Even in death, Tupac Shakur rules the pop charts.
The slain rapper's posthumous "The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory" entered the national album sales chart at No. 1 on Wednesday, generating the second-highest debut-week sales total of any album this year.
The collection, in the gangsta rap tradition of music that is both profane and profound, sold about 664,000 copies during its first seven days in stores, according to SoundScan. That's only 16,000 short of the 1996 high registered by rock group Metallica's "Load" in June.
Shakur, who was gunned down Sept. 7 in Las Vegas and died six days later, debuted at No. 1 with two other albums in the last 20 months--"All Eyez on Me," a two-disc set that registered opening-week sales of 566,000 copies in February, and "Me Against the World," which rang up first-week sales of 211,000 copies in March 1995. Together, those two albums have sold an estimated 4.7 million copies.
"Don Killuminati" displaced the previous week's No. 1 album, the Beatles' "Anthology 3," which fell to No. 5. In another indication of the genre's strength, finishing behind Shakur was "Mo Thugs Family Scriptures," a rap compilation from artists associated with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's new label, which sold 219,000 copies.
George Pryce, a spokesman for Death Row Records, said the company was "ecstatic" about the new album's sales, while Gary Arnold, vice president of marketing for the Best Buy chain, called it an "an amazing performance by an icon of the genre." He added: "It's very encouraging to see such an overwhelming response from the consumer, although it's bittersweet in that the artist they're responding to is now deceased."
But not everyone was pleased.
C. DeLores Tucker, chair of the Washington-based National Political Congress of Black Women and leader of an anti-rap campaign for the past several years, said Wednesday that Shakur's lingering appeal reveals "a whole lot about corporate irresponsibility and corporate greed."
Tucker and others, including former presidential candidate Bob Dole, have long decried rap's explicitly sexual and violent lyrics.
Asked why the public responds so strongly to music she finds so objectionable, Tucker said: "Why are drugs such a hot number? Why have young people doubled their marijuana use? Why is that so popular? Because it's promoted.
"And certainly the gangsta rap music promotes the drugs--and glorifies them and celebrates them. Any time you advertise something, it seems, it sells."
But Sheena Lester, music editor at Vibe magazine, said Shakur's appeal has more to do with his artistry than his notoriety. "He spoke to some universal truths about the lives of young black men across America," she said. "If you're listening to a CD that can sort of serve as the soundtrack to your life, you're going to relate. And you're going to want to hear more."
Other recent examples of strong initial showings by posthumous albums include Nirvana's "MTV Unplugged in New York," released seven months after the 1994 suicide of group leader Kurt Cobain, and Selena's "Dreaming of You," released four months after the Tejano singer's 1995 murder. Both debuted at No. 1, but neither sold as many as 664,000 copies during their first three weeks in stores.
Shakur had a long history of violent confrontations. At the time of his death, he was awaiting the appeal of his 1995 sentencing for sexual abuse of a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room. The new work is the first gangsta rap album distributed by MCA Inc. since the company entered into a $200-million partnership with Interscope Records in February after Time Warner, responding to criticism from anti-rap forces, severed ties with Interscope. Death Row is affiliated with Interscope.
Death Row's next gangsta rap album, Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Tha Doggfather," was released Tuesday and is expected to battle Shakur's album for No. 1 on next week's charts. Snoop's 1993 debut album, "Doggystyle," sold 803,000 copies during its first week, the highest debut for any rap album.
* IN JEOPARDY
Death Row owner goes to court today. See Business.