The Contenders is a midweek column that looks at artists aiming for the top of the Billboard charts, and the strategies behind their efforts. This week (for the upcoming charts dated July 1), a star rapper looks to continue his hot streak, while hard rock veterans and K-poppers also put the top spot in their sights.
Gunna, A Gift and a Curse (YSL/300): Though Gunna has been under attack on social media since last December for his supposed “snitching” in accepting an Alford plea — a formal admission of guilt while also maintaining innocence — for his part in the YSL RICO trial, it appears that he remains a prolific performer on streaming. (He denied any cooperation with the prosecution.) His new album A Gift and a Curse has littered the Spotify and Apple Music real-time charts since its release last Friday (June 16), with the shout-along “fukumean” already seeming like a breakout hit from the set.
The rapper born Sergio Giavanni Kitchens has been a regular visitor to the top spot of the Billboard 200 since his late-’10s rise to stardom. And he’s already been there three times this decade – with his own Wunna (2020) and DS4Ever (2022) albums, and as a co-lead on the YSL showcase compilation Slime Language 2 (2021). DS4Ever, Gunna’s most recent set, was also his most popular, moving 150,000 first-week units and topping even The Weeknd’s new Dawn FM to claim the top spot.
To unseat Morgan Wallen – who returns to No. 1 for a 13th frame with his One Thing at a Time blockbuster this chart week – he’ll need to do it almost entirely with streaming (with help from digital sales), as the album is not yet for sale in any physical format. Wallen posted 115,000 units in its most recent week, so if Gunna can approach his DS4ever debut performance with his new set, he should have a pretty good shot of becoming the latest act to interrupt the country star’s months-long reign.
Ateez, The World Ep.2: Outlaw (KQ/RCA/Legacy): It’s going to be a classic case of sales vs. streams in next week’s competition for top debut on the Billboard 200. Eight-piece Korean boy band Ateez has yet to establish a big stateside presence on streaming services, but like many popular K-pop acts, the act sells physical copies by the truckload – which has already helped their Spin Off: From the Witness set hit No. 7 earlier this year, and their The World Ep.1: Movement EP get all the way to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 last August.
The sequel to that latter EP, The World Ep. 2: Outlaw is also expected to make a pretty big chart splash next week, again thanks to robust physical sales. To maximize that opportunity, the octet has released 21 different collectible CD editions of Outlaw, including some signed variants, all containing branded merchandise and randomized items (action cards, partner cards, photo cards) — as well as a Target-exclusive edition.
Queens of the Stone Age, In Times New Roman… (Matador): Queens of the Stone Age albums are becoming increasingly infrequent – it’s been six years since the band’s Villains – but the veteran hard rock band has historically been a strong performer on the Billboard 200, and it even topped the chart two albums ago with 2013’s …Like Clockwork. This month’s In Times New Roman… will be helped by a series of different-colored vinyl variants, though thus far the album lacks a hit single to match Villains’ top 10-charting Rock Airplay hit “The Way You Used to Do.”
In the Mix
J. Cole, Born Sinner (ByStorm/Columbia/Dreamville/Roc Nation): As fans eagerly await a new album from Cole — and as he sticks around the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 with his appearance on Lil Durk’s smash “All My Life” — fans also have new goodies to tide them over with the vinyl reissue of his 2013 chart-topper Born Sinner. The LP is available in a trio of color variants, including a translucent red exclusive to Target.
Asake, Work of Art (YNBL/Empire): Asake’s debut album Mr. Money With the Vibe was one of the most-acclaimed and best-received Afrobeats albums of 2022, reaching the top half of the Billboard 200. The Nigerian singer/songwriter looks to do even better than that set’s No. 66 bow with this month’s Work of Art, which has already scored a pair of top 10 hits on the Billboard U.S. Afrobeats Songs chart with advance tracks “Amapiano” (with Olamide) and “2:30.”