Whatever He Likes: T.I. Holds Chart Penthouse, Takes Reservation for Next Week

In a sleepy week for Billboard‘s Hot 100, Atlanta rap king T.I. maintains his grip on the No. 1 spot, his fifth nonconsecutive week there, with “Whatever You Like.”

The “jump ball” I expected to break within the Top Three turned out to be a dead ball, as the three hits hold their positions. T.I. actually outsold both Pink and Kanye West at buck-a-song retailers, blunting those two challengers’ previous digital-sales advantages and padding his already huge lead at radio. West, in particular, will probably muddle along for a while now, as his sales two weeks later have fallen off, and his airplay is emerging, steadily but slowly.

Besides, T.I. appears be settling into a long run atop the chart, and within a week or two it might be with a different song. His newest hit, previewed three weeks ago with Rihanna at the MTV Video Music Awards, leads a parade of fall contenders that will likely explode on next week’s chart. So in effect, this week feels like the calm before the pre-holiday storm.

All the action this week isn’t on the Hot 100: It’s at iTunes, where a handful of highly anticipated pre-album song releases are selling like gangbusters. Let’s run them down, because the sales they’re ringing up now will shake up the big chart next week:

T.I. featuring Rihanna, “Live Your Life”: Also known as “The Numa Numa Song, Redux.” This irresistible melding of T.I.’s flow with one of the biggest Internet memes of all time, vocalized by the Barbadian chart goddess, has been iTunes’ top seller since midweek. That’s because it appeared there as a 99-cent download on Tuesday, the same day T.I.’s new album Paper Trail dropped. Clearly, tens of thousands of pop fans had been anticipating the download availability of “Live Your Life” since the VMA performance, and I can understand why: it’s a better song than “Whatever You Like,” with a more interesting T.I. rap, and the “Numa” hook is remarkably suited to Rihanna’s voice. Moreover, for all its millions of YouTube views, O-Zone’s “Dragostea din tei” (the song soundtracking “Numa Numa”) never had a breakout moment as a digital song in America, and T.I.’s hit will serve as its proxy.

“Live Your Life” is already on the Hot 100, debuting this week at No. 80 not because of sales but because it’s already the 45th most-played song in the country. That’s a staggering airplay ranking for a song that’s only been available to radio programmers for a couple of weeks. Expect “Life” to positively explode on next week’s chart—possibly shooting all the way to No. 1, which would set a new chart record. There have been countless examples in chart history where a superstar act releases a just-okay song as his album’s first single, gets a big hit with it, and then drops the monster, which becomes the massive, memorable hit. Long story short, I suspect “Life” will be the “Billie Jean” to “Whatever You Like”’s “The Girl Is Mine.”

Christina Aguilera, “Keeps Gettin’ Better”: Also debuted to the world at the VMAs, Xtina’s lead single for her forthcoming greatest-hits disc was released to the U.S. iTunes Store on Tuesday. It’s already selling phenomenally there, which might surprise some of us here who were kinda “meh” on her and co-writer Linda Perry’s thin Goldfrapp ripoff. But homegirl has fans, and it doesn’t hurt that “Keeps” is garnering solid radio attention already, debuting this week on the Hot 100 Airplay list at a respectable No. 71. Expect a Top 40, probably Top 20 and possibly Top 10 debut on the Hot 100 next week.

Nickelback, “Gotta Be Somebody”: Previewing the followup to the longest-charting hit album of the 2000s (sigh), the Canuck radio-dominators offer this synthy prom anthem, already iTunes’ third-biggest seller after four days on-sale. Which is fairly remarkable, considering hardcore Nickelback fans were able to download the MP3 free for 24 hours this past Monday. No measurable Top 40 airplay yet, but expect a massive debut on the rock charts shortly and a probable Top 20 debut on the big chart.

