Playboi Carti ends hip-hop’s longest No. 1 drought in five years

(January 04, 2021).  With just 100,000 album equivalent units sold in its first week, polarizing rapper Playboi Carti does something no other hip-hop artist has done since October: reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. 

His Whole Lotta Red enters the chart dated Jan. 9 at No. 1, becoming Carti’s first chart-topper and the first official new No. 1 album of 2021 (Taylor Swift’s evermore was No. 1 on the Jan. 2 list, but it was a holdover from the December 26, 2020 tally, when it first reached the top).

Playboi Carti’s ‘Whole Lotta Red’ debuts at No. 1 on this week’s Billboard 200 album chart.

Whole Lotta Red is the first No. 1 album by a hip-hop artist since the week ending October 24 when the late Pop Smoke’s Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon returned to No. 1 for a second time (it debuted at No. 1 in July just months after the rapper’s death).  That smash LP currently sits at No. 4 on the list – an incredible showing for an album that has spent all but one of its 26 weeks in the top ten (last week it was pushed to No. 11 by a bunch of Christmas albums that have since departed).

But back to Red:  The eleven-week span between Pop Smoke’s reign and the current No. 1 ranking for Playboi Carti is the longest gap between No. 1 hip-hop albums in five years.  The last time rap experienced a drought at least this long was the period between October 17, 2015, and February 27, 2016, when Fetty Wap’s self-titled début album topped the Oct. 17, 2015 survey, and Future’s Evol crowned the February 27, 2016 list, with no other hip-hop albums in between…covering a span of 19 weeks between those two albums’ No. 1 placements.

To show how long ago that was, aside from Fetty Wap being popular, note that rappers like Roddy Ricch, DaBaby, Lil Baby, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Juice WRLD, Pop Smoke – all of whom had No. 1 LPs in 2020 – weren’t even on the radar when the 2015/16 gap occurred.

Despite the more recent slowdown in No. 1s, hip-hop still dominates when compared to other genres.  Last year, there were fourteen hip-hop releases that reached No. 1 – more than any other genre (pop was second with eight), and 2020 was the third-highest year on record for No. 1 rap sets, behind 2018 and 2019.  It also bodes well for the genre that it’s already achieved its first No. 1 of 2021 just days into the new year. 

But a two-and-a-half month drought is noteworthy for a monster genre that, at one point, incredibly placed at least one new album at No. 1 every month for two straight calendar years – a mark it achieved in those record-setting years of 2018 and 2019.  Even 2020 was off to a good start, as eleven new hip-hop albums reached No. 1 between January and July, placing last year on track to at least tie the high mark set in 2018.  

Things slowed down considerably after that.

In the last five months of 2020, there were only three new No. 1 hip-hop albums, plus the return of Pop Smoke’s July release to the top in October.  But it wasn’t for lack of available product.

Several high-profile hip-hop albums debuted and peaked short of the top spot in the past few months (note: the blog isn’t counting Bad Bunny’s recent No. 1 album as hip-hop, as it is more reggaeton/alternative in nature).

Two weeks ago, Kid Cudi’s Man On The Moon III: The Chosen had to settle for a No. 2 high behind Taylor Swift’s evermore album.

Earlier in December, Megan Thee Stallion’s Good News album achieved a disappointing No. 2 peak behind K-pop sensations BTS, and rap superstars Future and Lil Uzi Vert were sent packing after debuting at No. 2 with their collabo Pluto x Baby Pluto.  It ranked behind veteran rock band AC/DC’s first No. 1 in more than a decade, Power Up.

In mid-November, while pop chanteuse Ariana Grande was topping the chart with her Positions LP, hip-hop upstarts like Australian rapper The Kid LAROI and the late King Von both made brief charges in the top five at Nos. 3 and 5, respectively, but could climb no higher.  Even NAV, a rapper with two previous No. 1 albums under his belt, had to settle for a No. 6 début/peak that week.

In the week prior, as Positions made its debut at No. 1, rapper/singer Trippie Redd was held at bay with the No. 2 début of his album Pegasus.  And the week before that, veteran rapper Ty Dolla $ign had a chance with his album Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, but it was held back by the ascents of albums by country singer Luke Combs and heritage rocker Bruce Springsteen.

That’s a whole bunch of hip-hop albums that easily could have – and in some cases, should have – made No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in the past couple of months, but didn’t.

So it’ll be interesting to see whether the ascension of Whole Lotta Red will spark a new streak and reverse a slightly declining trend for hip-hop on the charts.  Industry watchers may get the answers to questions like: was the last half of 2020 just an anomaly?  Or are other genres starting to make a comeback?

Or it may just mean that rappers don’t have a lock on the No. 1 spot just by releasing substandard new material (as Eminem proved last week) like they did just a year or more ago when the genre was still bulldozing it’s way to historic consumption numbers.

The five No. 1 albums by pop artists since July (two by Swift, one each by Ariana Grande, BTS, and Shawn Mendes), plus two chart-topping rock albums by AC/DC and former rapper Machine Gun Kelly, certainly make the recent chart races more interesting.

We will see what 2021 has to bring for hip-hop.  Maybe Playboi Carti’s rise is a good sign, but like most albums with lofty débuts, expect a huge drop for Whole Lotta Red next week, and then it’ll be on to the next one.

Exclusive Recap: All the No. 1 hip-hop albums on the Billboard 200 from the first to the most recent.

DJRob

DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago 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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