Albums don't start out equal in the race to the top of the pop charts.
Hammer's new Capitol album, "Too Legit to Quit," came out of the box last week backed by a $1.5-million promotion campaign that included prime-time TV spots, record store displays, bus bench posters, extensive radio station promotion and newspaper/magazine ads.
And that's just the start.
The powerhouse label spent at least another $1 million on the first of a projected 12 videos from the album, the follow-up to 1990's 10-million seller "Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em."
The early results looked promising: The video was shown extensively on MTV and the single was aired on almost a third of the nation's 237 Top 40 radio stations.
So, the l - e - a - s - t you'd expect from this kind of firepower was for the album to enter the pop charts at No. 1.
It probably wasn't too disheartening when the album didn't actually take the top spot--which remained in the custody of another Capitol artist, Garth Brooks.
But imagine the embarrassment around the Capitol Tower last week when the Hammer album finished third in the weekly sales sweep--behind another rap album, Ice Cube's "Death Certificate."
And how much did tiny, rap and dance-oriented Priority Records shell out in support of the Ice Cube album? A cool $18,000.
What's the story behind this David and Goliath chart triumph?
Despite no video and reportedly no Top 40 radio airplay, the Ice Cube album sold an estimated 105,000 copies--or about 13,000 more than Hammer's.
"We really hammered 'em, didn't we?" Priority Records President Brian Turner says. "But why talk about our marketing techniques when the real issue here isn't about how we promote the artist--it's who the artist is.
"Ice Cube is hip and credible and kids who are into rap know it. He draws fans into stores by the sheer force of his reputation. Most of the sales last week were generated by a powerful word-of-mouth buzz."
The Ice Cube album--a controversial look at race relations and inner-city tension--not only outsold Hammer at mom-and-pop stores in the African-American community, such as Crain's Records in Los Angeles, but also outsold Hammer and Brooks at more than 1,000 Musicland stores, which are mostly located in suburban malls.
"I couldn't tell you how the kids found out 'Death Certificate' was coming out," Musicland President Arnie Bernstein says. "But there was definitely a buzz on the streets that sent them into our stores in droves."
Unlike Capitol, which reportedly flew in marketing directors and media representatives from 38 countries to push the Hammer album at a private pre-release party in Los Angeles last month, Priority sparked demand by using its regular team of young rap aficionados to hype the album on the streets.
Turner also invested about $10,000 in ads that ran in music trade magazines and spent an additional $8,000 to plaster 10,000 "Death Certificate" posters last month on construction sites and abandoned buildings throughout 10 "crucial" cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Chicago and Dallas.
"Ice Cube charting in front of Hammer isn't just a fluke," Turner said. "Kids who are into him start saving their money for his album the second they find out he's in the studio cutting tracks. . . . You can't buy that kind of loyalty no matter how much you spend."
HAMMER II: Even Capitol Records is tipping its hat to Ice Cube's chart coup.
"I think it's terrific that Ice Cube made such a strong showing his first week out," says Lou Mann, senior vice president of sales at the label. But, he stresses: The bottom line in a race is not how fast you come out of the starting gate, it's where you end up when you cross the finish line.
Mann predicted that Hammer's album will top the pop charts by next week and that sales will continue to swell throughout the Christmas season.
He might be right on the second point, but the latest statistics didn't fulfill his prediction. Sales for "Too Legit to Quit" during its second week in the stores increased to about 137,000 units, allowing the Oakland rapper to take the No. 2 position away from Cube, whose "Death Certificate" sold about 121,000. But Hammer still couldn't sell enough to dethrone Brooks' "Ropin' the Wind," which sold 175,000.
"Our goal was not to create a big splash the first week out," Mann said. "Did we expect to debut at No. 1? It would have been nice, but our plan from the beginning has been to build and build this record. I would predict that Ice Cube's sales will diminish before December, but we anticipate a very strong long run for Hammer."