David Cook, “Light On”: Message to David Archuleta: it’s on! The leadoff single to the 2008 American Idol winner’s debut album comes freighted with oddly fey cover art and huge expectations. One month after the runner-up moved 166,000 downloads in a week and crashed onto the chart at No. 2, Cook’s grunge-schlock single is looking like a somewhat milder performer; iTunes currently has it ranked fourth. The interesting thing to watch next week won’t necessarily be the debut of “Light On” on the Hot 100—it’ll be whether the song, cowritten by Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, musters enough cred to make an appearance on any of the rock charts. As Idol’s first “rock” winner, Cook and his handlers clearly see the young-white-male formats as keys to his success when his album drops in November—reportedly the same week Nickelback’s album debuts.

(For the record, both Davids have outperformed expectations at radio this year. Cook’s single from the Idol finale, “The Time of My Life,” held on long after its explosive chart debut in May. It ended up riding the Top 40 all summer long, eventually also topping the Adult Contemporary chart—the slow-as-molasses, dull-as-dirt format that nonetheless represents thousands of radio stations and millions of listeners. And Archuleta’s hit, after its big August debut, has emerged as a solid radio hit, now among the 50 most-played songs nationwide and hanging onto the Hot 100’s Top 20.)

With these four singles all storming iTunes’ Top Five in the same week, it’s fair to say the holiday sales race is on, and next week’s Hot 100 will be the first scorecard.

Here’s a rundown of the rest of this week’s charts:

• There’s one more digital single making waves on iTunes, but it’s not new and has been rising on the Hot 100, quietly and steadily, for a little over a month now: “Let It Rock,” by Kevin Rudolf, featuring his label boss Lil Wayne. Kevin who? We’ve seen so many hits by Wayne this year, teaming him with virtually every luminary in hip-hop and R&B, but this one is the opposite of those singles: it’s a pop/rock record from a Miami-based singer who’s about to drop his debut album on the New Orleans–based Cash Money label, Weezy’s career home. Rudolf is his newest protégé and a branch-out into a different genre, kind of like what OneRepublic was to Timbaland last year with “Apologize.” (Except “Rock” doesn’t make you want to tear your hair out.) As such, “Rock,” which moves up six spots to No. 15 on the Hot 100, is the only hit song Weezy’s name has appeared on all year that isn’t on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop list. It’s already among the 10 biggest-selling digital songs this week, and with radio growth solid (it now ranks 43rd on Hot 100 Airplay), it should make the big chart’s Top 10 within a week or two.

• Speaking of hits with limited name recognition, Raheem DeVaughn, an R&B singer who’s never made the R&B/Hip-Hop chart’s Top 10, is a week away from making a different kind of Top 10: the list of longest-charting R&B hits. At 56 weeks, DeVaughn’s “Woman” will be among the 10 longevity champs next week, as Billboard chart guru Fred Bronson notes in his column this week.

All I’ll add to Fred’s post is that, with this feat, DeVaughn becomes the Duncan Sheik of the R&B/Hip-Hop chart. Having peaked at a lowly No. 17 last April, “Woman” is by far the lowest-charting of the R&B list’s longevity champs, including such undeniable smashes as Mary J. Blige’s “Be Without You” (the all-time leader, with a staggering 75 weeks on the chart in 2005–07), Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna” and R. Kelly’s “Step in the Name of Love.” All of DeVaughn’s fellow hangers-on peaked in the Top Five or thereabouts. On the Hot 100’s list of all-time longevity champs, there are several songs that didn’t make the Top 10, such as Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait.” But for a brief time in 1996, Duncan Sheik held the longevity title with “Barely Breathing,” a mellow-radio favorite that hung around the Hot 100 for 55 weeks despite only peaking at No. 15.

(Sheik’s record was beaten within a few months, first by Los Del Rio’s 60-week-charting No. 1 smash “Macarena,” and then again a year later by what are now the two all-time champs: Jewel’s 65-week double-sided hit “You Were Meant for Me”/”Foolish Games” and LeAnn Rimes’s 69-week monster “How Do I Live.”)

So: congrats, Raheem. And maybe you can browbeat your label into working the phones a little more assiduously for the next single?

