Looks like Chance the Rapper will have to wait to get his first No. 1 album. And, based on fans’ reactions, he only has his happiness to blame.
Meanwhile, the rapper NF, whose album The Search explores every sorrowful emotion known to man, racks up his second No. 1 in less than two years as his latest debuts at the top with 130k equivalent album units (84k of those in album sales), vs. Chance’s The Big Day which came in at No. 2 with 108k total units (80k in streaming equivalent units).
Numbers translation: Chance won the streaming battle, but NF (real name Nathan Feuerstein) triumphed overall by having his fans actually go out and buy or download his entire album, which, when combined with his streaming numbers, was enough to pass Chance and place him at the top.
NF first hit No. 1 with his last release, 2017’s Perception. The closest Chance has come to the top before now was with his last mixtape Coloring Book, which peaked at No. 8 in 2016.
Both NF’s and Chance’s numbers have grown since their last releases, with NF’s Perception only securing 55,000 total units when it debuted at the top in October 2017. The new album’s consumption represents more than double that total.
Meanwhile Chance’s Coloring Book entered at No. 8 the year before with about 38,000 equivalent units (based solely on streams as the album wasn’t available in any other format upon its release). His growth in consumption since then has also doubled when accounting only for streaming.
As far as we know, there was an equal playing field for both artists as each new album benefited from huge marketing campaigns by their respective labels, with each product being helped by merchandise tie-ins and concert tour ticket redemptions.
Chance’s Big Day, however, was essentially doomed by negative reviews – about, among other things, being overly positive (although this writer found the album’s upbeat and positive vibe to be refreshing and gave it a favorable grade, not to mention a premature No. 1 prediction).
Other folks, including some of the fellow Chicagoan’s own fans, thought the album was too positive, even bordering on inauthenticity as Chance rapped about the joys of love, overcoming relationship hurdles in his marriage and, of all things to be happy about, his new fatherhood status.
And while not all of Chance’s album was pie-in-the-sky, it certainly contained a healthy mix of emotions and circumstances – good and bad – that explored the range of feelings a man with a new family can have over the course of any big day.
On the other hand, NF, whose young life has seen its share of challenges, including a mother who died from an opioid overdose, bares his troubled soul for all to see throughout the entirety of his aptly titled The Search. His whole album is full of thoughtful introspection, but it also comes across as a painstaking quest for happiness in a world from which he has derived only stress and grief.
So let’s get this straight: a young black man from Chicago’s south side and barely 26 years old raps about coming out of the ‘hood and making something positive out of his situation gets roundly criticized by hip-hop fans, with some even calling it the worst album they’ve heard this year (I’m sure they’ve actually heard far worse).
While, in the same hip-hop universe, a young white guy releases an album of 20 tracks – all of which immerse themselves in dark, at times menacing themes about suicide, depression, insecurity, imperfection, unhappiness, untrustworthiness, regret and just being plain stressed out – and his fans shower him with nearly unanimous praise for keeping it painfully real?
There’d be a world of irony in that dichotomy if it weren’t so sadly reflective of issues plaguing young people of many demographics right now – black, white, brown, male or female.
Don’t get me wrong, NF’s album is instadope (a phrase I coined meaning my reaction is based on just one or two listens). The title track definitely kicks things off nicely and there are moments of greatness contained throughout.
At various times on The Search, the rapper‘s beats and flows rival that of anyone in the game right now (with some fans unfairly and perhaps insensitively comparing the young MC to another white rapper, Eminem).
And, admittedly, it’s good to see someone triumph in the rap game without cursing, promoting drugs and violence, or denigrating women with misogyny in his lyrics (NF does none of that).
But it’s hard to listen to The Search all the way through and not feel more depressed than you were before you started – the possible exception being the song that serves as both the album’s sixth and closing tracks, “Time,” whose lyrics offer The Search’s only possible glimmer of hope (in the wake of a bad relationship). Maybe the producers felt “Time” was so positive they had to include it twice.
The world is indeed a heavy place right now, especially in the wake of a week that saw multiple mass killings in California, Texas and Ohio at the hands of men whose lives were likely over before they pulled the first trigger. In a nation grappling with issues of race and division, opioid addiction, depression and suicide, and other social issues, it’s not surprising that much of today’s popular music, especially but not exclusively hip-hop, comes from equally dark places.
Perhaps NF taps into the mood of a hip-hop nation whose angst about life’s toughest issues mirrors that depicted in his lyrics, and who feel the need to hear from an artist whom they believe can best identify with or at least explain their plight in life.
Apparently, NF did that better than Chance the Rapper did this past week.
At least that’s what the latest chart numbers suggest.
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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