(August 11, 2019). As if Drake’s name wasn’t already associated with enough Billboard chart achievements in his career, the 6-God nets another major milestone in the publication this week.
But this one is more of a statement for his genre than it is for the rapper himself (although his No. 1 tally is nothing to sneeze at – more on that later).
Drake‘s Care Package, released Friday August 2, is the 200th album that is either rap or hip-hop (or trap) to reach No. 1 on the magazine’s marquee album chart, ironically known as The Billboard 200. It caps a nearly 40-year history that rap and its many sub-genres have been charting in Billboard, and a history in which the genre didn’t really take off until well into its first decade.
Care Package, a compilation of previously released one-off recordings spanning Drake’s ten-year career, is the Canadian rapper’s ninth No. 1, moving him into a tie for second-place with Eminem for the most No. 1 albums in hip-hop history. Only Jay-Z has more with 14.
On the overall leader board for the Billboard 200, Drake trails the first-place Beatles by ten No. 1s (but don’t tell him, he may release ten more albums in the next couple of years just to pass the Fab Four).
Billboard’s began its main popular albums list in 1945, and it became a weekly feature in 1956. Largely viewed as a pop chart, but always one for which any genre was eligible, the list expanded to its current 200-position format in May 1967.
Rap albums didn’t start charting until 1980, a year or so after the phenomenon emerged from the streets and underground clubs of New York City (mainly The Bronx) and then broke through with the first single to chart pop, “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugar Hill Gang.
The first full-length rap album to reach the Billboard 200 was Kurtis Blow’s self-titled debut which peaked at No. 71 in late 1980. The first No. 1 rap/hip-hop album didn’t occur until March 1987 when the Beastie Boys – under the careful management of hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons and the legendary Def Jam label – broke through the glass ceiling with Licensed To Ill.
For the next four years, from 1987-1991, it was slow-going for hip-hop on the pop charts as only four albums occupied the No. 1 slot – all safe, pop-leaning fare by the Beasties, Tone Loc, MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice.
At the same time, some of the pioneers of old-school rap like Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Whodini, Treacherous Three, Run-DMC, L.L. Cool J, Queen Latifah, Roxanne Shante, Salt-n-Pepa, Eric B. & Rakim, Ice-T, Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions (with KRS-One) had already built up plenty of street cred within the rap community, creating what was largely considered the golden age of hip-hop.
But those acts weren’t yet able to get the big sales numbers needed to cross over to the top of the mainstream album charts (or at least their sales weren’t being accurately reported from record stores to the trades to get those results).
By comparison, the four years from 1991-95 saw a significant jump in hip-hop’s presence at the top – this no doubt sparked by Billboard’s shift to the more accurate barcode tracking technology (Soundscan) that measured what people were actually buying, rather than using conservative sales lists being faxed or called in to the magazine by record store managers.
It wasn’t a coincidence then that nine rap albums ascended to No. 1 between May 1991 and May 1995, more than double that of the previous four-year window.
This period saw the No. 1 ascension of harder-edged hip-hop and gangsta rap via new superstars like N.W.A, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur (a/k/a 2pac), which reflected the growing popularity of the sub-genre but also marked a geographic shift to the west coast as a major hip-hop influence.
That geographic expansion helped contribute to the largest percentage jump yet for hip-hop’s No. 1 album share in the ensuing years.
Notably, between May 1995 and May 1999, 28 different hip-hop albums reached the top of the Billboard 200, a more than 200-percent increase over the previous four years. The list of new chart-toppers in this frame included legendary artists like The Fugees, The Notorious B.I.G. (Biggie Smalls), Puff Daddy (Sean Combs), Wu-Tang Clan, Jay-Z, Nas, Foxy Brown, DMX, Master P and Lauren Hill (the first female to have a solo No. 1 rap album).
It was an era that helped define the ‘90s as one of the most exciting decades in hip-hop history, both creatively and commercially speaking. It would also set the stage for what was to come in the new millennium.
|2010s||91 (as of 8/17 chart)|
Unfortunately, the ‘90s were also one of hip-hop’s darkest eras. The brewing East Coast-vs-West Coast rivalry – which had no doubt spurred additional interest and sales with Suge Knight’s Death Row Records and Sean “Puffy” Combs’ Bad Boy Entertainment leading their respective coastal camps – came to an ugly head. Its two main ambassadors, 2Pac and Biggie, were gunned down six months apart in 1996 and ‘97, respectively, while the two top MCs were in their primes. Their deaths effectively ended the senseless feud but both murders remain unsolved to this day.
