnight on its release date; C4 did that and more, building off lukewarm to bad buzz and “beef”-fueled chatter following its days-early leak with the splashy thrashing Wayne did at the VMAs. None of that made C4 look like a better buy, but it did remind Wayne’s massive fan base that it was about to be available, and the snark from the many non-fans in the VMAs’ record-breaking audience might have helped redouble Weezy Nation’s support for their slightly tarnished star. (The miserable Sorry 4 The Wait probably accomplished something similar.)
Wayne remained on radio despite his prison bid, too, and seemed to be as omnipresent as ever leading up to C4. He’s got two of the Hot 100’s top eight songs, both C4 singles, and features on “I’m On One,” now No. 18 after peaking at No. 10. The usual assortment of guest verses (on Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” and Ace Hood’s “Hustle Hard” remix, notably) kept Weezy’s croak on the airwaves during the run-up to the long-gestating album, and there’s certainly some element of his following that bought it for the singles. Where they bought it remains to be seen, but the Drake-delivered reminder to buy it on iTunes that MTV threw up on Sunday and the availability of physical copies in stores on Monday made this both a digital and traditional rollout. And it’s delivered sales beyond most estimations.
Color me humbled: My prediction last Friday for Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV first-week sales total was way, way off. I had Weezy doing around 400K, in line with Watch the Throne, but Billboard now reports TC4 more than doubling that. In my defense, I wrote my column unaware that him was getting a prime slot from MTV at the end of the VMAs on Sunday night. I stand by my prediction that Wayne won’t pull another “milli” week a la TC3 in 2008, but it’s now looking plausible that he’ll prove me wrong there, too: current predictions have him going as high as 900K. (Of course, the whole industry had Throne doing more than 500K in week one, and it missed that mark by more than 12%—so, caveat emptor and whatnot.)
As I noted earlier this year just before Lady Gaga’s blockbuster album dropped, the AC/DC Rule™ states that any album’s initial sales and chart position are a referendum on the last album’s cumulative sales. I didn’t bring up the rule in last week’s column, because for Weezy the idea of “last album” is a complicated concept, given his stopgap 2010 non-Carter albums and his sanctioned mixtapes. Neither Rebirth nor I Am Not a Human Being did TC3 sales levels, in week one or thereafter. Wouldn’t that indicate that he’d saturated the market?
Apparently, a corollary to the AC/DC Rule is: branding matters. Carter IV is perceived by the public as the proper followup to Carter III, notwithstanding its weak reviews and its singles’ less radio-dominating performance. Viewed this way, TC4 isn’t the followup to a bunch of weak, dithering releases. It’s more like Eminem with Relapse in 2009—despite weak reviews and a then-recent history of being either out of the game or releasing weaksauce stopgap compilations, Em’s first “proper” studio album since 2004 was greeted as such and sold in near-blockbuster numbers, as if he’d never been away. Post-prison Wayne’s about to pull that off, too.
Who should be paying attention to this? Maybe Kanye. When he positioned his first three albums as a university-themed trilogy, each opened better than the last: 441,000 for The College Dropout; 860,000 for Late Registration; 957,000 for Graduation. Maybe, if he’d actually titled his fourth album Good Ass Job as originally planned, it would’ve done similar numbers, rather than the 450,000 808s and Heartbreak actually did; as a sales force, he’s arguably never recovered. But if these predictions pan out, Kanye should realize that it’s never too late to go back a beloved series…