Chart-related column profiling new artists on Billboard charts: Ms. Dynamite, Cat Power, Cody Chesnutt, and Cave In.
Welcome to the first edition of Breaking & Entering, a weekly look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts. Starting April 9, a new column will be posted here each Wednesday.
MAYBE IT'S THE ACCENTS: In terms of chart success, British hip-hoppers, by and large, have been confined to their home territory. Yet Interscope is betting on its latest import, the 21-year-old Ms. Dynamite, to accomplish what other U.K. rappers have been unable to do.
Her debut album, "A Little Deeper," is arriving on these shores with a boatload of hype, but recent history says hype in itself won't be enough to break in America. For instance, the Streets -- jungle DJ Mike Skinner's one man hip-hop project -- received a bonanza of press and acclaim last year, and even snared a single on MTV2, but U.S. consumers haven't been impressed, as the Streets' debut Vice/Atlantic album "Original Pirate Material" has yet to crack the single digits of Billboard's Top Independent Albums tally.
Ms. Dynamite's "A Little Deeper" is already driving into territory that the Streets have yet to visit, landing at No. 179 on The Billboard 200 on March 29. Having sold 6,000 copies in the U.S. in its debut week, according to Nielsen SoundScan, "A Little Deeper" was also propelled to No. 8 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart.
With production by Salaam Remi, who has worked with such artists as Nas and the Fugees, Ms. Dynamite has drawn comparisons to Lauryn Hill, and last September she became the first black female artist to win Britain's prestigious Mercury Music Prize. Among her many recent accolades, Ms. Dynamite also snared two trophies at the Brit Awards in February.
In the U.K., her cut "Dy-Na-Mi-Tee" hit No. 5 on the singles chart, and "A Little Deeper" recently breached the top-20 of the albums chart.
CHESNUTT ROASTING: Atlanta native Cody Chesnutt recorded a sprawling two-disc, 36-track debut in his bedroom last year, and spent much of 2002 peddling it in Los Angeles clubs. Equal parts gospel, blues, classic rock, and soul, the genre-hopping "Headphone Masterpiece" surprisingly caught the attention of the hip-hop and R&B crowd.
Chesnutt has opened for Macy Gray, and has been touring with Erykah Badu, and now the Roots have helped power his album onto The Billboard 200. The East Coast hip-hop heavies covered Chesnutt's "The Seed" on their latest album, "Phrenology" (MCA). A video for "The Seed" -- featuring Chesnutt -- just hit the MTV airwaves. The exposure propelled Chesnutt's self-released set to a whopping 114% sales burst to 8,000 copies, giving it a No. 128 entry on The Billboard 200 this week. Chesnutt made the CD available on his Web site last September, and to date it has moved 25,000 units.
A MIGHTY MEOW: In just five weeks, experimental folk artist Cat Power (real name: Chan Marshall) has sold 30,000 units of her latest Matador release, "You Are Free." Her first album of original material in four years, "You Are Free" has already racked-up almost half as many sales as predecessor "Moon Pix," which has tallied 63,000 copies since it hit retail in 1998. The artist released an album of covers in 2000, which has sold about 52,000 units to date.
"You Are Free" debuted at No. 105 on The Billboard 200, and it was Marshall's first album to reach the big tally. Previously, only "The Covers Record" had appeared on any of Billboard's charts, debuting at No. 44 on the Heatseekers chart.
"You Are Free" features guest appearances from Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl, which helped fuel the album's hype. It was also streamed in its entirety on Cat Power's official Web site for nearly a week prior to its release.
OUT OF THE DARK: When hardcore rockers Cave In left the Hydra Head label for RCA, much of the independent world was a little surprised. The metal-leaning quartet, after all, doesn't have a radio-ready sound. Cave In's three albums veer from Slayer-like rave-ups to fractured prog-rock diversions, all with textured vocals that would make Radiohead proud.
Yet, the jump to a major label seems to paying off. The group's "Antenna" album, released March 18 with a limited-edition DVD, just became the Massachusetts-based band's first full-length to reach any of Billboard's charts, landing on The Billboard 200 at No. 169 with just under 6,000 copies sold. To date, the group's three albums have sold about 25,000 copies. A tour supporting the Foo Fighters launches April 18 in Los Angeles.