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Five Burning Questions: Drake and 21 Savage Debut at No. 1 on Billboard 200 With ‘Her Loss’

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Drake and 21 Savage are both eminently familiar with the top of the Billboard 200 albums chart, with the former artist previously having topped the listing 11 times, and the latter artist twice. So it’s no surprise the two would return to the 200’s pole position (on the chart dated Nov. 19) with the release of their first joint album, Her Loss.

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The set’s performance is an impressive one, as it moves 404,000 equivalent album units in its first week — the third-highest total for any album in 2022, and significantly higher than both of the most recent solo efforts from Drake (this June’s Honestly, Nevermind) and 21 Savage (2018’s I Am > I Was). In addition, songs from Her Loss occupy the No. 2 through No. 9 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 this week, the third-most simultaneous real estate in the chart’s top 10 ever occupied by one album, behind Drake’s own Certified Lover Boy in 2021 and Taylor Swift‘s Midnights earlier this month — with the latter set’s lead single, the No. 1-debuting “Anti-Hero,” still holding onto the top spot two weeks later.

What does the set owe its early success to? And are Drake and 21 smarting this week at being denied the Hot 100’s top spot? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.

1. Even with the requisite warnings about hip-hop team-up albums often being less than the sum of their parts, Her Loss posts one of 2022’s best first-week numbers this year with its 404,000 equivalent album units moved — nearly double the number of Drake’s prior 2022 set, Honestly, Nevermind, and easily Savage’s best such number to date. What would you consider the biggest factor behind the album’s robust debut?  

Rania Aniftos: To be honest – and I don’t mean this as shade – I was surprised the album did so well. For a while, it felt as though Drake wasn’t living up to the quality of some of his past albums like ViewsIf You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and even Scorpion. And 21 Savage has always been a successful collaborator, but I never thought that his involvement would push such impressive numbers. I’m personally floored, but I might chalk it up to fans wanting to see that old-school Drake they know and love, and really wanted to give Her Loss a try – and, turns out, they loved it.

Carl Lamarre: If you look at their past collaborations with “Sneakin,” “Knife Talk,” and “Jimmy Cooks,” Drake and 21 has had an exceptional track record as a dynamic duo. Their chemistry as a twosome had fans salivating for a more aggressive Drake as they came in droves to see whether Drizzy and 21 could topple the competition. Curiosity sparked the intrigue, especially after Drake and Future’s tight hold in 2015-2016 with What a Time to Be Alive

Elias Leight: Drake’s Care Package (2019) and Dark Lane Demo Tapes (2020) releases, both of which included old loosies and leaks, didn’t have explosive first weeks. And listeners don’t appear to care over-much for Drake’s experimentation — his dancefloor excursion from earlier this year didn’t put up jaw-dropping numbers, at least by his lofty standards. In recent years, when there’s new Drake that sounds like old Drake, that seems to yield his best commercial results: See Certified Lover Boy (613,000 album equivalent units) and now Her Loss

Jason Lipshutz: A combination of timing and quality. After Honestly, Nevermind was greeted with a less-than-stellar reception from longtime Drake fans — except for “Jimmy Cooks,” the album’s late change-up featuring 21 Savage — the decision to quickly return with a full album of 21 Savage team-ups and effectively build upon the “Jimmy Cooks” momentum represented a commercial masterstroke. And then, happily, the album was one of Drake’s hungriest, most focused and overall best projects in the past five years, causing Her Loss to stream incredibly well throughout its first chart week and score a big No. 1 debut.

Andrew Unterberger: Yeah, it’s the right album at the right time. Drake and 21 Savage have always been a winning combination, we hadn’t heard much from Savage in the last couple years, and a rare Drake left turn was always going to come with a not-long-after course correction, especially after the prior album’s reception was much chillier than the consistently successful superstar was accustomed to. They brought the energy, they brought the bars, and they brought the (mostly unfortunate) talking points — streams in massive numbers were bound to follow.

2. Though obviously a major commercial success for both, which of the two rappers would you say benefits more from the mighty Her Loss bow?  

Rania Aniftos: Drake! Having two albums dominate the Hot 100 top 10 in the past few years is a major accomplishment and solidifies that he’s not going anywhere, despite some ridicule and memes on TikTok.

Carl Lamarre: Easily 21 Savage. I love the guy, but lately, he’s had too much dip on his chip. First, he thinks he can pummel Kodak Black in a Verzuz battle, and then, he slings darts in the direction of Nas by calling him irrelevant. All of this happened in a week, and why? Because having Drake as his armor and mouthpiece gave him Thanos-level confidence. 

