Gang Starr Rises From Rap Underground To #6

Meanwhile, Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland can't break the top 40.

Hip-hop innovators Gang Starr, who pioneered the use of jazz samples in rap tracks during the late '80s and early '90s, officially moved out of the rap underground this week as their fifth album, Moment Of Truth, debuted at #6 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.

SoundScan reported that the album, which features guest appearances by rappers Scarface, M.O.P. and Wu-Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck on "Above The Clouds" (RealAudio excerpt), sold 97,000 copies in the week ending April 1.

The second-highest debut of the week came from former Dogg Pound member Daz Dillinger, whose Retaliation, Revenge And Get Back landed at #8.

Dillinger, who is the last remaining star power on beleaguered gangsta-rap label Death Row Records following the death of Tupac Shakur and the defections of Snoop Doggy Dog, Dr. Dre and former Dogg Pound partner Kurupt to other labels, moved 89,000 copies of his solo debut, according to SoundScan.

This week's highest-profile release, Scott Weiland's solo debut, 12 Bar Blues, came in at a disappointing #42. Weiland, who just a few years ago topped the charts as the frontman for Stone Temple Pilots, only piqued the interest of 29,000 fans in the first week of his album's release, according to SoundScan. But one of those fans, 19-year-old Lake Orion, Mich., resident Robert Bramson, said once the word-of-mouth spreads, the album will rocket up the charts. "It's gotten pretty good reviews," Bramson wrote in an e-mail. "And people are going to warm up to it, but it might take a while. He's not trying to re-create STP like [his former bandmates did with] Talk Show. He's progressing."

Other debuts this week include R&B artist Montell Jordan's Let's Ride

at #20, rappers Cocoa Brovaz's (a.k.a. The Artists Formerly Known as Smif

n' Wessun) The Rude Awakening at #21 and the City of Angels

soundtrack (which features songs by U2 and rock songstress Alanis Morissette) at #23.

Further down the charts, a former associate of gangsta-rapper Tupac Shakur's, Fatal, debuted at #50 with In The Line of Fire, Brit-poppers Pulp landed at #114 with This Is Hardcore and up-and-coming alt-rockers Fuel made their presence known at the #124 slot with Sunburn.

Last week's highest debut, The Pillage, from Wu-Tang Clan associate Capadonna, dropped from #3 to #16, with SoundScan reporting sales of 63,000 -- a more than 50 percent drop from its first-week sales. In other hip-hop news, gangsta-rapper and Master P comrade C-Murder held tight in his third week of release, dropping from #7 to #10. Diggity rappers Das EFX's Generation EFX dropped from #48 to #89 on SoundScan-reported sales of 14,000, bringing their two-week total to 36,000.

Guitar-god Eric Clapton remained steadfast this week, with SoundScan

reporting that Pilgrim moved 85,000 copies and jumped up one slot to

#7. With Pilgrim's total sales now at 464,000, the album is likely

to be certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America

after next week's sales figures are released. Madonna's latest, Ray of Light -- which SoundScan reported sold 104,000 copies this week and which remained in the #4 slot -- is nearing platinum (more than 1 million sold) status. Her electronica-filled album has thus far sold 985,000 copies.

On the upward swing this week were Austin, Texas-based pop-rockers Fastball, whose second album, All The Pain Money Can Buy, leapt from #115 to #85. Swing-ska band Cherry Poppin' Daddies continued their climb up the charts, with Zoot Suit Riot inching from #67 to #61.

The rest of the best: Titanic soundtrack (#1); Celine Dion, Let's Talk About Love (#2); Savage Garden, Savage Garden (#3); Backstreet Boys, Backstreet Boys (#5); and K-Ci & Jojo, Love Always (#9).