They say it's not bragging if you can back it up. And while Lil Wayne is talking about being a young cash money millionaire on his hit "A Millie," he may as well be talking about the sales of his eagerly anticipated new album, Tha Carter III.
After nearly a year of hype, endless recording and re-recording, the inevitable Internet pre-release leak, more missed release dates than Guns N Roses' Chinese Democracy and expectations that seem impossible to meet, Weezy is on track to smash the charts next week when Carter debuts. During a time when the beleaguered music industry does cartwheels anytime an album cracks the 300,000-sold barrier in its first week, Wayne could top out just shy of a million copies when the dust settles next week, according to several sources.
And, by some accounts, the early leak of the album may have actually helped sales. Estimates from Wayne's label, Universal/Motown, put sales at between 900,000 and 940,000, which would make Tha Carter III easily the biggest debut of the year, nearing the massive numbers put up by the more mainstream Kanye West last year with Graduation, which moved 957,000 in its first week. The biggest debut so far this year was notched by Mariah Carey's E=MC2, which bowed with 443,000 copies.
According to numbers compiled by Nielsen SoundScan's Building Chart released late Wednesday (June 11), preliminary first-day sales figures for the album at nine leading retailers through the close of business on Tuesday were at 423,000. To put that in perspective, West's Graduation had Building Chart numbers of 437,000 from eight retailers during its first week, or around 3 percent more than Carter.
"Retailers are calling us up and saying they can't remember the last time they had a record like this," said Pat Monaco, executive vice president of sales for the Universal Motown Republic Group, who added that the extra foot traffic in stores due to the Father's Day weekend could also help goose sales at more mainstream outlets like Target and Wal-Mart. "He's not starting at a place where some of the other people he's been compared to are starting at. His other records have sold about 3 million copies total, which is about half of what Kanye's two records [before Graduation] sold, but his appearances on other people's records have led him down side streets that broadened his appeal through other artists who already had a bigger audience."
Some labels might have grown frustrated by the leaks, the constant mix tape appearances or the endless guest spots on other artists' songs, but in the case of the one-of-a-kind Wayne, all that potential overexposure somehow worked in his favor.
"Leaks happen because there's interest, and since the advent of digital technology, there's been a lot of music that gets out there before big releases happen ... and historically, those albums have done well, going back to Eminem and 50 Cent," said Geoff Mayfield, director of charts and senior analyst at Billboard magazine. "People don't steal things they don't want." Mayfield didn't have numbers at press time, but he said after talking to Weezy's label, he's confident Carter will do more than 800,000 in sales and possibly more than 900,000. "If you'd asked me three weeks ago if I thought this would have been such a big album, I wouldn't have been able to predict it."
Rather than diluting the Weezy brand and possibly taking away from his own sales, Monaco said all those mixtape and remix appearances have actually helped Wayne, as did those early leaks of the various versions of the album. "I think we first heard this record 18 months ago, and it was so frickin' out there!" he said. "It was unlike any record we'd ever heard, and I think, musically, he takes chances and he's got all the right ingredients that I'm not sure you could reproduce again. He's now the benchmark."
Monaco says that unique appeal has helped Wayne cross over to fans who might not consider themselves to be rap aficionados.
Roy Trakin, senior editor at Hits magazine said Wayne has a real shot at besting Kanye's 956,000 mark, but it depends on foot traffic at retail outlets this weekend. "It will definitely be the largest debut of the year by far and the biggest record in Universal/Motown history," he said, noting that, at one point, early numbers suggested the record might even cross the magical 1 million mark in its first week, though those figures have since cooled a bit. "I'm surprised anything can do this kind of numbers in this marketplace, but it's heartening to realize that this underground phenomenon has been building towards this moment of ubiquity."
Like other crossover artists in the past, such as 50 Cent and DMX, Weezy has been able to build himself up to be the "guy of the moment," Trakin said, thanks to the perfect storm of a huge radio hit with "Lollipop" and an album that delivers to a wide audience and has gotten nearly universal critical acclaim. "He's got all those things working for him, and he's done it very much below the radar, so at this point, it can seem like it's happening overnight, but he's been making hits since he was a kid."