The Numbers Don’t Lie – The R&B Album Is Dead Commercially (UPDATED!) 

K. Michelle, Anybody Wanna Buy a Heart? © Atlantic

As they say, “the proof is in the pudding.” What pudding you ask – R&B album sales ladies and gentlemen. It’s one thing that album sales are down across all genres, but if you examine R&B albums themselves, you’ll see that R&B sales are nothing short of abysmal. Basically, the commercially successful R&B album seems to be dead as it is.

Below are a list of the majority of R&B albums released in 2014, their peak position on the Billboard 200, and their first week sales. Also for a number of the albums, there is a link to articles discussing the album sales.

  Artist Album BB200 Peak Debut Sales Previous Debut Sales Percent Difference
1 Ariana Grande My Everything 1 169,000 138,000 22.46%
2 Sam Smith In The Lonely Hour 2 166,000 0
3 Michael Jackson Xscape 2 157,000 228,000 -31.14%
4 Chris Brown X 2 146,000 134,000 8.96%
5 Pharrell Williams G I R L 2 112,000 142,000 -21.13%
6 D’Angelo and the Vanguard Black Messiah 5 111,000 321,000 -65.42%
7 Trey Songz Trigga 1 105,000 135,000 -22.22%
8 K. Michelle Anybody Wanna Buy A Heart? 6 83,000 72,000 15.28%
9 Jhené Aiko Souled Out 3 70,000 34,000 105.88%
10 Toni Braxton & Babyface Love, Marriage & Divorce 4 67,000 0
11 August Alsina Benediction 2 67,000 0
12 Mariah Carey Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse 3 58,000 168,000 -65.48%
13 Mary J. Blige The London Sessions 9 55,000 156,000 -64.74%
14 Kem Promise To Love 3 52,000 74,000 -29.73%
15 Prince Art Official Age 5 51,000 168,000 -69.64%
16 Aloe Blacc Lift Your Spirit 4 45,000 0
17 Jason Derulo Talk Dirty 4 44,000 13,000 238.46%
18 Jennifer Lopez A.K.A. 8 33,000 83,000 -60.24%
19 Ashanti Braveheart 10 28,000 86,000 -67.44%
20 Prince & 3rdeyegirl PLECTRUMELECTRUM 8 26,000 0
21 Keyshia Cole Point of No Return 9 25,000 96,000 -73.96%
22 Robin Thicke Paula 9 24,000 177,000 -86.44%
23 Jennifer Hudson JHUD 10 24,000 165,000 -85.45%
24 SoMo SoMo 6 23,000 0
25 Ledisi The Truth 14 20,000 38,000 -47.37%
26 Candice Glover Music Speaks 14 19,000 0
27 Tinashe Aquarius 17 19,000 0
28 Mali Musi Mali Is… 16 18,000 0
29 Marsha Ambrosius Friends & Lovers 12 17,000 96,000 -82.29%
30 Tank Stronger 13 17,000 30,000 -43.33%
31 Teyana Taylor VII 19 16,000 0
32 Partynextdoor Partynextdoor Two 15 15,000 0
33 Joe Bridges 17 15,000 31,500 -52.38%
34 Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings Give The People What They Want 22 14,000 23,000 -39.13%
35 John Newman Tribute 24 10,000 0
36 FKA Twigs LP1 30 10,000 0
37 Mary J. Blige Think Like A Man Too 30 9,000 0
38 SZA Z 39 7,000 0
39 Ty Dolla $ign Beach House (EP) 51 6,000 0

Ariana Grande, My Everything © Republic

Here are some takeaways. First, sadly, no R&B album sold greater than 200,000 copies, with Ariana Grande’s pop/R&B effort My Everything moving the most copies its first week selling 169,000 copies. Last year in December, the music industry was blessed with Beyoncé issuing Beyoncé, which sold 617,000 copies its first week. Sure, half-million sales don’t happen everyday – or better yet every year – but not surpassing the 200,000 mark at least once is upsetting.

Of this list, only seven albums sold greater than 100,000 copies. SMH! The percentage of R&B albums debuting with 100,000 copies or more is a tepid 18%. So, lets aim lower. The number of albums selling 75,000 copies or more is eight – SMDH. Percentage wise, that gets us up to 21%. So aiming even lower, how about R&B albums debuting with 50,000 copies or more? That accounts for 15/39 R&B albums, but below 50% – 38%.

Mary J. Blige, The London Sessions © Capitol

So, not even 50% of R&B albums were able to sell 50,000 copies in 2014 (accounting for major R&B releases of course). If you average the sales of the 39 R&B albums on this list, the average number of copies sold for an R&B album in 2014 was just over 50,000 copies. While 50,000 copies is a greater average than the most of the albums on this list actually sold, that the topmost albums elevate numbers.

Another significant factor worth exploring within R&B’s horrid numbers is the percent of difference between the debut of the present album and the previous album. In the above given table, anytime the percentage of difference features a negative sign (-), it marks a lower amount of first-week sales compared to the previous album. Out of 23 albums included in this measurement, only five showed an increase in first-week sales (22%). That means the other 88% lost sales between the current and previous album.

Jason Derulo, Talk Dirty © Warner BrosAnyway that you crunch the numbers, the R&B album is dead according to sales and stats. Sure, some of the singles still catch on, but then again, do they? The top selling albums on this list are generally the ones with the singles that have broken through. There are exceptions, specifically Jason Derulo’s Talk Dirty, but many of the bottom feeders of the list don’t have a big hit to their name.

So what is the best use of data like this? Well, it’s to figure out what’s the best way to make R&B a lucrative genre again. Does it mean ‘selling out’ and making everything more pop centric just to earn commercial success, or does it mean approaching promotional strategy differently and more aggressively. Furthermore, for the R&B singer that is still on a major label, how does he or she coax the label to put in the money and work to make the sales happen? Maybe I’m an outsider looking in, but many of the promotional rollouts for some truly worthwhile R&B albums have been pretty lackadaisical.

Photo Credits: © Atlantic, © Republic, © Capitol, © Warner Bros




One Comment Add yours

  1. the problem is nothing really stands out and where is that cut? that is the bottom line who brought a money track? Beyonce had a great look with dropping on i tunes. however it ain’t like the material was exactly banging. bottom line hype been making more noise than the actual artistry. as wack as Pharell is, he is the pulse of the scene and yet he doesn’t have anything to ride.

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