Eminem Takes Early 'Encore' To No. 1

Although it was legitimately available for just three days during the sales reporting week, Eminem's "Encore" moved enough copies to easily bow at No. 1 on The Billboard 200.

Although it was legitimately available for just three days during the sales reporting week, Eminem's "Encore" moved enough copies to easily bow at No. 1 on The Billboard 200. Released on Friday in an effort to combat widespread piracy, the rapper's latest Shady/Aftermath/Interscope set sold 711,000 copies in the United States through Sunday, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Street date violations, when a retailer sells a disc prior to its official release date, also contributed to the album's sales.

Albums typically hit stores on Tuesdays, allowing six days of sales for new releases. It has become common in recent years for labels to move up release dates or to issue major albums on off-cycle days to thwart pirated copies.

The two-week story of "Encore" will likely rival that of 2002's "The Eminem Show." That set also managed a No. 1 debut on the strength of 285,000 copies sold in an off-cycle release week, then followed with 1.3 million in its first full week of sales, the fifth-biggest sales week in the SoundScan era. The set has sold 9.3 million to date.

Behind Eminem, country acts are enjoying a strong showing on The Billboard 200 following the Nov. 9 broadcast of the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards.

Shania Twain, who performed during the CBS broadcast, enters the chart at No. 2 on sales of 530,000 copies of her first "Greatest Hits" set (Mercury Nashville). Her last studio album, 2002's "Up!," opened at No. 1 with 874,000 and has sold 5.2 million to date.

Fellow CMA performer Toby Keith grabs the No. 3 spot after selling 435,000 units of his "Greatest Hits 2" (DreamWorks Nashville/Interscope). The country star's first hits volume, which spanned his Mercury Nashville career, opened at No. 61 with only 24,000 units in 1998.

CMA emerging artist award winner and performer Gretchen Wilson, who was also named breakthrough artist of the year at Sunday's American Music Awards, sees her Epic debut "Here For the Party" jump 17-13 on a 74% increase to 77,000 copies.

Other performers who saw a sales spike this week include Tim McGraw, whose "Live Like You Were Dying" (Curb) falls 16-18 despite a 31% jump to 66,000 units, and Rascal Flatts, whose "Feels Like Today" (Hollywood) drops one to No. 27 even though sales jumped 60% to 49,000.

Kenny Chesney, who won the CMA's coveted entertainer of the year award and the album of the year trophy for "When the Sun Goes Down," saw sales of the BNA set spike 61%, fueling a 45-35 jump on a 61% increase to 34,000 copies. Male vocalist of the year winner Keith Urban's "Be Here" (Capitol) rises 59-43 on a 62% increase to 28,000.

Back in the top 10, Britney Spears' "Greatest Hits: My Prerogative" (Jive) is the first album of the pop singer's career not to bow at the summit of The Billboard 200. The career-spanning collection debuts at No. 4 on sales of 255,000. Last year's studio album "In the Zone" opened on top with 609,000 and has sold 2.9 million to date.

East Coast rapper Fabolous enters at No. 6 with "Real Talk" (Desert Storm/Atlantic). With 179,000 copies, the title came up slightly short of last year's "Street Dreams," which bowed at No. 3 with 185,000; it has sold 1.3 million to date.

Ja Rule wraps up this week's top 10 debuts with "R.U.L.E." (The Inc./Def Jam/IDJMG) at No. 7. Powered by the Billboard Hot 100 hit "Wonderful" featuring R. Kelly and Ashanti, the set sold 166,000 copies. Rule's 2003 album, "Blood in My Eye," opened at No. 6 with 140,000 and has sold 457,000 to date.

Rounding out the top tier, last week's chart-topping 17th installment of "NOW That's What I Call Music!" falls to No. 5 on a 43% drop to 323,000, Usher's "Confessions" (LaFace/Zomba) slips 4-8 on a 6% slide to 108,000, Nelly's "Suit" (Derrty/Fo'Reel/Universal) drops 3-9 on a 14% decline to 101,000 and George Strait's "50 Number Ones" (MCA Nashville) slides 6-10, despite a 6% rise to sales of 100,000 copies.

New Edition, minus original member Bobby Brown, enters at No. 12 with "One Love." The R&B supergroup's Bad Boy Records debut and first studio set in eight years opened with sales of 86,000 copies. The 1996 MCA release "Home Again," which included Brown and his replacement, Johnny Gill, entered at No. 1 with 227,000 copies and to date has sold 1.8 million.

Also debuting in the top 20 this week are Andrea Bocelli's "Andrea" (Sugar/Phillips/Universal Classics Group, No. 16) and Elton John's "Peachtree Road" (Rocket/Universal, No. 17).

Although officially released on Monday, Destiny's Child's "Destiny Fulfilled" bows at No. 19 due to street date violations. The Sony Urban Music/Columbia set is the R&B trio's first album since 2001's "Survivor." Violations also cause Lil Jon and the East Side Boyz' "Crunk Juice" (TVT) to prematurely debut at No. 31; the album was not expected in stores until yesterday.

Additional debuts this week include the Bee Gees' "Number Ones" (Universal) at No. 23 and Vanessa Carlton's sophomore A&M album, "Harmonium," at No. 33.

At 13.8 million units, overall U.S. album sales were up about 27% over the previous week, but were down about 7.8% from the same week last year. Sales for the year continue to beat those of 2003 by about 3.5%.