Got Charts? Nas Lookin’ To Grow Legs; Jay-Z Unplugs

Will Stillmatic still be in the top 20 a few months from now?

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In this week’s chart and sales analysis, we divine the future of Nas’ post-Nastradamus sales prophecies and, with a little help from Jay-Z and Eric Clapton, go in between the acoustic sales strings of the “Unplugged” series.

Nas Lands Big — As He Predicted

Nas hopes that “What Goes Around” will help his record sales come around.

After taking much of last year off, New York MC Nas has returned with a new album, Stillmatic, which cracks the new Billboard 200 albums chart at #8 (see “Creed Hold #1 Chart Slot For Fifth Straight Week” ), becoming then highest chart entry of the week with more than 342,000 copies sold.

Stillmatic is the rapper’s fourth straight album to debut in the top 10, a feat that Nas’ first record, Illmatic, narrowly missed upon its release in April 1994, when the LP debuted at #12 after notching some 59,000 in sales. In fact, Stillmatic‘s first-week sales are the biggest for Nas since his third album, I Am …, sold 470,000 copies to land at #1 in April 1999.

Nas’ Stillmatic has also fared better out of the gates than his biggest-selling LP, It Was Written, which sold 268,000 copies to debut at #1 in June 1996 — a position it held for four consecutive weeks — and has since sold more than 2.13 million copies. That was quite a step up from Illmatic, which currently stands at 818,000 in total sales.

I Am … has fared almost as well as It Was Written, tallying some 1.85 million copies sold. However, Nas took quite a commercial blow with Nastradamus, the follow-up to I Am … that was released barely eight months later in November 1999. Despite the chart-topping success of I Am …, audiences were apparently not ready for more prophetic raps from Nas so soon, as Nastradamus sold just 232,000 copies (less than half of I Am …‘s first-week figures) to enter the Billboard chart at #7.

During the last year, Nastradamus has foreseen its way up to 1.06 million in sales. Despite its relative newness, the LP is averaging just a little better than 2,000 copies a week, as opposed to Illmatic and It Was Written, which are both still selling at a catalog clip of more than 3,000 copies a week — even though they’ve both been out for more than five years.

The real test of whether or not Nas is Stillmatic will be determined by how long the new album hangs in the Billboard 200, as the rapper has had problems with his chart legs. Illmatic spent just one week in the top 20 and 19 weeks in the top 200, while It Was Written spent 11 weeks in the top 20 and 34 weeks in the top 200.

Nas’ I Am … had a chart run almost as long as its predecessor, logging eight weeks in the top 20 and 25 weeks in the top 200. But even though it was issued during the holiday season in 1999 (when albums usually receive a sizable sales boost), Nastradamus quickly slumped down the charts, notching just two weeks in the top 20 and a total of 16 weeks in the top 200.

If Nas can keep up the brisk sales pace for Stillmatic and hold strong on the Billboard 200 into February and March, then he has a good chance of reversing Nastradamus‘ rather foreboding sales trend.

Jay-Z Taps Into ‘Unplugged’ Flow

Hip-hop impresario Jay-Z is the latest artist to spawn a live record from his recent “MTV Unplugged” special, debuting on the Billboard 200 albums chart at #34 with the disc after more than 143,000 copies were sold in its first week.

While we’re not ones to toot our own horn (or pluck our own nylon strings, for that matter), the holiday spirit has gotten us reminiscing about the “Unplugged” performances we have received from the likes of Eric Clapton, Nirvana and Mariah Carey during the TV series’ 12-year history and the albums those artists have, in turn, given to the fans.

For those keeping score (and, believe me, we certainly are), the biggest-selling “Unplugged” album belongs to Clapton, whose 1992 disc has sold an electrifying 7.26 million copies. The album was the second full-length release to be produced from the TV series, following the limited-edition version of Paul McCartney’s MTV Unplugged issued in May 1991 and Mariah Carey’s seven-song Unplugged EP from March 1992.

Regardless, Clapton’s Unplugged was instrumental in re-energizing the guitarist’s career after a relatively rum run during the ’80s, and after climbing to #1 in March 1993, the album proved to record labels that audiences were willing to buy such stripped-down music en masse.

According to SoundScan, the next five biggest-sellers in the “Unplugged” series are: Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York at 4.12 million, Rod Stewart’s Unplugged and Seated at 3.33 million, Carey’s Unplugged EP at 2.70 million, the 10,000 Maniacs’ MTV Unplugged at 2.18 million and Alice in Chains’ MTV Unplugged at 1.23 million.

Other notable “Unplugged” albums include Tony Bennett’s LP (764,000), Neil
Young’s LP (717,000), Maxwell’s EP (659,000), Alanis Morissette’s LP
(494,000), Mana’s LP (437,000), Bob Dylan’s LP (395,000), Bryan Adams’ LP
(391,000), Babyface’s LP (302,000), Kiss’ LP (292,000), The Unplugged Collection, Volume One (258,000), Shakira’s LP (253,000), and Arrested
Development’s LP (235,000).

Perhaps the biggest “Unplugged” disappointment comes from an album that was supposed to be acoustic but ended up being full-bore electric. Bruce Springsteen was unable to rehearse enough material with his non-E-Street backing band to fill an entire show, so he opted to plug in instead. Springsteen’s In Concert/Plugged In wasn’t issued until 1997 — almost five years after his “Unplugged” episode first aired — and has sold only 163,000 copies.

In addition to the aforementioned records, there have been other albums that started off as potential “Unplugged” projects and were later reworked and given lives of their own outside the “Unplugged” banner. Such LPs include the Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant’s No Quarter, which were both released the same week in November 1994.

Hell Freezes Over debuted at #1 and has sold 7.44 million copies, while No Quarter entered at #4 and has tallied 1.02 million in sales. Hell Freezes Over continues to be “en fuego” in terms of catalog albums, as the Eagles’ reunion record still averages a smoldering 270,000 copies sold per year.

The success of the “Unplugged” series has not been limited to just album sales. In the last decade, several “Unplugged” records have been honored with Grammy Awards, with Bennett and Clapton winning Album of the Year for their respective efforts in 1994 and 1992. Nirvana’s haunting MTV Unplugged in New York — recorded at Sony Music Studios in November
1993 and released just six months after singer Kurt Cobain took his own life the following April — won a Grammy in 1995 for
Best Alternative Music Performance.

Just last year, Colombia-born siren Shakira took home the Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album for her MTV Unplugged LP, which served as her last Spanish-language record before her bilingual crossover album, Laundry Service, was released last month.

Coming Attractions

In next week’s edition of Got Charts?, we’ll take a look at the year-end numbers for some of the biggest albums, singles, videos and catalog releases of the year — including what’s looking to be a rather diverse neck-and-neck (and neck) race between Shaggy, Linkin Park and ‘NSYNC for the best-selling album of the year. We can hardly wait.

[In SoundScan we trust. All figures, unless otherwise noted, are according to SoundScan's audited sales numbers and reflect sales as of press time.]