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Why Jay-Z's new album failed to hit its target

With a stated goal of 1 million copies, ”Vol. 3” sells only half that — EW Online explains why

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Jay-Z
Courtesy Island Def Jam Records

Most artists would be thrilled to sell 463,000 albums and debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Pop chart. But not rapper Jay-Z, whose stated goal was to move more than 1 million copies of ”Vol. 3… The Life and Times of S. Carter” in its first week of release (beginning Dec. 28).

What happened? For starters, only Garth Brooks and the Backstreet Boys have ever sold more than 1 million albums in a debut week. So even though some in the industry thought Jay-Z could be the first hip-hop star to join the exclusive millionaire club — ”Sales of his last album [4.6 million] made it a reasonable goal,” says Paul Penrose, an urban-music specialist at Valley Media, an independent record distributor in Woodland, Calif. — clearly that target was an uphill battle to begin with. And then there were these three additional limiting factors:

No Hit Single When Jay-Z’s last album, ”Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life,” hit stores in October ’98, four songs from it were charting, including the smash title song with its eye-grabbing video. This time only the single ”Do It Again” is gathering steam, and Penrose, for one, doubts it will have a huge crossover impact. ”The new single is good,” he says, ”but it’s no Hard Knock Life.”’

An Overcrowded Hip-Hop Market The past two months have seen albums from DMX, 2Pac, Dr. Dre, the Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Juvenile, Q-Tip, Goodie Mob, and Funkmaster Flex — but even diehard hip-hop fans don’t have limitless benjamins. ”A lot of kids can’t go out and spend that kind of money [to buy every new release],” says Nelson Gomez, a rap buyer for Tower Records in New York City. Besides, the young target audience had competing interests to think about. ”We were fighting with Pokémon and Gameboy, ” says Hip Hop, Director of A&R at Roc-a-Fella, Jay-Z’s label.

Bad Timing Jay-Z’s label mate DMX proved December can be a good month for new releases (his ”…And Then There Was X,” released Dec. 21, debuted with sales of 698,000). But by the time ”Vol. 3” dropped — just four days before the end of the year — people were more concerned with downsizing their New Year’s plans and avoiding Y2K terrorists than getting jiggy with it. ”After Christmas this year, people just skipped to New Years,” says Penrose, ”all you heard was millennium-this and millennium-that.” Even Hip Hop admits, ”I think everybody’s a little poorer on the 28th than on the 24th.” Add it up and you’ll see it is, indeed, a hard knock life.

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