Before Frank Ocean's 'Blonde,' the Indie Albums That Have Topped the Billboard 200

Frank Ocean
Tyler Kaufman/FilmMagic

Frank Ocean performs during the 2013 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Music Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course on May 4, 2013 in New Orleans. 

Frank Ocean has, as widely predicted, topped this week's Billboard 200 chart with Blonde, earning 276,000 album-equivalent units in the week of its release -- the year's third-largest debut after Drake's Views and Beyonce's Lemonade.

Less expected, as it became clear just how imminent the long-rumored record was, was that Ocean's follow-up to Channel Orange would be an independent release, in every sense of the word. As we learned last week, Ocean and his team had, though either (or both) a clever strategy and a strained relationship with his label Def Jam, broken from his deal Def Jam after the release of his visual album Endless, released to Apple Music the day prior to Blonde. (Endless will not be popping up on the charts -- here's an explanation as to why.) 

Whether Ocean's break from Def Jam was acrimonious or expected, an independent record topping the Billboard 200 is a relatively rare thing. Let's break it down.

The last independently distributed album to be No. 1 on the Billboard 200 was on this year's July 23 chart, when Blink-182’s California debuted at No. 1, released through Blink’s label Viking Wizard Eyes LLC, licensed to BMG, and distributed through ADA. (Note: This comparison is not quite apples-to-apples; Blink-182 still employed BMG to market and promote the album, and ADA, which is owned by Warner Music Group, to distribute it.)

The last self-released album that sidestepped a traditional distribution company entirely (such as Sony's RED or Warner Music's ADA) and went straight to a retailer, then it was Garth Brooks’ box set Blame It All On My Roots: Five Decades of Influences from 2013, which climbed to No. 1 on the chart dated Dec. 21 of that year. The set was released on Brooks’ own Pearl Records label, and sold exclusively through Anderson Merchandisers in Walmart stores.

Below, a list of the indie-distributed records that have topped the Billboard 200 since Nielsen Music (formerly SoundScan) began powering that chart on May 25, 1991:


- N.W.A., Efil4zaggin  -- on Ruthless Records, founded by N.W.A.’s Eazy-E, (distributed by then-indie Priority Records)


- Ice Cube, The Predator (Priority)


- Soundtrack, The Lion King (then-indie Walt Disney Records)


- Soundtrack, Friday (Priority)

- Soundtrack, Pocahontas (still-indie Walt Disney Records)

- Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, E. 1999 Eternal (Ruthless Records, distributed by Priority)

- Tha Dogg Pound, Dogg Food (Death Row/Interscope, distributed by Priority)


- Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, The Art of War (Ruthless, distributed by Priority)


- The Eagles, Long Road Out Of Eden (self-released on band’s label ERC -- Eagles Recording Company -- via Walmart)


- Radiohead, In Rainbows (TBD Records, distributed by RED)


- Pearl Jam, Backspacer (self-released on band’s label Monkeywrench. initially sold exclusively in the U.S. through Target, iTunes, Pearl Jam’s website and indie retailers)


- Vampire Weekend, Contra (XL Recordings, distributed by ADA, Matador Direct, Beggars Group Digital)

- Various Artists, Hope For Haiti Now (MTV Networks, distributed by INgrooves)

- Arcade Fire, The Suburbs (Merge Records, distributed by ADA)


- Cake, Showroom of Compassion (released on band’s own Upbeat Records, distributed by ADA)

- Mac Miller, Blue Slide Park (Rostrum Records, distributed by Fontana)


- Mumford & Sons, Babel (Glassnote, distributed by RED)

- Jason Aldean, Night Train (Broken Bow,distributed by RED)


- Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City (XL, distributed by ADA, Matador Direct, Beggars Group Digital)

- Queens of the Stone Age, Like Clockwork (Matador, distributed by ADA, Matador Direct, Beggars Group Digital)

- Garth Brooks, Blame It All On My Roots: Five Decades of Influences (on Brooks’ own Pearl Records, sold exclusively through Walmart)


- Lecrae, Anomaly (on Reach Records, which Lecrae co-owns, distributed by RED and New Day)

- Jason Aldean, Old Boots, New Dirt (on Broken Brow Records, distributed by RED) 


- Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color (ATO Records, distributed through Caroline)

- Tyrese, Black Rose (on Tyrese's Voltron Recordz, distributed through Caroline)

- Janet Jackson, Unbreakable (on her own Rhythm Nation Records and licensed to BMG, distributed by INgrooves)


- The Lumineers, Cleopatra (released on Dualtone, distributed by ADA)

- Blink-182, California (released by the band on its Viking Wizard Eyes LLC, licensed to BMG, distributed by ADA)


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