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Kanye vs. Cole vs Mac Miller, The Official RefinedHype Album Sales Breakdown

Posted by Nathan S. on 06/26/13 | Filed under Top Stories, Opinion, Kanye West, J. Cole, Mac Miller, Sales
I AM A GOD!!!!!!!!*

When I decided to go on record with my Battle of June 18 predictions I knew I was taking a big risk. Accurately predicting one of the craziest weeks in album sales history was no easy task, but you can't claim to be a great player if you don't want the ball in your hands at crunch time. So not only did I go public with the order I thought Kanye West "Yeezus" vs. J. Cole "Born Sinner" vs. Mac Miller "Watching Movies", I put down actual numbers.

I was fully prepared to live with the shame (after all, the interwebs never forget) , so by the same token I think I deserve to celebrate for a moment now that the official SoundScan numbers are out and, frankly, I was pretty damn close. True, my predictions weren't exactly right, but I think I was as close as you could reasonably expect anyone to be. Fuck it, I'm taking a moment. Excuse me for a moment while I do my victory dance:

But enough about me, what do you think about me? let's get to the actual numbers**. As I think everyone assumed, it was Kanye at number one, Cole at number two and Mac Miller at number three. Let's dig into the specifics:

#1 Kanye West "Yeezus"

Nathan Prediction: 380K
Actual First Week Sales: 327K

There's been a lot of talk today about how this is Ye's lowest selling album ever, and that's factually true, but I don't think it's right to call it a flop. The fact that Kanye managed to sell nearly 330K first week with an album that had essentially no marketing campaign, no radio single and was at best "difficult" to actually listen to, might just be the best testament to his selling power we've seen yet. If almost anyone else had put out "Yeezus" it would have struggled to outsell Kreayshawn, but Kanye managed to rack up yet another number one album almost purely off the strength of, "I'm motherfucking Kanye, you know you're going to listen to anything I do."

I want to take a moment to emphasize just how little label support Kanye had on "Yeezus". Over on the mothership we always let labels know when we review a project, and most of the time if it's a more-or-less positive review, those labels promote that review (Facebook, Twitter, include in email blast), or at the very least say thank you. But when we sent Def Jam the "Yeezus" review, they essentially said, "We don't really care, we're not promoting the album." I've literally never heard a label say something like that so openly, let alone for such a major album. I can only assume the deal the label struck with Kanye was something like, "Fine, we'll let you make this crazy ass album that won't sell huge numbers without any interference, but you're on your own for marketing." And Kanye said, "Fuck it, fine." Hence the projections - that's the kind of guerrilla marketing an artist can do when they don't have a label plastering cities with posters, pushing songs onto radio, etc.

I wish I had know how little of a fuck Def Jam gave about this album before I made my prediction, I would have downgraded a bit, but I was still only about 50K off, and it looks like it didn't end up mattering that much. In 2013, over 300K is maybe about as well as you could possibly do with an album like "Yeezus", regardless of leaks, marketing strategies, etc.

So what does this mean for Ye's future? Not much. He really put himself in a win-win position. If "Yeezus" did awesome numbers, say over 500K, he's declaring complete victory. If it completely flopped, say closer to 200K or under, he could say, "See, this is proof of how revolutionary I am, people can't handle my genius." 330K is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, which means Ye's just going to go ahead and keep doing his (balls crazy) Ye thing. For all I know the next album will be all bluegrass covers of folk protests songs and barely sell 50K, or he might make an album of nothing but enjoyable pop hits and sell 750K. We'll just have to wait and see, but for now, the Kanye empire stands.

#2 J. Cole "Born Sinner"

Nathan Prediction: 290K
Actual First Week Sales: 297

Here's where I'm really feeling the best about myself. And I quote, "I still don't think he'll surpass Kanye, but know that it wouldn't be that crazy for it to happen. If the absolute worst case scenario for Kanye comes true, and the absolute best case scenario for Cole...." Nailed it.

While he may have come in second here, there's no question that J. Cole is the obvious winner coming out of June 18. "Born Sinner' might not have been declared an instant classic, but the reviews and general response have been positive, and he came within about 30K of outselling Kanye, and while Kanye and Mac (we'll get there in a moment) watched their sales dip, he easily outsold "Cole World". J. Cole's career is one a clear upward trajectory, the only question now is how high his ceiling is.

While it's impossible to prove a negative (i.e. prove if his album sales would have been even higher if he didn't choose to directly battle Kanye), I think we also have to say that Cole made the right call in moving the release date up to June 18. Not only did the resulting buzz at the very least raise the album's profile even higher, regardless of how much that profile translated into actual sales, but he can now rightfully say that he went head to head with one of the game's biggest artists, and proved he can hang. He'd much rather have a number two album against Kanye than a number one album going against Wale this week.

He's still not in that top selling tier of Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Eminem, Drake, etc., and maybe he'll never quite get to that true superstar status, but he's on his way.

Mac Miller "Watching Movies With the Sound Off"

Nathan Prediction: 190K
Actual First Week Sales: 102K

Ouch. Whatever June 18 was for J. Cole, it was the opposite for Mac Miller. I thought that the buzz surrounding Kanye and Cole might spill over to Mac, but the opposite proved to be true. This really proved to only be a two-man race. Again, it's impossible to truly say whether the competition helped or hurt sales of "Watching Movies", but if it helped, that's actually much worse news for Mac. That means he would have done under 100K otherwise.

Regardless of what anyone else did though, the fact that this album did about 50K less than his previous album, "Blue Slide Park", has to be the most concerning news for Mac. Despite an increased profile over two years ago, either those core fans weren't as excited about "Watching Movies", or all of the more casual fans who would have picked up the album were already burnt out on "Yeezus" and "Cole World". As I wrote on the original post, "The real x factor here is that I'm not plugged into Mac's core fanbase enough to know how they're responding to his change in sound." The numbers say they're not particularly ecstatic.

Again, I don't want to over-react here. One album, especially one that dropped June 18, does not a career make. With the possible exception of Macklemore and Tech N9ne, Mac Miller is still one of the most powerful indie/mindie rappers alive. He's still making $100K a show, he's still got a show on MTV, and he's still got a legit fan base most rappers would die to get. Mac Miller's going to be just fine, but if wants to really run with the big boys (and he may not), either he's going to have to change, or his fans are going to have to change.

So there you have it. After countless posts, three podcasts, and two sales-focused in-depth posts, the battle of June 18 has finally come to a close. On the real, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I don't think I have the energy to do this more than once a year, but I'm all for major artists dropping on the same day. If nothing else, it makes for some good entertainment, and allows me to nerd the fuck out about album sales.

* Only applies to predicting album sales relatively accurately, if that can be considered a god-like activity.
** Not the early projections a lot of sites were posting, the official, final SoundScan numbers.
+ Statik's "Extended Play" did approximately 3.5K. For what it was, a true underground hip-hop compilation album, that's not bad.

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See Also:  Kanye vs. Cole vs Mac Miller, The Official RefinedHype Album Sales Predictions
See Also:  Does the Success of JT"s “20/20 Experience” Prove Streaming Increases Album Sales?

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