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Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life" Shows Hip-Hop Chart Tenacity

November 2, 1998 12:00 AM ET

It's yet another week at No. 1 on the charts for Brooklyn's roughneck MC Jay-Z. It's not so unusual that Jigga's third and latest album, Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life, swiped the throne away from Fugees diva Lauryn Hill, even though Hill's much-hyped solo album had both critics and fans drooling at every note. The unusual part is that Jay-Z has held onto that top spot, with a four-week reign that's rare for a hip-hop artist.

"There's such an emotional fan base for hip-hop music," explains Geoff Mayfield, Director of Charts at Billboard. "Hip-hop and metal fans are similar in this sense. They know almost instinctively when a record's coming out, and they rush out and buy it that first week. After that huge first week, there's nowhere else to go but down." This year, in fact, out of the thirty-two rap acts that debuted in the Top 10, all but ten fell out after just one week.

The last hardcore rapper to debut at No. 1 and hold on to the top spot was the Notorious B.I.G., with his 1997 blockbuster Life after Death. Even still, B.I.G.'s was a posthumous release and it showed a decline in sales each week. Before B.I.G., Queensbridge's Nas held his own, also in '96, with It Was Written, but the old-school-styled MC's SoundScan numbers also fell. The Fugees also stayed at No. 1 for four weeks with The Score, but they were a different story altogether, debuting at No. 12 and growing into the No. 1 position. Once they peaked, however, their numbers decreased each week.

Jay-Z, however, hasn't just held on to his throne, but his sales increased between his third and fourth week, which is almost unheard of in the genre. "Most hip-hop and metal acts don't get the access to the vehicles that keep artists visible on a mainstream level, like MTV and pop radio," Mayfield says, which is one reason why Jay-Z's third-week spurt is more significant.

So why the fervor around former hustler Jay-Z? "He's one of the last really great hardcore rappers since B.I.G., who's in a similar sensitive-gangsta mold," says hip-hop writer Toure. "In the Death Row era, rappers just told you they shot thirty guys and that was it. The sensitive gangsta might talk about all the evil things he did, but then explains why he did it and how he felt about it. It's a more intelligent way of rhyming, and people are really responding to that."

Jay-Z's chart performance alone has already established him as a great new pillar of hip-hop, and if he locks down yet another week, his numbers will have broken a hip-hop chart record. "I don't think he's going to do it," says Mayfield. "There's an R.E.M. album coming out this week, and an Alanis Morissette. Either one could have enough sales to debut at No. 1." Will rock fans claim the throne, or will Jay-Z continue delivering hard knocks? Check back on Nov. 4 to find out ...

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