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Beware the ides of January. For the second straight week there failed to be much of a stir within the Billboard 200 albums chart, so we'll once again turn our attention toward sizing up a few more categories at next month's Grammy Awards with the help of SoundScan's sales analysis. This time, we'll focus on two of the newer and more competitive categories: Best Rap Album and Best Rock Album.
Best Rap Album: Size Does Matter
Outside of the Album of the Year award (see "Got Charts? Making Grammy Predictions, Counting Crowes"), perhaps the most interesting Grammy tilt might be in the field of Best Rap Album, which features nominations for Eve's Scorpion, Ja Rule's Pain Is Love, Jay-Z's The Blueprint, Ludacris' Back for the First Time and Outkast's Stankonia.
All the nominees in this category are proven winners at the cash registers, with all of the albums having sold at least 1.45 million copies each. Considering that Stankonia is the only other rap record also nominated for Album of the Year, not to mention that it has outpaced all the other Best Rap Album nominees with 3.79 million copies sold, Outkast is the obvious favorite in this category, which tends to recognize LPs with high numbers. But a lot could depend on how the voting trend breaks for Album of the Year.
It's quite conceivable that Stankonia could garner Album of the Year honors, yet still be denied the Best Rap Album Grammy, which would go to one of the other nominees as a sort of consolation prize. The discs most likely to swipe the Best Rap Album award in such a split would likely be Jay-Z's The Blueprint, which spent three weeks at #1 in September and has already sold 1.91 million copies, or Ja Rule's Pain is Love, which spent two weeks atop the charts in October and has sold some 2.31 million copies to date.
Also in Jay-Z's favor is the "repeat winner" factor in this category, as the Recording Academy has previously chosen Eminem as the back-to-back Best Rap Album winner during the last two years for his The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP. Prior to Eminem's consecutive wins, Jay-Z took home the Best Rap Album Grammy for his Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life, so Jay-Z could easily become just the second winner in this category in the last four years.
Ludacris was nominated for an album that has sold more than either The Blueprint or Pain Is Love with some 2.70 million copies sold of the Atlanta MC's Back for the First Time. But Back for the First Time was released in October 2000 and the Recording Academy may have a short memory, especially in a newer category such as this one. Ludacris' nomination might also be slightly hampered by the presence of his newer album, Word of Mouf, which is out and on the charts (with 1.34 million sold), but look for Ludacris to score back-to-back nominations in the Best Rap Album category next year when that record gets a nod.
On the other hand, the 'freshness' factor may turn out to benefit Rule's Pain Is Love and make it the sleeper/dark horse candidate in the Best Rap Album Grammy. Rule's Love is currently outselling all the other nominated LPs in this category (averaging 70,000 copies/week), and is still firmly entrenched in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 albums chart.
As for Eve, the odds seem highly stacked against her and the 1.45 million-selling Scorpion in this usually male-dominated category. A female solo artist has never won a Best Rap Album award; Lauryn Hill shares one as a member of the Fugees for their 1996 album, The Score.
But in the end, if Outkast doesn't win Album of the Year, then Stankonia will likely be the 'consolation prize' recipient, much as Eminem was last year when The Marshall Mathers LP lost out to Steely Dan's Two Against Nature for Album of the Year.
Previous winners of the Best Rap Album and their SoundScan sales totals to date: Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP (8.64 million), Eminem's The Slim Shady LP (4.2 million), Jay-Z's Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life (4.99 million), Puff Daddy's No Way Out (5.1 million), the Fugees' The Score (5.35 million) and Naughty by Nature's Poverty's Paradise (648,000).
Best Rock Album: Girls (With Platinum) Rule
Amazingly enough, the Recording Academy has only been presenting an award in the category of Best Rock Album a year longer than it has for Best Rap Album.
Unfortunately, the Best Rock Album field still remains too broad to fit in every style and sub-genre under the rock and roll sun, as evidenced by this year's grab bag of nominees: Ryan Adams' Gold, Aerosmith's Just Push Play, PJ Harvey's Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory and U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind.
Right off the bat, it seems to be something of an oversight that an award has not yet been established in the area of Best Hard Rock Album, a more concentrated category that could address acts such as Limp Bizkit, Korn, Linkin Park and Rob Zombie, among others. But for now, a nominee such as Linkin Park will continue to be lumped together with more mainstream and decidedly pop/rock acts (U2, Aerosmith) and critical darlings (Ryan Adams, PJ Harvey).
Again, going strictly by the numbers, Linkin Park would seem to be all but assured of winning the Best Rock Album award for their debut record, which stands at 5.72 million copies sold and counting. With 3.32 million in sales, U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind would seem to be next in line, followed by Aerosmith's Just Push Play at 1.17 million.
Singer/songwriters Adams and Harvey have critics on their side, but neither of their efforts has sold more than 300,000 copies. To their credit, both have sold well in terms of their respective careers, as Gold has notched 147,000 in sales already almost doubling the numbers of his 2000 solo debut, Heartbreaker (84,000 copies sold) and bettering any of the individual album figures posted by his previous band, Whiskeytown.
With more than 239,000 sold, Harvey's Stories From the City has become the British balladeer's second best-selling LP, trailing only her 1995 album, To Bring You My Love, which has sold 349,000 copies and spawned the singles "Down by the Water" and "C'mon Billy."
As with Outkast in the Best Rap Album category, the Best Rock Album could also be marked as a consolation prize for U2 if the Irish band should miss out on the Album of the Year Grammy. But the Recording Academy has demonstrated a tendency to select women in this field, as female solo artists have taken the trophy home three out of seven times.
This should be good news for PJ Harvey, whose album received the U.K.'s prestigious Mercury Music Prize late last year and was the first LP by a woman to do so. However, the other women who've won Best Rock Album are Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow, who had more sales muscle behind their awarded albums.
The Academy has also favored alternating the winner of the Best Rock Album Grammy between younger artists (Alanis Morissette, Sheryl Crow) and rock vets (Santana, Rolling Stones). Last year, the academy went youthful by tapping the Foo Fighters' There Is Nothing Left to Lose as the Best Rock Album, though they didn't have much of a choice the most elderly competitors in the category were Bon Jovi. (Other nominees were Rage Against the Machine, No Doubt and Matchbox Twenty.)
Even so, we'll give a slight nod to one of the older acts, with Aerosmith's Just Push Play having a realistic shot at pulling off the minor upset over U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind. If the Academy bucks the trend and opts to go young, then Linkin Park and their massive numbers for Hybrid Theory will not be denied.
Previous winners of the Best Rock Album and their SoundScan sales totals to date: Foo Fighters' There Is Nothing Left to Lose (1.11 million), Santana's Supernatural (10.96 million), Sheryl Crow's The Globe Sessions (1.85 million), John Fogerty's Blue Moon Swamp (761,000), Sheryl Crow's Sheryl Crow (2.35 million), Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill (13.89 million) and the Rolling Stones' Voodoo Lounge (1.83 million).
[In SoundScan we trust. All figures, unless otherwise noted, are according to SoundScan's audited sales numbers and reflect sales as of press time.]
For more Grammy news, check out the MTV News Grammy Archive.