Back in the good old days of the early 2000s, major artists sometimes sold a million records during their first week and topped the charts for months at a time. Thanks to Internet piracy, a precipitous decline in album sales and the rise of à la carte music grazing courtesy of the iTunes store, those days are mostly gone.
But apparently no one told that to [artist id="502642"]Eminem[/artist]. The rapper, who was one of the aforementioned acts back in the day, made it five weeks in a row this week atop the Billboard 200 albums charts , beating back a strong challenge from Rick Ross’ Teflon Don, but, more impressively, seeing a miniscule 4 percent week-to-week sales drop, also practically unheard of these days.
So, how did he do it?
“It’s no puzzle,” said Keith Caulfield, senior chart manager and analyst at Billboard. “He’s Eminem. He isn’t deteriorating as fast as some would have thought. … He was sale-priced at two big box merchants last week and he has a big single [with Rihanna] with ‘Love the Way You Lie.’ ”
Billboard even posted a story last week predicting that Ross could, in fact, beat Eminem, putting the Bawse’s totals somewhere between 150,000 and 180,0000, which would have given him his fourth #1 in a row. In the end, Ross’ 176,000 beat the first week totals for 2009′s Deeper Than Rap (158,000), but Caulfield said those initial projections based on interviews with industry sources began to fade as the week wore on and the race tightened.
“As the week progressed, things were getting closer and it could have gone either way,” he said about the competition for the top spot, which Em ultimately won by a wide margin with sales of 187,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The key to Eminem’s continued dominance is the combination of the mostly positive reviews for Recovery, a higher media profile and the chart-dominating hit single with Rihanna .
“It’s impressive that he’s been able to hold the top spot for so long, which is something you don’t see much anymore. But Eminem is almost a relic from another era,” said Entertainment Weekly correspondent Simon Vozick-Levinson. “He was one of the biggest stars in music when it was at its hugest in 2000 and he still carries some of that magic with him.”
Vozick-Levinson said few artists today are able to debut big and then keep the top spot after a few weeks. But the run by Eminem says less about Ross than it does about Slim Shady’s continued popularity . He said that while Ross is one of the most popular MCs in rap circles, he doesn’t have the kind of pop crossover appeal that Eminem has, which is the key to dominating the charts.
“What is behind this is connecting with the hard-core rap audience and then the broader pop audience, which has been [Eminem's] big trick,” said Levinson. “His team played it really intelligently this time, picking a great first single ["Not Afraid"] to introduce the album and then following with the Rihanna song , which was a savvy move that paid off.”
The next question is: Can Eminem keep the streak going? The buzz from the Rihanna hit will eventually taper off, but the good news for Team Shady is that there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of competition over the next few weeks.
Caulfield looked ahead and said the latest from Avenged Sevenfold, next week’s Nightmare, doesn’t look to be a major threat, and the August 3 release from Arcade Fire, The Suburbs, should do well, but might also not have enough to knock Em down if his sales trend continues.
That takes us out to August 10, when the “Camp Rock 2″ soundtrack doesn’t seem like much of a real threat, though the debut from “Cooler Than Me” singer Mike Posner, 31 Minutes to Takeoff, could pose a challenge. In fact, you have to go all the way out to August 24 and the chart debut of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream to find a disc that could knock Marshall Mathers from his perch.
“Eminem has always been in a class by himself,” said Levinson. “In between now and then [August 24], it’s anybody’s game.”