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Lil Wayne's new CD, fueled by leaks, poised to sell more than any album so far this year

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Happy days are here again for the beleaguered music industry…at least for a week. It turns out that everyone who was wondering whether Mariah, Madonna, or Usher would have the biggest blockbuster sales opening of the year had their eyes on the wrong contenders: It’s rapper Lil Wayne, who’s set to have the most massive first week of any new album this spring, by far. And, contrary to industry wisdom, it seems the album was helped by premature leaks.

How huge will it be? Tha Carter III just came out Tuesday morning, so it’s difficult to tell from less than a day’s worth of sales, but an exec at Lil Wayne’s label estimates the disc will sell between 850,000 and 950,000 by the end of its first week. If their numbers are correct, that would be about double the opening figure for 2008’s current record-holder, Mariah Carey’s E=MC2, which opened with 463,000 copies. “The accounts were bullish by 10 in the morning,” reports Pat Monaco, exec VP of sales for the Universal Motown Republic Group. “The sales the first few hours were exceeding the rate that the Kanye album sold a year ago.” (That one ended up selling 957,000 the first week; nothing has come close since.) “Wayne was one of these records that, because it was so highly anticipated, with the leaks and everything, it caused more people to go out at 8 in the morning to buy the CD.”

Did he say leaks helped? Indeed. But Tha Carter III

was no ordinary leaked album. Release dates came and went — October,

March, etc. — and various versions of the album would either escape

onto the Internet or be unofficially released by Lil Wayne himself on

bootleg mix tapes, followed by the star indulging in new rounds of

recording. Label attempts to pin down the project “were like putting a

traditional setup and street date on a guy that was just

nontraditional,” says Monaco. “It changed dates, changed titles,

changed songs, changed the people that were working on it. But

sonically, the record bears out” all the time that went into it, Monaco

contends.

One element that really went against conventional wisdom: the idea

that massive exposure is overexposure. Between the leaks, the mix

tapes, and appearing on other people’s records, Lil Wayne has been

everywhere in the last year. But all that seems to have whetted, instead of

diminished, interest in the long-awaited project. We’ll find out for

sure on Wednesday, June 18 whether sales meet — or even exceed —

Universal’s projections.

Did he say leaks helped? Indeed. But Tha Carter IIIwas no ordinary leaked album. Release dates came and went — October,March, etc. — and various versions of the album would either escapeonto the Internet or be unofficially released by Lil Wayne himself onbootleg mix tapes, followed by the star indulging in new rounds ofrecording. Label attempts to pin down the project “were like putting atraditional setup and street date on a guy that was justnontraditional,” says Monaco. “It changed dates, changed titles,changed songs, changed the people that were working on it. Butsonically, the record bears out” all the time that went into it, Monacocontends.

One element that really went against conventional wisdom: the ideathat massive exposure is overexposure. Between the leaks, the mixtapes, and appearing on other people’s records, Lil Wayne has beeneverywhere in the last year. But all that seems to have whetted, instead ofdiminished, interest in the long-awaited project. We’ll find out forsure on Wednesday, June 18 whether sales meet — or even exceed —Universal’s projections.

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