Elias Leight: On the one hand, Drake’s first-week numbers have been up and down in recent years across a variety of different types of releases — 109,000 album equivalent units for Care Package, 223,000 for Dark Lane Demo Tapes, 613,000 for Certified Lover Boy (2021), 204,000 for Honestly, Nevermind in June — so 404,000 helps to stay the course. On the other hand, 404,000 album-equivalents is more than twice 21 Savage’s previous first-week high-water-mark, and through his Drake affiliation, he’s probably reaching more casual hip-hop fans who aren’t as familiar with his past work. 21 Savage has gained more than 10 million monthly listeners on Spotify since the release of Her Loss, according to Chartmetric, while Drake has gained around 7 million. 

Jason Lipshutz: Drake. Honestly, Nevermind was a detour away from hip-hop for the biggest hip-hop artist in the world, and it didn’t connect with fans (outside of the one song that sounded nothing like the rest of it, of course). I doubt anyone paying attention believed that Drake had fallen off due to one underwhelming project, but Her Loss stamps out those concerns quickly and efficiently, and continues one of the most remarkable commercial runs in the history of popular music. 21 Savage sounds great on Her Loss and undoubtedly gained some new fans, but Drake gets a more crucial W with the album.

Andrew Unterberger: Drake. It’s a win for both, but this won’t change a ton for 21 Savage, who would prob be pushed for best supporting actor and not best actor were this set Oscar-eligible. For Drake, it ends his 2022 on a (commercial) high note and once again proves that he on the rare occasions he does take something vaguely resembling an L — and worth remembering that said “L” still came with simultaneous No. 1s on the Billboard 200 and Hot 100 — he’s never stayed down for long.

3. Just a year and a half ago, occupying eight of the top 10 spots simultaneously on the Hot 100 would be an absurdly historic achievement – now, it’s not the biggest Hot 100 bombing either of Drake’s career or of pop music this year (or even this month). Does Her Loss grabbing this week’s 2-9 spots on the chart still feel like major headline news to you, or is it just par for the course for Drake and stars of his level at this point?  

Rania Aniftos: It still feels like major headline news to me, only because it’s still so rare and Drake has done it not once, but twice. I never want to get desensitized to such accomplishments, because it really is cool that so many fans flooded in to listen to a new album because they love the artist so much.

Carl Lamarre: It’s still an incredible feat, and even more for Drake, knowing he could do it twice. After Bad Bunny’s fireball Un Verano Sin Ti blasted the Billboard 200, I wonder if he can muster up a similar run a la Drizzy because of his new-found superstardom. Going forward, more artists will probably eschew the idea of releasing anywhere near the behemoths named Drake, Bunny, and Taylor because of their sheer dominance. 

Elias Leight: Commanding a large swath of the top ten seems increasingly common for debut albums from heavy hitters. The bigger challenge is sticking around: Drake enjoyed nine of the top 10 slots after Certified Lover Boy debuted, including No. 1, but nine shrank to three in week two, and he gave up No. 1. He nabbed three of the top 10 spots on the chart after Honestly, Nevermind, but in week two, three shrank to one, and he ceded control of the top spot again. It will be interesting to see how the top ten looks on next week’s chart.

Jason Lipshutz: It’s still major headline news — although it feels like these top 10 floods are becoming more commonplace, the reality is that Taylor Swift and Drake are the two artists who could reliably pull off this feat, and they just happened to release big (even by their standards) projects two weeks apart. If Swift and Drake hypothetically don’t release new albums within the next few years, then… we might not see this again for the next few years! What Drake just achieved is still wildly impressive, even if Swift matched him a few frames back.

Andrew Unterberger: Crazy to say, but I think it’s close to par for the course at this point. Of course, when we say “Drake and stars of his level,” we’re not talking about more than five artists total — and maybe as few as just him and Swift — so even if it’s not a particularly jaw-dropping accomplishment for them anymore, it’s still not one a whole lot of other artists are likely matching anytime soon.

4. Despite Drake and 21 Savage’s Hot 100 takeover, they’re still held off the coveted No. 1 spot by “Anti-Hero,” from Drake’s Republic labelmate Taylor Swift — who released no less than five separate remixes for the song released for sale on Swift’s webstore, helping add to the song’s best-since-2017 weekly sales total of 327,000. If you’re Drake (or 21 Savage, but mostly Drake), does it sting to lose out on the dual No. 1, or are you too busy celebrating your other accomplishments of the week to notice much?  

