Rappers Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill Rise To The Top

Reigning king and queen have released LPs that are flying in the face of a hip-hop trend.

It was déjà vu all over again on the top of the

Billboard 200 albums chart this week, as reigning chart-royalty

Jay-Z and Lauryn Hill retained their stronghold on the chart's two

top slots.

Rapper Jay-Z saw his third album, Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life, lodged in the top spot for the third week in a row, with SoundScan, the organization that tracks album sales, reporting 185,000 copies moved in the week ending Sunday.

Meanwhile, Fugees rapper/singer Hill, who has broken new ground for

female rap artists worldwide with her critically acclaimed

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, has stuck fast to the #2 spot

for another week.

The success of Jay-Z and Hill the past few weeks has occurred in the face of the quick-rise-even-quicker-plunge trend that has affected the chart performance of such hip-hop artists as Kurupt, whose Kuruption dropped from #8 last week to #32 this week; Canibus, whose Can-I-Bus is at #144 two months after its highly anticipated release; and E-40, whose The Element of Surprise has dropped off the chart entirely in spite of hip-hop radio warmly receiving the album's singles.

According to some industry voices, the ability of Jay-Z and Hill to withstand such a trend has a lot to do with the themes of their songs.

"The difference between them and other rappers is that people can relate to their music and their lyrics," said Roberto Goodin, an urban-music supervisor for an HMV in the Bronx, N.Y., on Wednesday (Oct. 21). "Rappers hit all the time with a pop hook, but fans will hang with someone who they feel is speaking to them."

Spurred on by the success of three singles that appear on the album --

"Can I Get A ...," which originally appeared on the Rush Hour

soundtrack; "Money Ain't A Thing," which originally appeared on Jermaine

Dupri's Life In 1472; and "Hard Knock Life"

(RealAudio excerpt), the chorus of which is a sample of the famed song

from the musical "Annie" -- Jay-Z's third effort to date has thus far sold 747,000 copies.

Meanwhile, Hill's album has been fueled by the success of such songs as

"Doo Wop (That Thing)" (RealAudio excerpt). In turn,

it has yet to fall below the #3 slot since its #1 chart debut Sept. 2.

In just two months, the album has been certified double-platinum (2

million copies sold) by the Recording Industry Association of America.

For 19-year-old Nicole Wink, a Hill fan, both artists are speaking to

people through their music in ways few others have been able to. "I

think everyone can relate to those albums," Wink explained in an e-mail.

"Both albums talk about making tough decisions, though Jay-Z talks about

the streets while [Hill] talks about society and her personal life.

Everyone needs the support they're offering, which is probably why

they're doing so well."

Even more impressive were those artists' abilities to keep sales strong

during a week in which the music industry suffered slower-than-normal

sales. Hill's and Jay-Z's albums were the only two with sales greater

than 100,000.

The highest debut of the week comes from folk-rock legend Bob Dylan,

whose Live 1966 - The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4 landed at #31 based

on sales of 39,000. The two-disc set is a historic recording of a Bob

Dylan show -- with backing by the Hawks (who would become the Band) --

that was recorded at the Manchester Free Trade Hall on May 17, 1966, a

show that gained international attention for the audience's strong negative reaction to Dylan's new, plugged-in sound. Recordings of the concert have been making the rounds of underground tape-trading circles for years; many consider it to be one of the most bootlegged recordings in the history of rock. The set is subtitled "The Royal Albert Hall Concert" because many of the bootlegs misidentified where the set was recorded.

Coming in just behind Dylan were rap duo Heltah Skeltah, whose Magnum Force landed at #34. The group's second album, it features appearances from such rappers as Method Man and Tha Dogg Pound.

Further down the chart, Bad Boy's Greatest Hits Volume 1, which houses tracks from such artists as Puff Daddy & the Family, the Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans, the Lox and newcomer Jerome, landed at # 5. The soundtrack for the poetry-in-prison film "Slam," which features new tracks from such rappers as Q-Tip, Coolio and Brand Nubian, bowed at #84.

Sales may have been slow overall, but some artists' work still managed to move up the chart. R&B diva Janet Jackson, for example, saw her The Velvet Rope leap from #68 to #43 following the broadcast of a concert on HBO.

Hot on Janet's heels was pop-rock newcomer Eagle-Eye Cherry, who saw his Desireless climb from #64 to #47 based on the success of its first single, "Save Tonight." Also riding a wave generated by a hit single is former House of Pain frontman Everlast, whose Whitey Ford Sings The Blues rocketed from #144 to #103. The album didn't chart when it was released in early September, but the success of "What It's Like" (RealAudio excerpt) and a U.S. tour of small clubs has spurred the record to higher sales each consecutive week.

Other artists who managed to move up on the chart included quirky

Canadian pop-rockers Barenaked Ladies, whose Stunt crept from

#10 to #7; R&B singer Brandy's Never S-A-Y Never, which rose

from #28 to #19; dance-pop star Madonna, whose techno-influenced

Ray of Light climbed from #50 to #41; and country-legend Willie

Nelson, who saw his latest, Teatro, re-enter the chart at #197.

The rest of the top 10: Come On Over, Shania Twain (#3);

'N Sync, 'N Sync (#4); Aquemini, Outkast (#5); Globe

Sessions, Sheryl Crow (#6); Rush Hour Soundtrack, various

artists (#8); Backstreet Boys, Backstreet Boys (#9); and Wide

Open Spaces, Dixie Chicks (#10).