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What Rappers Can Learn From Justin Timberlake Selling 1 Million

Posted by Nathan S. on 03/26/13 | Filed under Top Stories, Opinion, Sales, Justin Timberlake
Last weekend the homie DJ Z and I were killing some time at SXSW by listening to Justin Timberlake's "20/20 Experience" album. "How many units do you think he'll sell first week?" he asked. Factor in JT's overall fame and quality of the music, deduct some copies for general sales decline and a lack of a big radio hit, and I felt pretty comfortable guessing 500K, a huge number in an age when even YeHova's "Watch the Throne" didn't crack 500K two years ago.

Well, the numbers are coming in, and it looks like Senor Timberlake is going to double my prediction. Yep, that's right, "20/20" is going to do 1 million copies first week. (Ok, it's predicted at 980,622 for all you sticklers. But we'll round up and credit the man with a cool million.)

Sweet baby jesus that's a lot of albums. The last hip-hop releases to touch that was Wayne's "Carter IV", which did 950K in 2011, and Eminem's "Recovery", which did about 750K in 2010. Even more impressively, this is now JT's best selling album of his career. "FutureSex/LoveSounds" did about 700K it's first week way back in 2006.

So considering overall album sales have fallen about 30% since 2006, Timberlake almost doubled his selling power over the last seven years, a period during which his musical output consisted of jack squat.

I'm sure a lot, if not all, of the artists reading this are thinking, "Good for that motherfucker, but what's that got to do with me?" Good question...that I imagined you asking.

First and foremost, if you're a rapper and you're reading this, there's no way you're selling a million albums. JT's doing those numbers because he was in the Mickey Mouse club, then he was in N'Sync, and then he married this woman. I have to imagine a big percentage of the people buying "20/20" are white middle age women who mostly know him from "People" magazine; a very lucrative demographic, but not exactly one anyone here can capture (or wants to capture).

With that said, the part I'm the most interested in is how JT got more popular as a musician over the last seven years while simultaneously boycotting music. That's the part we might be able to learn something from, and all it really does is confirm on a macro level what we've already learned on a micro level - we live in an age where visuals drive everything. It's a fact Timberlake clearly saw coming years ago - win over eyeballs and the ears will follow.

If Timberlake doesn't do "Dick in a Box", he doesn't sell 1 million. If he doesn't do "Social Network, he doesn't sell 1 million. If he doesn't host "SNL" five times, he doesn't sell 1 million.

Again, Timberlake's operating on a level we can't touch (unless you've got Lorne Michaels on speed dial), but the same principle applies to the great democratizer of visuals, YouTube. Everyday that goes by I'm more and more convinced that the best thing an artist can do for his career is invest in some quality visuals. Make a song everyone wants to listen to and you might catch some buzz. Make a video everyone wants to watch and you'll be kicking it with Obama.

That doesn't mean the music doesn't matter - make interesting visuals and shit music and you'll end up Kreayshawn - but it does mean that you need to put at least as much effort into your video editing as you did your mixing and mastering. It may be sad in some ways, but that's just the way of the world in 2013. Whether you're Justin Timberlake or the Flatbush Zombies, visuals are the key to success.

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See Also:  Be a Man, Stream Justin Timberlake’s “20/20 Experience” Album
See Also:  Justin Timberlake Calls Out Kanye, Parodies Trinidad James & More On “SNL” (Video)

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