Rania Aniftos: It clearly stings, because Drake was shamelessly petty about it on his IG Stories.  

Carl Lamarre: Drake was a bit salty, especially when he reposted the Hot 100 charts on his stories and blocked out Taylor’s No. 1 win with different emojis. I can’t blame him: He’s a competitor and relishes being the top dog in the music industry. Drake knows he’s the emperor of rap, but I wonder if Taylor and even Bad Bunny’s success this year has him questioning his game plan going into the future from a mainstream level. 

Elias Leight: Considering that Drake has 11 Number One hits already, including one from earlier this year, and has already set an absurd number of records for performance on the Hot 100, he’ll be fine.

Jason Lipshutz: Because of the mini-comeback that Her Loss represents for Drake following Honestly, Nevermind, I’d guess that losing out on another Hot 100 No. 1 doesn’t matter as much as ending this year with another huge project and a flood of top 10 hits. Plus, “Jimmy Cooks” hitting No. 1 for Drake and 21 Savage earlier this year lessens the disappointment for the lack of a chart-topper with this debut week. And who knows? “Rich Flex” certainly isn’t lagging in streams; “Anti-Hero” will be tough to dislodge from No. 1 for a while, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they get there in future weeks.

Andrew Unterberger: He absolutely cares, and so does Swift. It’s a fascinating showdown between two of the most chart-conscious superstars of the 21st century, and it’ll be very very interesting to see what (if any) future developments this leads to in the relationship between very arguably the two biggest names in the last 15 years of popular music.

5. While the commercial response to the album has been overwhelmingly positive, the critical notices have been considerably more mixed, largely due to Drake’s questionably pointed lyrical barbs at various real-life pop culture figures — most notably Megan Thee Stallion. Does this stuff tarnish the album’s triumphs to you?  

Rania Aniftos: One hundred percent. Misogyny and undermining a Black woman’s traumatic experience is never OK. Period. 

Carl Lamarre: I come from the era of letting it fly in rap. Despite the overwhelming disdain from critics about Drake’s barbs, it shouldn’t take away the sheen and gloss of this album. It’s an excellent project that shows the potency of Drake and 21 as a fierce pairing. And though Drake enjoyed his role as the villain on this album, I’m curious to see if he continues as the genre’s leading habitual line-stepper in years to come. 

Elias Leight: From 2011 to 2015, Drake was critically beloved and commercially dominant. Since then, his albums have been less thrilling — especially when he’s not committed to experimenting with different styles, like Afrobeats or house — even as the album-equivalent-unit tally remains eye-watering. The barbs are tiresome; behind them is an intermittently invigorating but mostly underwhelming album.

Jason Lipshutz: A little, although this has been the case for Drake throughout his career — trying to square his obvious brilliance as a pop music creator with his occasionally obnoxious and morally objectionable lyrics — and it’s been the case with countless other artists whom I love and admire while also vehemently disagreeing with some of their messages. The Megan lyric is clearly lunkheaded, and there are a few others on Her Loss that have been (and deserve to be) called out; everyone has a different threshold for enjoying the art around those lyrics, and while I still have Her Loss on repeat, I don’t begrudge anyone who’s rebuked it.

Andrew Unterberger: It stinks, but it’s almost certainly not by accident: Drake knows the lyrics of his that are going to get people talking, and he’s clearly decided that leaning into the villain role in hip-hop is the smart long-term play for his career prospects as he dives into the back half of his 30s. He’s probably right — Drake usually is. But it’s still pretty unfortunate that a guy who, lest we forget, did rise to superstardom not only in large part because of his relatability, but because of emotionally visceral collaborations with female co-stars like Nicki Minaj and Rihanna, should make such rampant misogyny not just an occasional byproduct of his brand (and it always has been that), but something more like a governing principle.

It’s all in the game to a certain extent, sure, and there absolutely is room in rap for the Bad Guy, which is something both of the artists Drake has teamed up with for full albums understand as well as anyone. But there’s a recklessness to the barb-throwing here that feels decidedly uncharming coming from a guy who barely ever leaves the winner’s circle; Megan lyrics actively make an already-ugly situation worse, and for so little reason. It just isn’t worth the headlines, but this is what happens when a rapper of Drake’s station starts not to give a f–k and stops fearing the consequences.

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