Hip-hop’s civil war could’ve been a huge setback for the genre, but new rap superstars continued to emerge at the turn of the millennium with the likes of Eminem, Nelly, Ja Rule, 50 Cent, OutKast, Ludacris, The Game, Lil Wayne T.I., and Kanye West all making huge dents at the top of the album charts. Some of those names have been at or near the top ever since with Eminem, Kanye West and Lil Wayne all achieving No. 1 sets as recently as 2018.
Those veteran acts can be seen sharing chart space in recent years right alongside more contemporary artists like Migos, Logic, Kendrick Lamar, XXXTentacion, J Cole, Travis Scott, Meek Mill and Kodak Black.
|Albums by Camp||Number Ones|
|Cash Money/Young Money||15|
It was at the beginning of the current decade, however, that history-maker Drake initially hit big. His first No. 1, Thank Me Later, topped the charts in July 2010. It was part of a decade-long growth that has seen 91 hip-hop releases top the album charts in the 2010s (so far).
Compared to the four-year timeframes used in the earlier analyses, 51 hip-hop albums have topped the Billboard 200 since mid-August 2015, more than any other four-year period in the chart’s history.
Of course, coinciding with that growth has been the redefinition of what can even be considered hip-hop these days. The genre has been expanded to include hybrids like trap and pop-rap by artists like Future, Migos and Post Malone, the latter of whom has banished the “rapper” label for himself.
The marketing of hip-hop albums has also changed dramatically since 1987. These days, artists can release two or three projects a year with “mixtapes” and EPs being allowed to augment normal album release schedules. The Atlanta rapper Future, for example, has released ten albums/EPs/mixtapes in the past five years alone, with six of those reaching No. 1.
And everyone who isn’t living in a cave (or stuck in the 20th century) knows about the contribution that streaming has had to hip-hop’s dominance in recent years.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the lack of diversity at the top when it comes to women. They sadly continue to be underrepresented in hip-hop’s penthouse as only five have reached the top – ever, with the most recent being the former stripper, former reality TV, and always outspoken rapper Cardi B (Invasion Of Privacy, April 2018). She is the only female MC to top the chart since April 2012, when Nicki Minaj (Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded) last did it.
Besides Minaj, Cardi and the previously mentioned Foxy Brown and Lauren Hill, only Eve has also had a No. 1 album (she did it in late 1999). Minaj is the only woman to do it twice as a solo artist (Foxy also appeared at No. 1 in a male-dominated collective known as The Firm in 1997, while Hill hit No. 1 as part of the Fugees the year before).
|Women by decade||Number Ones|
|1990s||3 (Hill, Foxy, Eve)|
|2010s||3 (Nicki twice, Cardi)|
So that’s only six No. 1 albums by solo female rappers since 1987, or an average of 1.5 per decade(!).
Or, to further drive home the point, Jay-Z (14), Drake and Eminem (each with 9), and Kanye (8) each have more No. 1 albums than all the women rappers combined.
Thats not good by any measure of diversity.
But that age-old disparity is a problem that hip-hop doesn’t seem ready to or even capable of solving. As we enter the next decade of the genre’s chart history, the notion that there’s only room for one hip-hop femcee at a time, while the ubiquitous Drake can top the chart with an album of cobbled-together old songs that weren’t good enough for his previous releases, speaks volumes.
But it’s also a testimony to how important Drake – along with streaming platforms – has been to hip-hop’s astronomical rise over the past several years. Hip-hop has been the most consumed genre of music since 2017, with no end to its reign in sight.
It seems only fitting then that Drake caps the list of the first 200 hip-hop albums to reach No. 1 on the Billboard chart. And it’s a safe bet that he’ll be among the artists included in the next 200 as well.
Oh, and yes, we can “thank him now.”
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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Disclaimer: This information was compiled by djrobblog based on a thorough review of Billboard’s album chart data from October 1979 to August 2019. It has not been certified by Billboard and their review of the same data may produce different results.
Drake’s latest accomplishment is important for another reason.
He’s in a tight race with pop princess Taylor Swift for this decade’s top honor: Billboard No. 1 artist of the 2010s. Both artists are likely the top two contenders and Drake wasn’t about to be outdone by Swift, whose own new album is due in two weeks.
With just four full months left in 2019, every point will help either artist’s cause.