Were we saying something about a close contest? Not on the album tally, where comeback king Eminem takes the top slot by an absurd margin. Thanks to his two latest chart-topping albums, 2009's Relapse and 2010's Recovery, the man otherwise known as Slim Shady sold more than two and a half times the number of albums as the second-ranked Lil Wayne during our survey period.
More than half of Eminem's 7.5 million in sales were taken by Recovery. Now past four million copies in the U.S. alone, Recovery was the best-selling album, period, of 2010. One-fourth of those albums sold digitally, making it the first album in history to sell more than a million non-physical copies, a mark it crossed just last month. Despite losing the Album of the Year Grammy in an upset to Arcade Fire, Recovery still took home Best Rap Album, Eminem's fifth win that category. It also doesn't hurt to have a crossover hit song to fuel album sales, and Recovery had a monster: the Rihanna-supported ballad "Love the Way You Lie," which topped the Hot 100 for two months last year and probably fueled more soccer-mom album purchases for Shady than at any time in his career.
What's most impressive about Lil Wayne's second-place showing is he did it with a handicap – his smash Tha Carter III came out in 2008, before the start of our survey period. He's sold another 750,000 copies of that blockbuster from 2009 to now. An even bigger handicap might have been Weezy's eight-month prison sentence in 2010–11, but he managed to release two discs in 2010 before going to prison, and both had strong numbers: about 750,000 for the rock-rap hybrid Rebirth, and just under a million for his hip-hop return I Am Not a Human Being. All this is besides his numerous mixtape releases, which have sold tens of thousands. The guy is nothing if not prolific (just wait until we get to the songs tally).
Unlike Weezy, most of the acts in our survey only managed one album release during our two-and-a-half-year survey period. Jay-Z's third-place showing was mostly the result of his two million-selling 2009 smash The Blueprint 3. But Jigga likely would have looked impressive no matter when we took this survey over the last decade. With 11 Number One albums on the Billboard 200 over his career, Jay holds the title of the most chart-topping albums among solo acts, rappers or otherwise; and he is second among all artists, behind only the Beatles (who have 20 Number One discs, so Jay's got a way to go there).
Among acts lower down in the tally, respect should be accorded to Rick Ross, who only placed eighth but has been a model of album-chart consistency in his five-year career. All four of the big man's albums have debuted in the Billboard 200's top two, and while none has been a megablockbuster, each has sold in the mid-six figures. Of the two discs he released during our survey period, the second – 2010's 650,000-selling Teflon Don – was his first to miss the Number One spot, but it still managed to out-sell its predecessor, 2009's Deeper Than Rap, by nearly 200,000 copies.
Now let's turn to songs, where a rookie with only one full-length album to his name has emerged as a runaway radio powerhouse.
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