On the Charts: J. Cole Drives Home a Number One

D'Angelo's 'Black Messiah' is primed for a big first week, while Ed Sheeran benefits from a Spotify bump

J. Cole, live in Inglewood, California this year. The rapper's '2014 Forest Hills Drive' is currently the Number One selling album in the country. Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

WISHING YOU ALL A LUMP OF THIS CHART TOPPER FOR CHRISTMAS: A year ago, if I'd challenged you to predict the Top Three first-week sales numbers, would you have answered Taylor Swift, Coldplay and rapper J. Cole? The first one's obvious, the second possible and the third – like winning your NCAA-tournament pool by picking Valparaiso. Yet Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive sells 354,000 copies this week, or 375,000 if you include Billboard's newfangled "equivalent units" formula, making its album-chart debut at Number One. How did Cole go where his 2014 contemporaries, from Run the Jewels to Lil Wayne to Future, could not? Tough question. He appeared on Late Show with David Letterman earlier this month, but everybody does, and recently...played touch football in public. That must be it!

SURPRISE, SURPRISE: Perhaps long-dormant R&B star D'Angelo's only mistake was releasing his first album in almost 15 years on December 14th – almost exactly a year after Beyonce released her surprise album. There's no comparison, sales-wise: Beyonce moved 617,000 downloads in three days, while D'Angelo's Black Messiah, a murmuring and murky classic that recalls Sly and the Family Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On, may sell just 100,000. Why the difference? In addition to the recognition factor, D'Angelo has released no singles so far. My guess is he tours the U.S. next year and takes a million-dollar offer or two to headline festivals. 

THEY ARGUE OVER SPOTIFY WHILE DRINKING TEA WITH THEIR CATS: Another chart development I wasn't expecting: a late-season surge from singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, who ran off with Spotify's most-streamed title in 2014 – although he gets an asterisk because touring buddy Taylor Swift's 1989 isn't on the service. Sheeran's X jumped from Number 11 to Number Nine, moving 65,000 units (of which 36,000 were album sales). His secret promotional weapon appears to have been CBS' December 9th Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, on which he showed up to croon "Thinking Out Loud."