Snoop Doggy Dogg Leads the Pack : Rapper's Album Sets Sales Record for a Debut as Potentially Lucrative Holiday Season Begins

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Rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg's debut album, "Doggystyle," sold a spectacular 803,000 copies in its first week, the highest ever for a debut album--and the second most for any album--since SoundScan began its computerized monitoring of sales in 1991. The record is held by Pearl Jam's "Vs.," which sold 950,000 copies its first week in stores last month.

Snoop--whose real name is Calvin Broadus--gained notoriety outside rap circles when he was charged in August as an accomplice to murder. The Long Beach rapper was arrested after driving the Jeep from which the fatal shots were fired by his bodyguard and is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday in Los Angeles.

The talk among industry insiders for months has been that the murder charge would stimulate album sales, but merchants declined to speculate Wednesday whether the controversy played any part in helping Snoop surpass recent first-week splashes of such superstars as Michael Jackson, U2, Garth Brooks, Guns N' Roses and Barbra Streisand. His showing established the album as the clear front-runner in the industry's lucrative holiday sales race.

"Even though the expectations have been so high for so long, I don't think anybody would have imagined Snoop to debut this huge," said Geoff Mayfield, associate director of charts/retail at Billboard Magazine.

"It's time for people to stop saying that rap will soon die out. The startling showing of Snoop's album proves rap is clearly a huge part of mainstream pop music."

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Snoop's popularity was established as a writer and featured vocalist on Dr. Dre's hit album "The Chronic," which was released a year ago. Critics hailed Snoop as the nation's hottest rap attraction and eagerly awaited his own album, which was produced by Dre.

"What's My Name?," the first video from the album, has been MTV's top requested clip for weeks. The song, which has not been released as a single, is also receiving extensive airplay at radio stations across the country.

"Doggystyle" dwarfed the competition last week, selling more copies than the rest of the Top 5 albums combined. Total sales for the week were an estimated $178 million--up nearly 12% over last year at this time. Pearl Jam's "Vs." sold 205,000 copies last week to capture the No. 2 position, while Mariah Carey's "Music Box" finished third with 193,000 units. Next in line: Guns N' Roses new "The Spaghetti Incident?" at 190,000 copies and "The Beavis and Butt-head Experience" at 173,000.

"Snoop came in miles ahead of everybody else," said Howard Krumholtz, a buyer at the Tower Records Sunset store. "But Snoop is just one of a slew of good records out there right now. It would be almost impossible if this Christmas didn't blow last year's sales numbers right out of the box."

The nation's largest record retailers are anticipating that this will be the most profitable holiday season of the recession-plagued '90s.

Record store retailers, who have sold an estimated $5.6 billion of albums since January, said Wednesday that they expect holiday shoppers will boost that amount by an additional $1.6 billion before Jan. 8.

"I can't remember a more eclectic cross-section of music for holiday shoppers to choose from," said Arnie Bernstein, president of the music division of the 1,200-outlet Minneapolis-based Musicland Group, the nation's biggest record retail chain. "Between Snoop and Sinatra, we've got all the bases covered this season."

Besides Snoop, here are the albums retailers are counting on most this season:

* Frank Sinatra's "Duets": The classic pop stylist's first recording in nine years features duets with 13 artists including U2's Bono, Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin. The collection has already sold about 670,000 units since its Nov. 4 release.

* Guns N' Roses' "The Spaghetti Incident?": This collection features cover versions of songs by such punk and hard-rock acts as Fear, the Damned, the Sex Pistols and the U.K. Subs.

* Metallica's live album, subtitled "Binge & Purge": Constructed to resemble a rugged tour equipment case, this box set contains three CDs and three videos documenting live 1992 concerts from America's hottest metal act. The set sold 52,000 units last week and will rank No. 26 on the chart. Retailers across the nation have stocked more than 500,000 copies and expect to sell them all before the season ends, despite a hefty $70 to $90 price tag.

* "The Beavis and Butt-head Experience": The coolest comedy team on MTV has transcended critiquing rock videos and decided to record their own album. It features a collaboration with Cher plus banter and performances by Anthrax, Nirvana, Primus, White Zombie, Run-D.M.C., Megadeth, Jackyl and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

* Pearl Jam's "Vs.": The Seattle quintet's sophomore album has dominated the charts with sales exceeding 2.2 million units since its entry on Oct. 19. Pearl Jam's 1992 debut album "Ten" has sold more than 5 million copies in the United States and is still in the Top 40.

Other albums also cited as possible key factors in the year-end sales picture: Michael Bolton's "The One Thing," Elton John's "Duets," Linda Ronstadt's "Winter Light," A Tribe Called Quest's "Midnight Marauders," Ice Cube's "Lethal Injection" and Kate Bush's "Red Shoes."

Titles that have been out for a number of weeks but are still expected to generate foot traffic in record stores this holiday season include Mariah Carey's "Music Box," Billy Joel's "River of Dreams," Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell," "Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles" and Janet Jackson's "janet."

"The holidays are certainly shaping up mighty fine for music retailers," said Joe Malone, vice president of operations of the 506-outlet Ft. Lauderdale-based Blockbuster chain. "The range of music out there this season is so broad, I can't see how retailers can lose."

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