100 & Single: Is Lil Wayne's Tha Carter IV Guaranteed To Go Platinum?

Categories: Lil Wayne

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Making predictions in the music business is a mug's game. As they say in the financial world, past performance is no guarantee of future results—and on the Billboard charts, it's becoming a worse indicator all the time.

Who knew that the top-selling album of the year would come from Adele, who'd never had a big pop-radio hit and whose last album took more than two years to go platinum? Who knew, at the height of female pop on the radio, that Beyoncé, for the first time in her career, would drop an album that produced no Top 10 hits?

If there's one superstar who seems poised to benefit from past performance, it's Lil Wayne, the rapper behind four consecutive No. 1 or No. 2 albums and the top-selling album of 2008, the triple-platinum Tha Carter III. Building on that brand name, Weezy's next disc, dropping just after the stroke of midnight on Monday, is Tha Carter IV—as sure a guarantee as you're likely to find in the fractured music economy of 2011.

This week at least, the early indicators for Wayne look promising. His latest prerelease single from TC4, "She Will," debuts at the top of Billboard's Digital Songs chart with an impressive 255,000 sales. That's his best sales week for a single as a lead artist. Except for a single week in late 2009, when his featured performance on Jay Sean's smash hit "Down" sold 337,000 downloads, he's never rolled this many tracks in a week. Among singles he's led, Weezy's prior best one-week mark was the 225,000 downloads rolled by "Right Above It," the only single from his late-2010 album I Am Not a Human Being.

On the Hot 100, where digital sales are combined with airplay, "She Will" materializes at No. 3, impressive for a track so early in its radio life. In its first week at radio, the track ranks 71st on Billboard's Hot 100 Airplay chart, with particular strength at urban radio—"She Will" is already in the top 20 on the airplay-heavy Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

And did I mention that "She Will" is one of two Wayne hits in the Hot 100's Top 10? "How to Love," whose big-budget but possibly message-muddled music video debuted this week, is still hanging around the winners' circle after peaking at No. 5 a month ago; it currently sits at No. 8 on the Hot 100. This is the second time Weezy's had a pair of singles as a lead artist in the Top 10 simultaneously. Three years ago, the No. 6-peaking "A Milli" shared winners' circle space with the descending former No. 1 "Lollipop" for several weeks during the summer of 2008.

Weezy was hot that summer. Is he still? That's the question as TC4 drops next week. Wayne's album won't make landfall on the Billboard 200 until two chart weeks from now; Nielsen Soundscan will tally his first week's sales right after Labor Day. Assuming Weezy's latest debuts at No. 1, we could see a solid month of album-chart dominance by hip-hop discs. This week, the Jay-Z/Kanye West team-up Watch the Throne is in its second week at No. 1, and next week their majesties will either repeat for a third week or be usurped by Game, whose The R.E.D. Album is forecast to compete for the top slot. The week after that, they all clear the way for Wayne.

A No. 1 debut by Lil Wayne is something you can safely bet the house on. But the size of his debut is anyone's guess. Surely, as the sales of "She Will" indicate, it will be measured in the hundreds of thousands. But that total might underwhelm because of Weezy's prior status as a million-weeker; in 2008, TC3 joined the very elite group of albums that have sold a million copies in a single week (barely—it rolled 1,006,000 discs in its first week).

Like Jay-Z, West and Eminem, Lil Wayne is the rare hip-hop act who's a reliable album seller. The two albums he released in 2010—the rock/rap hybrid Rebirth and the more mixtape-ish I Am Not a Human Being—did remarkably well considering they were stopgap, non-Carter-branded titles timed around his eight-month incarceration. Rebirth, universally panned as an ill-conceived Jordan-tries-baseball stab at guitar rock, eventually sold about three-fourths of a million discs anyway, peaking at No. 2. Human Being, dropped when Weezy was in the clink and unable to do much promotion, made it to No. 1 and cumulatively sold just under a million.

Despite its Carter branding, Wayne's latest hasn't garnered much buzz suggesting he'll repeat his 2008 million-week status. I'd surmise that there are several reasons for this:

Lack of a dominant single: Back in '08, Weezy was riding high after topping the Hot 100 for more than a month with the smash "Lollipop," featuring Static Major. This year, while the ballad "How to Love" has surely broadened Wayne's appeal at radio (Billboard reports that there have even been a few Hot AC stations spinning it), programmers have been cooler in general toward TC4's four prerelease singles—in addition to "How" and "She," they include "6 Foot 7 Foot" and "John." Of the four, "How" has done best at radio, rising to fifth on the Airplay chart as of this week. But in '08, during the TC3 promotional cycle, two singles did better: "Lollipop" ranked first in airplay audience for several weeks, and "A Milli" made it as high as third place.

On the digital side, all of this year's Weezy singles have done solid numbers; the earliest single, "6 Foot 7 Foot," has crossed two million in sales. But there's a base of Wayne fans that will buy anything he releases as a matter of course. For an album to roll million-level first-week numbers, more moderate fans have to feel like Wayne is (pleasantly) ubiquitous, and radio hasn't made that happen.

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