Got Charts? Jay-Z & R. Kelly, Cornell & Rage: Dynamic Duos — Well, Maybe Not

A weekly tale of the tape for the statistically obsessed.

In this week’s chart and sales analysis (and with a nod to the NCAA Final Four), we play a lil’ man-to-man D and post up on two of the more highly-anticipated collaborations of the year, including Jay-Z and R. Kelly’s multi-terrestrial The Best of Both Worlds LP, as well as the aborted Chris Cornell/Rage Against the Machine outing for Ozzfest.

When Both Worlds Collide

When are two superstars not better than one? If you’re Jay-Z or R. Kelly, apparently it’s when you decide to team-up for an album instead of going it alone.

Envisioned as a sort of hip-hop take on “World’s Finest” — the old DC comic book that paired Superman and Batman on shared adventures — Jay-Z and R. Kelly’s The Best of Both Worlds LP features a funky musical coupling of Brooklyn-bred beats and silky Chi-town soul. Quite a few fans were intrigued by the heavyweight combo hooking up on wax, as The Best of Both Worlds sold 223,000 copies last week to enter next week’s Billboard 200 albums chart at #2 (see Now 9‘s Star Power Outshines Jay-Z And R. Kelly’s Best ).

Even though The Best of Both Worlds was outsold by the #1 album, Now That’s What I Call Music! Vol. 9, by almost 200,000 copies, that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise or disappointment for Jay-Z and Kelly. Each of the last four volumes in the Now series sold over 400,000 copies in its first week in release, and three of the last five Now albums (Vols. 4, 6 and 7) debuted atop the Billboard 200, while the other two (Vols. 5 and 8) entered the charts at #2.

Since Now That’s What I Call Music! Vol. 1 was issued in November 1998, the first eight albums in the compilation series have generated more than 23 million in sales. As far as individual Now albums, Vol. 5 remains the bestseller at 4.61 million copies, followed by Vol. 6 (3.19 million), Vol. 7 (3.07 million), Vol. 8 (3.02 million), Vol. 4 (2.76 million), Vol. 3 (2.57 million), Vol. 1 (1.98 million) and Vol 2 (1.84 million).

What is surprising is that The Best of Both Worlds failed to sell more copies than either of Jay-Z or R. Kelly’s last solo LPs in their respective chart debuts. SoundScan numbers indicate that response to The Best of Both Worlds appears to have been divided amongst both groups, instead of united.

R. Kelly’s most recent studio effort, TP-2.com, debuted at #1 in November 2000 after moving more than 543,000 copies and has gone on to sell more than 3.45 million copies to date. TP-2.com currently stands as the second biggest album of Kelly’s career, trailing only 1993′s 12 Play (3.66 million) and having surged past 1992′s Born Into the ’90s (1.06 million), 1995′s R. Kelly (3.06 million) and 1998′s R. (2.43 million).

Jay-Z’s solo figures are equally robust, as his last studio album, The Blueprint, also entered the chart at #1 back in September after selling 426,000 copies. The Blueprint spent three weeks atop the albums chart (becoming Jay-Z’s fourth straight album to debut at #1) and has sold 2.03 million copies. The rapper also has a litany of platinum records to his credit as well, led by Vol. 2 … Hard Knock Life (5 million) and including Vol. 3 … Life and Times of S. Carter (2.86 million), The Dynasty: Roc La Familia (2.31 million) and Vol. 1 … In My Lifetime (1.18 million).

The Best of Both Worlds‘ first-week returns were roughly half of the first week numbers turned in by either Jay-Z’s The Blueprint or R. Kelly’s TP-2.com. This suggests that — putting all personal controversies aside (see “The R. Kelly Reports”) — while The Best of Both Worlds was popular with those who consider themselves fans of both the rapper and singer, the record failed to generate much cross-artist interest, i.e. drawing in listeners who were partial to only R. Kelly or Jay-Z.

The good news for The Best of Both Worlds is that even though it didn’t debut as big as Jay-Z or R. Kelly might have hoped, there remains a huge crossover potential that the singer and rapper have yet to tap from one another. Look for Jay-Z and R. Kelly to present a unified front and work both ends of the R&B and rap spectrum in an attempt to keep the album in orbit well into the summer. Otherwise, The Best of Both Worlds might be the last high-profile tag-team mission we’ll see.

Speaking of joint projects….

Never The Cornell/Rage Forever

OK, we admit it. We don’t get why Chris Cornell has chosen to bail from plans to tour with the remaining members of Rage Against the Machine as part of this summer’s Ozzfest (see “Chris Cornell Quits New Rage Project” ).

The former Soundgarden frontman had stepped into the void left by ex-Rage agit-vocalist Zack de la Rocha, who left the band in October 2000, shortly before the release of the Renegades LP. What is even more confusing is that despite exiting from Ozzfest, Cornell and Rage guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk still plan on releasing an album they’ve already recorded together. So, instead of launching a new and exciting — if only temporary — phase in their respective careers, Cornell and what remains of RATM will now offer up a record from a “group” that’s essentially D.B.A. — dead before arrival.

That doesn’t quite make sense, and for Cornell, the SoundScan numbers don’t add up.

Cornell undoubtedly would have benefited more from the potential Rage collaboration and Ozzfest appearance. Since Soundgarden’s demise in 1997, Cornell has issued one solo album, 1999′s Euphoria Morning, a record that spent just eight weeks on the Billboard 200 and has sold 323,000 copies to date. In comparison, Rage Against the Machine’s last album, Renegades, has sold over 842,000 copies, more than double that of Euphoria Morning.

If anything, Cornell was being offered a gig in a band that was even more popular than the one he was previously in. Even though Rage Against the Machine only issued three records of original material with Zack — 1992′s Rage Against the Machine, 1996′s Evil Empire and 1996′s The Battle of Los Angeles — all have gone multi-platinum, selling 2.79, 2.59 and 2.17 million copies, respectively.

The four RATM records have totaled more than 8.4 million copies sold. That’s almost 1.5 million more than the combined sales of Soundgarden’s four major label records, 1989′s Louder Than Love (279,000), 1991′s Badmotorfinger (1.34 million) 1994′s Superunknown (3.44 million) and 1996′s Down on the Upside (1.48 million), along with the 1997 best-of, A-Sides (387,000).

Now, maybe Cornell wants to avoid the spotlight and attention that Ozzfest would bring and wants to focus on another, more personal endeavor — a second solo album, perhaps. That’s fine. But couldn’t he do both, especially if the Rage collaborations are going to be released anyway? That would have offered a potential win/win situation, with Rage getting the chance to morph into something new in front of a friendly audience while Cornell re-established himself with sizable crowds — some of which might have been inclined to follow him to his next solo LP, whenever he chooses to record it.

Instead, it looks as if fans will suffer a lose/lose plight, despite the planned Cornell/RATM album release. And no matter how good it might be, we’ll always be left with yet another tantalizing rock and roll “what if?” It could have been a lot of fun.

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