Top 10s Last week’s position and total weeks charted in parentheses (Digital Songs chart includes total downloads/percentage change in parentheses):

Hot 100 1. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 1, 8 weeks) 2. Pink, “So What” (LW No. 2, 6 weeks) 3. Kanye West, “Love Lockdown” (LW No. 3, 2 weeks) 4. Rihanna, “Disturbia” (LW No. 4, 15 weeks) 5. M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (LW No. 6, 11 weeks) 6. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 9, 9 weeks) 7. T-Pain feat. Lil Wayne, “Can’t Believe It” (LW No. 8, 9 weeks) 8. Ne-Yo, “Closer” (LW No. 7, 24 weeks) 9. Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (LW No. 5, 3 weeks) 10. Estelle feat. Kanye West, “American Boy” (LW No. 10, 24 weeks)

Hot Digital Songs 1. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 3) 2. Pink, “So What” (LW No. 1) 3. Kanye West, “Love Lockdown” (LW No. 2) 4. Katy Perry, “Hot N Cold” (LW No. 7) 5. Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (LW No. 4) 6. M.I.A., “Paper Planes” (LW No. 6) 7. Rihanna, “Disturbia” (LW No. 5) 8. Jason Mraz, “I’m Yours” (LW No. 8) 9. Akon, “Right Now (Na Na Na)” (CHART DEBUT) 10. Kevin Rudolf feat. Lil Wayne, “Let It Rock” (LW No. 12)

Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs 1. T.I., “Whatever You Like” (LW No. 1, 11 weeks) 2. T-Pain feat. Lil Wayne, “Can’t Believe It,” (LW No. 2, 12 weeks) 3. Jennifer Hudson, “Spotlight” (LW No. 4, 20 weeks) 4. Jazmine Sullivan, “Need U Bad” (LW No. 3, 22 weeks) 5. Lil Wayne feat. Bobby Valentino, “Mrs. Officer” (LW No. 5, 13 weeks) 6. Ne-Yo, “Miss Independent” (LW No. 6, 10 weeks) 7. Lil Wayne feat. T-Pain, “Got Money” (LW No. 9, 20 weeks) 8. Plies feat. Jamie Foxx & The-Dream, “Please Excuse My Hands” (LW No. 11, 16 weeks) 9. Robin Thicke, “Magic” (LW No. 8, 19 weeks) 10. Young Jeezy feat. Kanye West, “Put On” (LW No. 7, 21 weeks)

Hot Country Songs 1. Darius Rucker, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” (LW No. 1, 24 weeks) 2. Kenny Chesney, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” (LW No. 2, 9 weeks) 3. Toby Keith, “She Never Cried in Front of Me” (LW No. 5, 14 weeks) 4. Kid Rock, “All Summer Long” (LW No. 4, 20 weeks) 5. Jimmy Wayne, “Do You Believe Me Now” (LW No. 3, 27 weeks) 6. Carrie Underwood, “Just a Dream” (LW No. 7, 12 weeks) 7. George Strait, “Troubadour” (LW No. 8, 18 weeks) 8. Brad Paisley, “Waitin’ on a Woman” (LW No. 6, 16 weeks) 9. Tim McGraw, “Let It Go” (LW No. 11, 11 weeks) 10. Luke Bryan, “Country Man” (LW No. 12, 30 weeks)

Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1. The Offspring, “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” (LW No. 1, 10 weeks) 2. Weezer, “Troublemaker” (LW No. 3, 12 weeks) 3. Staind, “Believe” (LW No. 2, 14 weeks) 4. Rise Against, “Re-Education (Through Labor)” (LW No. 5, 6 weeks) 5. Metallica, “The Day That Never Comes” (LW No. 6, 6 weeks) 6. Apocalyptica feat. Adam Gontier, “I Don’t Care” (LW No. 8, 13 weeks) 7. Carolina Liar, “I’m Not Over” (LW No. 4, 22 weeks) 8. Foo Fighters, “Let It Die” (LW No. 7, 26 weeks) 9. Coldplay, “Viva la Vida” (LW No. 9, 17 weeks) 10. Theory of a Deadman, “Bad Girlfriend” (LW No. 11, 15 weeks)

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