It was a great week to be a fledgling solo artist, as the self-titled debut from Ashanti and Tweet's Southern Hummingbird both cracked the top 5 on the albums chart. But what's really got us abuzz is how well Ashanti's debut stacks up against the likes of Lauryn Hill or Britney Spears, and how Tweet is angling to sail past her mentors, Timbaland and Missy Elliott.
Ashanti Not Foolin' With Grand Debut
After making a name for herself through a series of duets with Ja Rule ("Always on Time"), Fat Joe ("What's Luv?") and the late Big Pun ("How We Roll"), R&B singer Ashanti has broken out as one of the early candidates for new artist of the year, thanks to the impressive numbers posted by her self-titled debut.
According to SoundScan, Ashanti sold 502,000 copies last week and will enter the new Billboard 200 at #1 (see "Ashanti Beats Tweet To Debut At #1 On Albums Chart") almost matching last week's chart-topper, A New Day Has Come from pop vet Celine Dion, which sold 527,000 out of the gate. Despite the early exposure granted by her high-profile guest appearances, few could have anticipated the magnitude of Ashanti's debut, which compares favorably with the first solo efforts from Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and even Lauryn Hill.
Coming on the heels of her work alongside Wyclef and Pras on the Fugees' The Score, Hill's The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was expected to hit big and hit big it did, debuting at #1 on the albums chart in August 1998 on the strength of 422,000 copies sold. Songstress Alicia Keys, who took home this year's Grammy for Best New Artist, also charted strong with her debut, Songs in A Minor, which landed at #1 last July after selling 235,000 copies out of the gates.
Aguilera and Spears also rocketed to the top of the Billboard 200 with their respective solo debuts, issued just six months apart in 1999, although both only did a fraction of Ashanti's first-week figures. Christina Aguilera debuted at #1 in August 1999, but only sold about half of what Ashanti did in its first week, tallying 252,000 copies sold. Spears' ... Baby One More Time debut numbers were even smaller, with just 120,000 copies sold in its first week less than one-fourth the size of Ashanti's debut although that was still more than enough to send the LP to #1 in January 1999.
Even though she's now widely regarded as the leading dual-threat actress/singer on the pop scene, things didn't necessarily start that rosy for Jennifer Lopez. Her first solo record, On the 6, failed to dent the top 5 upon its release in June 1999, charting at #8 with 111,000 copies sold. Lopez wouldn't score a #1 album until January 2001, when her sophomore LP, J.Lo, would rush to the top of the Billboard 200 after selling 272,000 copies.
And it's not limited to just the ladies, as Ashanti also dusted the first-week numbers of Eminem's The Slim Shady LP, which sold 283,000 copies to debut at #2 on the albums chart in February 1999, well behind TLC's Fanmail, which went straight to #1 after notching 318,000 in sales.
While Ashanti's LP has managed to outpace those records, it is still well behind the largest solo debut in the SoundScan era (which dates back to May 1991). That honor belongs to none other than Snoop Dogg. The rapper lit up the Billboard 200 in November 1993 with his chart-topping debut produced by Dr. Dre, Doggystyle, which sold 802,000 copies in its first week.
In addition to Snoop, Bad Boy Records music mogul Sean Combs also fared quite well on the albums chart with his first solo offering, No Way Out, which landed at #1 in July 1997 after selling 560,000 copies remaining a slightly bigger debut than Ashanti's. And while it's not exactly his true solo debut, Ricky Martin's first English-language album (yet another self-titled LP) tallied 660,000 copies sold to enter the albums chart at #1 in May 1999.
After such a hotshot debut, it will be interesting to see if Ashanti can keep it simmering and string together multiple weeks atop the Billboard 200, a feat accomplished by the aforementioned ... Baby One More Time (6 weeks at #1), The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (4 weeks), Doggystyle (3 weeks), No Way Out (4 weeks) or Songs in A Minor (3 weeks).
If so, then Ashanti's debut could easily find itself as one of the biggest of 2002, with total sales approaching that of Keys' debut (4.98 million and counting).
The Wind (And Mentors) Beneath Tweet's Wing
Ashanti wasn't the only one making a first-week SoundScan splash with her debut record. Tweet, the latest artist hatched by the musical braintrust of Missy Elliott and Timbaland, had quite a bit to twitter about in her own right last week. Southern Hummingbird, Tweet's debut, sold 194,000 copies and will comfortably roost at #3 on the new Billboard 200.
Much like Ashanti, Tweet also laid down the groundwork for her solo debut by making guest appearances on LPs such as Ja Rule's Pain Is Love, Bubba Sparxxx's Dark Days, Bright Nights and Petey Pablo's Diary of a Sinner: 1st Entry as well as Missy Elliott's Miss E ... So Addictive and Timbaland & Magoo's Indecent Proposal.
While Missy and Tim are no doubt proud that their newest find is growing her own wings, they might be a little chirpy once they realize that their protégé's debut has actually outperformed both of their own.
Released in July 1997, Elliott's first record as a solo performer, Supa Dupa Fly, also bounded onto the Billboard 200 at the #3 spot, although the album sold just 129,000 copies in its first week in stores. Four months later, Timbaland and his partner in rhyme, Magoo, would drop their joint debut, Welcome to Our World, which barely scratched the top 40 by entering the albums chart at #35 (with 37,000 copies sold). Southern Hummingbird has carried a chart tune better than Tim's Bio, the combination solo LP/motion picture soundtrack for Timbaland's-as-yet-unproduced film that debuted at #41 in November 1998 (50,000 copies sold).
Tweet also bettered Bubba Sparxxx's recent debut, as the redneck rapper's Bright Days, Dark Nights sold 132,000 copies in its initial week although it too landed at #3 on the Billboard 200 upon its release in October. With the right push, Southern Hummingbird should be able to surpass many of the records on which Tweet has guested, including Pablo's Diary of a Sinner: 1st Entry (678,000 sold), Dark Days, Bright Nights (564,000) and Tim & Magoo's Indecent Proposal (356,000).
But for Tweet to truly take wing as a solo artist, she'll first need to fly well past the platinum level of Elliott's three solo records: Supa Dupa Fly (1.14 million sold), 1999's Da Real World (1.02 million) and 2001's Miss E ... So Addictive (1.59 million). Only then will Tweet have truly flown from Timbaland and Missy's production nest.
[In SoundScan we trust. All figures, unless otherwise noted, are according to SoundScan's audited sales numbers and reflect sales as of press time.]