Pop Smoke’s ‘Shoot for the Stars’ joins elite list of album-chart titans; it’s not just another millennial anomaly…

(March 5, 2021).  For years, a handful of the greatest R&B/Hip-Hop albums of all time have been able to maintain their decades-long grip on chart supremacy when it comes to the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums list, even as other rankings – particularly the singles charts – have seen longstanding records fall like dominoes in the past ten years.

For instance, on the Hot 100 singles chart, 21st-century acts like Drake, Lil Wayne, Future, Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj have made minced meat of records once held by legends like Elvis Presley, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick.  Likewise, Drake and The Weeknd now hold numbers or longevity records on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart that were considered unreachable two or three decades ago.

But the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart record books have been immune to the kind of millennial artist takeover that has seen longstanding accomplishments on other charts knocked down on a regular basis.   For more than three decades, Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums has been sacred ground for an impenetrable group of recordings that have held the distinction of being the longest-running No. 1 LPs in that chart’s history.  I’m talking iconic albums by Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Rick James, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Freddie Jackson, plus rap star MC Hammer.  

In fact, for the past 30-plus years, ten albums by those artists have had an iron grip on the list of albums with the most weeks at No. 1 since the R&B chart began in 1965.  And they haven’t been matched or exceeded by any other album since December 1990, when the most recent of them – MC Hammer’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em– spent its final week at the top.

That is, at least, until this week.  On the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart dated March 6, the posthumous album by rap messiah Pop Smoke – Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon – spends its 17th non-consecutive week at the No. 1 position, rising from No. 3 last week and tying Aretha Franklin’s Aretha Now for tenth place on the list of albums with the most weeks at the top of that chart. 

Pop Smoke

The top-10 leaderboard of the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart now looks like this:

Weeks at No. 1, Album Title, Artist, Year(s) topping the chart:

37, Thriller, Michael Jackson, 1983-84

29, Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, MC Hammer, 1990

26, Just Like the First Time, Freddie Jackson, 1986-87

23, Can’t Slow Down, Lionel Richie, 1983-84

20, Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder, 1976-77

20, Street Songs, Rick James, 1981

19, Purple Rain, Prince, 1984

18, The Temptations Sing Smokey, The Temptations, 1965

18, Bad, Michael Jackson, 1987-88

17, Aretha Now, Aretha Franklin, 1968

17, Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon, Pop Smoke, 2020-21

Just look at that list.  Those are some of the most iconic albums in Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart history.  Each one is a story in itself…all of them arguably masterpieces by the legendary artists who recorded them.

Of course, there’s MJ’s Thriller, still the biggest selling album of all time, worldwide, and the longest-running No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart with 37 weeks at the top. (The album’s first three singles – “The Girl Is Mine,” “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” – all topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 1983.)

His followup album Bad, with its record-setting five No. 1 pop singles (and an equal number of No. 1s on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart), is also on the list with 18 weeks. 

Prince’s iconic Purple Rain soundtrack – the album that catapulted him to mainstream superstardom in 1984 – is also on the list, as is Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down – the sophomore solo set that spent an entire calendar year in the top ten on both the pop and R&B lists in 1984 and generated two of the former Commodores lead singer and current American Idol judge’s biggest hits in “All Night Long” and “Hello.”

Eighties’ soul crooner Freddie Jackson’s Just Like the First Time is represented as well, as it spent half a year at No. 1 – the third longest – while generating four of Jackson’s ten No. 1s on the R&B/Hip-Hop singles chart (including the duet “A Little Bit More” with Melba Moore, which only appeared on some pressings of the album).  No other Freddie Jackson album had more than two No. 1 hits.  

Motown masterpieces by Stevie Wonder and Rick James – Songs in the Key of Life and Street Songs, respectively – are also on this elite list.  Each album spent 20 weeks at No. 1 and are automatically mentioned when discussing either artist’s greatest works.  The classic songs coming from those two albums are far too many to mention, but gems like “I Wish,” “Sir Duke,” “As,” “Give It To Me Baby,” “Super Freak” and “Fire and Desire” are just some that come to mind.  

