Written By: Zack O’Malley Greenburg, Forbes Staff
The numbers for Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV came in this morning, and they were staggering: 940,000 copies sold in the first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan, placing the album firmly atop the Billboard 200 chart.
Tha Carter IV was Lil Wayne’s third No. 1 debut; remarkably, its first-week sales total was more than twice that of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch The Throne, which moved 436,000 units when it hit stores last month. So how did the diminutive Young Money/Cash Money star—who finished behind Jay-Z and Kanye on our annual Hip-Hop Cash Kings list—manage to outsell a pair of heavyweights?
“I think just the hard work, all the years and everything we’ve been through as a unit,” says Cash Money Records chief Bryan “Birdman” Williams, who was deeply involved in the album’s production and promotion. “It’s our season, that’s just how it goes … [Wayne] is the best doing it, and everybody is just starting to see it. I don’t think any artist in the world is going to be as big as he’s going to be.”
Hard work and experience aside, there were a number of other factors that contributed to the comparative success of Carter IV. Jay-Z and Kanye pursued a complicated release strategy that included exclusive windows with Apple’s iTunes and BestBuy, in part to safeguard against the possibility of a leak (and angered some retailers in the process). The Young Money/Cash Money team did nothing of the sort, and didn’t expend much energy on security, either.
Although Carter IV did leak a few days before its debut—unlike Watch The Throne, which remained airtight—many people, including Lil Wayne himself, believe the leak actually helped. Birdman agrees with that assessment, mostly because the leak occurred too late to have large negative impact on sales.
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“It always depends how much time you have with a leak,” he says. “This one was two or three days. When you got a project like this and it’s three weeks to a month, it can really hurt you … but in this case I don’t think the leak hurt at all.”
Another reason for Carter IV’s strong performance: Young Money/Cash Money ditched the typical release cycle, instead dropping the album immediately after Lil Wayne’s performance at the Video Music Awards last Sunday night.
“They didn’t really do it Tuesday to Tuesday,” says entertainment attorney Bernie Resnick. “People were very much into the album, and [the label] didn’t try to guard it like a big military secret.”
Resnick also wonders how much personality and perception played into the sales of Watch The Throne and Carter IV, given the difference between the images of the artists involved.
“The potential for negative perception of an artist is certainly part of the sales equation,” he says. “I think that people perceive Wayne as a fun guy to be around, and perhaps he takes himself a little less seriously than the Throne guys.”
Of course, there are other, more nefarious theories as to why Carter IV outsold Watch The Throne. Some bloggers have suggested that Birdman is using his millions to buy up copies of his pal’s album with the explicit goal of topping Kanye and Jay-Z, who may have taken a shot at the Cash Money chief earlier this year. Birdman, however, denies this notion.
“I don’t know where that came from, I ain’t buy no copies,” he says. “No indeed, man, ain’t no way in the world, it’s impossible. Why would I do that? We got this money, and this money here come hard.”
Though Birdman vehemently asserts that he didn’t make a dent in Carter IV’s sales numbers, he admits he always makes a few token purchases when his artists release new music.
“I always support my brand, our brand,” he says. “So whenever we have anything out, I buy myself a couple albums for the homies, maybe two or three for myself.”