It's jammed at the top in hip-hop

How big is the hip-hop pie, and who'll wind up with the biggest slice? We'll find out Wednesday when Nielsen SoundScan numbers give shape to a highly unusual week of powerhouse new rap album releases.

In any other week, rapper Jay-Z would be the favorite to enter the national pop sales chart at No. 1, especially given that he's been touting his latest effort, "The Black Album," as his final release before he concentrates on being a record mogul, fashion guru and film producer. But his album hit stores last week the same day a new one from G-Unit, featuring 50 Cent, also arrived, and both are competing with "Tupac: Resurrection," the latest posthumous release from Tupac Shakur.

That they all landed in the same week wasn't by design. Release dates for the Jay-Z and G-Unit albums were hurriedly pushed up after both began circulating over the Internet.

Some early reports on Shakur's album, released Tuesday, suggest it may hit sales of 350,000 its first week. It could go higher depending on word of mouth from the biographical film with the same title that hit theaters on Friday. The Jay-Z and G-Unit have abbreviated time in stores, having officially arrived Friday, although some retailers began putting their copies on shelves a day or two ahead of time.

"Most people will buy all three," says Violet Brown, director of urban music for the Wherehouse chain. "It's a little tough with all three coming in the same week, but they're all on sale and it's the same customer."

Who'll win the sales race?

"All three could be neck and neck," Brown says. "But with Jay-Z talking about this being his last album, people are going to be really curious."

-- Randy Lewis

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