Speaking of Motown, the incomparable Temptations are also listed.  The Temptations Sing Smokey LP featuring the group’s breakthrough 1965 smash “My Girl,” was one of the first No. 1 entries after the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart – then simply called Hot R&B LP’s – was constituted earlier that year.

And while we’re on the subject of legendary Detroit artists, Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin dominated the last three years of the 1960s, racking up two different No. 1 albums each year from 1967-69.  The longest-reigning of them was 1968’s Aretha Now, which included classics like “Think” and her remake of “I Say A Little Prayer.”  It is the tenth-longest running No. 1 R&B/Hip-Hop album of all time with 17 weeks at the top.  

By the way, Aretha’s Lady Soul album – also from 1968 – ranks just one spot behind Aretha Now with 16 weeks at No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop chart.

And finally, there’s the aforementioned rapper MC Hammer, whose 1990 breakthrough LP was the last album to enter these ranks.  That album was a pop and R&B/Hip-Hop crossover smash that dominated both charts in unprecedented fashion at a time when rap was just beginning to experience the phenomenal sales and consumption numbers it now enjoys on a routine basis.  Ironically, its signature single, “U Can’t Touch This,” samples Rick James’ “Super Freak,” which appears on Street Songs – the album tied at No. 5 on this list. 

Which brings us to the first new album to join this list of iconic sets since Hammer’s, by an artist who wasn’t even born when Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em did its damage.

Cover art for Pop Smoke’s ‘Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon.’

Pop Smoke, born Bashar Jackson in Brooklyn in July 1999, was murdered in a robbery attempt in February 2020.  He was considered one of hip-hop’s most promising talents when he was gunned down.  In just one year, he had become a face of the Brooklyn drill scene he perfected – a darker form of trap music first popularized in Chicago last decade.  

When Shoot for the Stars was issued as his debut full-length studio album last July (after a couple of earlier mixtapes), it immediately became one of the few posthumously released sets to reach No. 1 on both the R&B/Hip-Hop and Billboard 200 charts.

Thanks to a large dose of the album’s enduring radio favorites and instant classics, like “Dior,” “The Woo” featuring the set’s producer 50 Cent and rapper Roddy Ricch, plus “For the Night” featuring Lil Baby and DaBaby, Shoot for the Stars has been one of the most enduring hip-hop releases in a generation.  It has been in or near the top-10 of the Billboard 200 ever since its release eight months ago (it ranked as low as No. 11 for one week during the Christmas season).  And it has never left the Top R&B/Hip-Hop albums top ten, regularly ranking at No. 1, 2 or 3 during its entire chart run there!

That endurance has paid off and now Shoot joins an elite list of albums that automatically places it in the discussion as being one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, if for no other reason than its association with such an exclusive club of artists who have been there with what are arguably their own greatest works.

And while it might be tempting to lump this achievement with other recent chart-busting milestones by the likes of Drake, Minaj, Swift and others who seemingly break chart records with every new release – mostly because today’s technology and chart rules are tipped in their favor – don’t fall into that belief trap about Smoke’s accomplishments.

His has been a singular success buoyed by one album’s endurance, not a steady diet of releases that dubiously pad chart histories and regularly frustrate baby boomers and Generation Xers alike.  Any album that hangs around as long as Smoke’s has – regardless of the era in which it was released or the chart calculation method used to measure its popularity – and any that is able to knock down decades-old records that have endured even while other chart milestones were regularly being shattered around them, deserves mad respect. 

It’s just too bad that Pop Smoke never lived to know the impact his album would have on a whole new generation of music consumers – or for how long that impact would be felt.

Continue resting in peace, Smoke!

Pop Smoke (1999-2020)

DJRob

DJRob is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.

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