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).