Drake fever has reached a fever pitch, but the release of his highly anticipated debut album, Thank Me Later, on Tuesday should quench the thirst of even his most eager fans.
The buildup has been steady since his breakout mixtape, So Far Gone. But as Drake appeared on a steady diet of hits, ranging from his own (“Forever”) to others’ (Timbaland’s “Say Something”), Young Money’s White Knight drove up expectations like Khloé Kardashian’s Master Card bill.
Now, backed by his Kanye West-produced single “Find Your Love,” rumblings of blockbuster opening-week sales have begun. The collection is clearly one of the most-anticipated premieres in hip-hop history. But where does it rank alongside some of the greatest debut albums? Here, MTV News ranks the top five most-anticipated rap debuts.
1. 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’
Momentum Builders: 50 Cent having the top-selling debut of all time was no fluke. The Queens native’s ascension to the top of the charts couldn’t have been scripted more perfectly (they tried to in the film “Get Rich or Die Tryin’ “). Fif had one of the most dangerous and intriguing backstories in music history.
His first stop was street credibility . He was authentic and audacious. Real-life events such as his near-death and other dealings in the underbelly served as fodder for his music. Just as important, 50, Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo made the hottest music on the block, and they gave it away for free. The G-Unit owned the streets in 2001 and 2003, murdering the circuit with nonstop underground classics such as 50 Cent Is the Future, The Future Is Now, Guess Who’s Back, Automatic Gunfire, God’s Plan and No Mercy, No Fear (peep the MTV intro that Whoo Kid pilfered from this very organization), which spawned his breakthrough song “Wanksta.”
A few months before putting out his album, Fif — who says he was once blackballed by the music industry — got his biggest co-sign, inking a deal with goliaths Dr. Dre and Eminem . The alliance paid dividends almost immediately, as fans of the already-established duo jumped on the Unit bandwagon. The final knockout blow was the Dr. Dre-produced “In Da Club,” which exploded, becoming one of rap’s most successful club bangers.
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was bootlegged weeks before its release in February 2003. Any question anyone had about the quality was silenced, and DJs immediately gravitated toward “Many Men,” “Patiently Waiting” and “What Up Gangsta” in advance of the LP hitting stores. Fif arguably made the album of the decade, and the word of mouth from the street solidified him.
First-Week Sales: More than 872,000 copies in less than one week
2. Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle
Momentum Builders: Snoop Dogg laid down the blueprint for modern MCs to break into the game in a major way: He landed a co-sign from one of the most important figures in hip-hop (Dr. Dre), rolled with the hottest crew at the time (Death Row Records) and pounced on every opportunity like an untrained pit bull.
Who could forget Snoop’s syrupy flow mixed with spiked anger on his guest appearance alongside Dr. Dre on the “Deep Cover” soundtrack? The pup continued to prove his mettle on the good doctor’s The Chronic album, delivering head-nod-inducing rhymes on seminal cuts like “Stranded on Death Row,” “Bi—es Ain’t Sh–” and “Dre Day.” He was scathing in song, debilitating Uncle Luke on wax, but Snoop also proved to be cooler than a St. Ides fresh out the fridge.
Snoop was clearly the undisputed prince of Los Angeles, and before the East Coast/ West Coast feud, the long-limbed MC also managed to reach across the map, earning admirers from all over the country, including in New York.
It was amid this popularity that he broke out on his own with Doggystyle. Eminem might have blown up over a decade later with “My Name Is,” but it was Snoop who first declared his identity on the rumbling “Who Am I (What’s My Name),” a G-funk-drenched number that featured a Fab 5 Freddy-directed video, memorable for the rapper’s transformation into a Doberman Pinscher.
“Gin and Juice” and “Doggy Dogg World” followed, each with visuals as slick as Snoop’s rhymes on the tracks. The clips captured his easy charisma and timeless charm, characteristics that would carry Snoop the rest of his career, as he became a multimedia superstar with appearances in movies, television shows, video games and much more.
