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

Posted by Nathan S. on 06/13/13 | Filed under Top Stories, Opinion, Debates, Kanye West, J. Cole, Mac Miller, Sales
Remember when people bought "CDs" from "stores"?


Way back when (about a month ago, but it feels like a year) J. Cole announced that he was moving the release of "Born Sinner" up to compete directly with Kanye's "Yeezus", and more indirectly Mac Miller's "Watching Movies With the Sound Off", it felt like an early Christmas present for everyone who enjoys breaking down album sales. And you know what? So far this shit has lived up to the hype. The "who will sell more?" question lingering in the background has made every release, every interview, every tweet, from Cole, Kanye and Miller, just a little more interesting. It just feels like we're watching hip-hop history unfold in real time.

(Quick response to everyone saying, "Who cares about how much the albums sell, it's all about the music!!!" Listen, people like me who care about sales numbers are like people who play fantasy sports. Only the most delusional and obsessive of us aren't well aware that sales/fantasy numbers aren't more important than the actual music/games. Predicting album sales is just a side-game that often actually only deepens our interest in the music. So if you don't care about sales, fine, I don't blame you. I wouldn't expect you to give a fuck about my fantasy football league either. But let us have our music nerd fun without getting all worked up about "appreciating artistic integrity".)

So naturally we've been talking about sales in the comments of every related post, but before June 18 actually arrives, I wanted to concentrate all that discussion in one place. Also, I wanted to prove that I have the cojones to go on record with some specific predictions.

In order of who I think will sell the most to the least...

#1 Kanye West "Yeezus"


It's looking like "Yeezus" is the most unconventional album of Kanye's career, both in terms of the actual music and the marketing, and considering Ye's track record, that's really saying something. No radio singles, no videos, not even a single official song release, so far Ye's marketing campaign has consisted of a small handful of live performances, snippets and whatever the fuck you call projecting shit onto buildings.

Even in 2013 hit singles still play a big part in driving album sales, but if anyone can pull this anti-marketing campign off, it's Kanye. If any other rapper tried to pull this "snippets only" shit I'd go take a nap and probably forget about their album by the time I woke up, but in Kanye's case, it's only making me more interested in hearing "Yeezus". You know, because of the whole "Kanye's the most interesting artist in hip-hop history" thing. I don't care who you are, whether you think Ye is a genius or an asshole (or both), if you love music you're listening to "Yeezus" THE FIRST FUCKING SECOND YOU POSSIBLY CAN.

Although...at least from what we've heard so far, the music is also the least commercially friendly of Kanye's career. As a general rule white people, who still make up the vast majority of the album-buying population, enjoy fantasizing that they're rich black rappers; they don't particularly enjoy being called modern slave owners. Still, even without a mainstream marketing campaign and mainstream music, interest in "Yeezus" will be at a fever pitch come Tuesday, and unlike Cole or Mac Miller, every major media outlet, from the NY Times to Good Morning America to Fox News, will be covering it.

So...considering everything, including the fact that "MBDTF" did 500K its first week, and "Watch the Throne" did 436K, I'm going to predict a bit of a decline for "Yeezus", but not a precipitous one. Kanye still emerges on top.

Official Nathan S. 1st Week Sales Prediction: 380K

#2 J. Cole "Born Sinner"


Even a week ago this conversation would have been very different, but the album leak, and subsequent official stream, have completely altered the sales landscape for "Born Sinner". In fact, this album will be a fascinating test case. Just how much does a leak hurt album sales? Could it actually help album sales? What about a stream?

Before we get to any of that though, I want to quickly touch on "critical response". Whatever you personally thought about "Cole World", it's just a fact that the majority of critics and hip-hop heads weren't particularly impressed with the project. By contrast, the near-unanimous opinion seems to be that "Born Sinner" is a better album, but frankly I don't see a change in critical opinion affecting sales much. J. Cole has some seriously hardcore fans; they're the ones who bought 218K first week copies of "Cole World", not the critics. So I don't think a change in album quality will be the determining factor here, the amount that Cole's core fan base has increased will.

(Just to drive the point home, Cole's fan base is seriously hardcore. He has just as many Twitter followers as Mac Miller, a good but not always reliable indication of fan support in 2013, and believe me, I know; they show up on droves to support Jermaine on every post.)

I'd be much more comfortable making this prediction without the leak and stream, but that shit is a giant wild card. I could see the leak easily knocking off 50K or more copies from casual fans who might have otherwise bought it, I could also see pre-order numbers skyrocketing after Cole's team wisely placed a pre-order button in their player. Ultimately though, I've been preaching the "streams increase sales" gospel for years, and I can't back down now that the real test is here. 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....

Official Nathan S. 1st Week Sales Prediction: 290K

Mac Miller "Watching Movies With the Sound Off"


In the last two weeks, when it comes to hype Mac really has been bumped down to third string status. People are talking about Kanye, people are talking about Cole, but aside from a Jay Elec verse, people just aren't talking as much about Mac. (Hey Miller, if you've got a Miley Cyrus sex tape on deck, now would be the time to release it.)

However, true to the site's name, I'm trying to separate hype from sales fact. Like I said in Cole above, general media hype or critical response may affect the sales of "Watching Movies With the Sound Off", but it won't be the driving force. His core fans are still the number one factor, and that core fan base has only grown since his last album, "Blue Slide Park", sold 145K in its first week.

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. And believe me, he's changed his sound. Since "Blue Slide Park" he's gotten farther away from the lighthearted, vintage rap infused songs that first made him truly popular ("Kool Aid & Pizza", "Donald Trump") and shifted to a darker, more experimental sound; a sound I'm guessing comes in large part from spending some much time with the TDE camp.

But even if he has more fans than before, and even if those fans dig the new sound, that fan base is still about the same size as Cole's; and Mac doesn't have the same non-core fan appeal that Cole does (aka A general hip-hop lover just interested in hearing new shit will likely buy "Born Sinner" before "Watching Movies"). So I'm going to say that "Watching Movies" outsells his last album, an incredible feat for an indie mindie rapper, but unless something dramatic happens before Tuesday, I don't think it has the juice to surpass Cole or Kanye.

Official Nathan S. 1st Week Sales Prediction: 190K

The other over-arching and complicating factor here is that, obviously, all of these albums are in competition with each other, and will likely drive each of their individual album sales numbers down, at least a little. Yes, the hype and competition will drive interest around all three project, but this is 2013, not 2001. The amount of people who are going to buy three albums in one week is very small; that's just a numerical fact.

So it will likely be the more casual fans (swing buyers?) who have the potential to make a big difference. The people dead set on buying "Born Sinner" are buying it regardless of any other album. The people dead set on buying "Watching Movies" are buying it regardless of any other album. But after they've supported their favorite artist, are they buying anyone else's album? Whose? Frankly, it seems a lot more likely that, for example, a Mac Miller fan will buy both "Watching Movies" and "Yeezus" than a Kanye fan will buy both "Yeezus" and "Watching Movies".

Truthfully, given the plethora of variables, it's harder to accurately predict sales for these three albums releases than any other Tuesday I can ever remember. (Sweet baby Yeezus breaking down the numbers once we have them is going to be interesting.) But that didn't stop me from being a man and putting down some exact predictions.

Why don't you man up and do the same?

UPDATE: Kanye West’s “Yeezus” Leaked, Let’s Start Talking About It

See Also:  What Has J.Cole Done For Hip-Hop?
See Also:  The 5 Most Intriguing Quotes From Kanye West’s Rare Interview With The NY Times
See Also:  Mac Miller’s “Watching Movies With the Sound Off” Will Outsell Kanye & Cole on June 18


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