First-Week Sales: 802,000 copies, a record for a debut artist until Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP
3. Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Momentum Builders: As one-third of the Fugees, the New Jersey native became an international sensation, leading to speculation that she would break free from the group to pursue a solo career.
L-Boogie wasn’t even the first refugee to break from the collective, as Wyclef Jean instead delivered his debut, The Carnival. Just a year later, though, Hill burst onto the scene as a producer, singer and rapper on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
The concept album found Hill exploring failed romantic relationships, frayed communication between her and her group members, and her new life as a mother. On “Lost Ones,” she fired off searing lines about ‘Clef and Pras, accusing the pair of losing sight of the group’s mission once they achieved success. “Ex Factor,” a Stevie Wonder-inspired slow-burner, painfully detailed a brutal mismatch of the hearts and a union that could no longer be. And on “Zion,” Hill gave us a soul-stirring testimony of life’s gifts, delivering a candid tale of her personal decision to choose family over career.
The result was a critically hailed project that went on to not only do well in the hip-hop community, but also be heralded in the mainstream: Lauryn became the first hip-hop artist to earn an Album of the Year Grammy.
First-Week Sales: 422,624 copies, helping her set a record for biggest opening week by a female artist
4. DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot
Momentum Builders: X was a typhoon, hurricane and tsunami all rolled into one. The Yonkers, New York, rap star took the game by storm, washing away the glitzy era of Bad Boy Records and their shiny suits. The Def Jam star was rough, raw and uncompromising. He could also be vulnerable, and his gruff appeal had a way of making even the most put-together woman swoon.
It was with the Dame Grease-produced “Get at Me Dog” that Dark Man X announced his arrival. Hype Williams eschewed his fish-eye lenses in favor of a handheld style for the clip, which captured the rapper’s frenetic energy at its finest. The two would later revisit their work on “Belly,” both the director and rapper’s big-screen debut, powered by X’s magnetic screen presence and unruly charisma.
Musically, DMX’s urgent delivery drove tracks like the pulsating “Stop Being Greedy” and the soaring album intro, one of the most ear-rattling openings in hip-hop history. On numbers like “How’s It Goin’ Down,” though, he showed off a softer side, proving he had the gift of gab and the ability to speak to the ladies.
The rapper was in heavy demand, joining Jay-Z on top of the rap heap in a post-Biggie/Tupac landscape. That X was the antithesis of Jay — forceful to the Brooklyn lyricist’s ease, an open book to his counterpart’s detached nature — only helped him fill the shoes left by the Thug Angel who was ‘Pac.
By the time his debut album dropped, he was clearly in the top spot, which would prove to be rarefied air occupied by just a few during Jay-Z’s impressive run from the late ’90s through the 2000s.
First-Week Sales: 251,000 — not a gigantic haul, but the dog still landed atop the charts and began his run of five consecutive albums that would debut at #1
5. Drake’s Thank Me Later
Momentum Builders: Drake dropped one of the biggest mixtapes in history in February last year with So Far Gone — no exaggeration. The brilliant, epic tape spawned a #1 single (“Best I Ever Had”) and earned Drake two Grammy nominations, and he was then able to sell the thing — with fewer songs and after all his fans got it for free months earlier.
The accolades are well-documented, and the hype from So Far Gone alone probably would have landed him on this list. But Drake hasn’t stopped his one-man fire brigade since then. If the mixtape didn’t convince you of his talent, he had plenty of other evidence to prove his point.
While some artists have the knack of placement power, appearing on songs that could clearly be hits without them, Drake has turned songs into hits with his cameos; “Money to Blow” and “4 My Town” with the Birdman and Timbaland’s “Say Something” are a few testaments. Meanwhile, Drizzy kept up his street due diligence with underground bangers alongside Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy and Nipsey Hussle, while fulfilling his obligations to hip-hop’s number-one family, Young Money. YM’s “Every Girl” was a monster smash last year, and the heat of “Bedrock” bled into this year.
Thank Me Later leaked two weeks ago, but his label is so confident in its selling power, they haven’t moved up the release date.
What hip-hop debut were you most eager to hear? Name your favorite and add your own in the comments!