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Should NF Hold Out ‘Hope’ for a No. 1 Album? 

In this week's The Contenders, the cult rap star is the leading candidate to dethrone Morgan Wallen. 

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 April 22), NF remains the biggest rapper you don’t hear on radio or RapCaviar, while an ‘00s nu-metal band plans a second Meteora strike on the Billboard 200.  

NF, Hope (NF Real Music/Caroline): He hasn’t had a major crossover hit since 2017’s smash “Let You Down” peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, but NF remains one of the world’s biggest rappers with a cult following that remains just outside of mainstream view. His last album, 2019’s The Search, snuck past Chance the Rapper’s more hyped The Big Day for the Billboard 200’s top spot (with a six-figure first week), and the title track and advance single from follow-up album Hope debuted at No. 49 on the Hot 100 in March.  


Aiding Hope’s hopes to follow its predecessor to No. 1: big sales numbers, boosted by a variety of physical variants. There’s a signed CD in his online store (just $5!), a standard Target-exclusive CD with a poster packaged inside, four deluxe CD/merch box sets (with a T-shirt, hat, long sleeve T or a hoodie and a CD housed in a box, respectively) and both a white vinyl LP and a standard black version. If he cracks six figures again, NF might be in the same ballpark as Morgan Wallen’s declining One Thing at a Time — but the 167,000 units that album moved in its fifth week at No. 1 is still a higher single-week number than any NF album has posted yet.  

Linkin Park, Meteora (Warner/Machine Shop): Meteora was one of the biggest albums of 2003, debuting at No. 1 with over 800,000 in first-week sales, spawning massive hit singles like “Numb” and “Faint” and finishing as the No. 6 album of the Year-End Billboard 200. Next week, the album’s 20th anniversary reissue may drive it to its highest position on the chart since its release year.  

The set has already garnered considerable attention for the advance release of “Lost,” a bonus track that the group recorded for Meteora with late Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington, whose No. 38 debut on the Hot 100 made it the group’s biggest chart hit in a decade. It’s one of several previously unreleased tracks found on the reissue, which is available in a deluxe three-CD edition, a four-LP vinyl box set, or a five-LP / four-CD super deluxe box set, and should help Meteora make a more explosive chart impact than most new albums.  

Daniel Caesar, Never Enough (Republic): Acclaimed R&B singer-songwriter Daniel Caesar has yet to hit the Billboard 200’s top 10, but he’s getting closer: No. 25 with 2017 debut Freudian, then No. 17 with 2019’s Case Study 01. This year’s long-anticipated third album Never Enough has a chance to get him in that range, though it’s lacking any chart hits near the level of his breakout late-’10s hits “Get You” or “Best Part,” and certainly none in the same stratosphere as his appearance on Justin Bieber’s 2021 Hot 100-topper “Peaches.” Caesar does have a climbing Adult R&B Airplay hit in “Let Me Go” (No. 20 this week), as well as three different box sets exclusive to his web store, three different-colored vinyl variants and both standard and signed CDs available for purchase.  

In the Mix

Ellie Goulding, Higher Than Heaven (Polydor): One of the U.K.’s most reliable hitmakers of the early ‘10s is back, with what she calls, in a very un-2023 way, her “least-personal” to date. “We didn’t want to write serious songs,” Goulding has said, “we wanted to write about silly things and dancing.” The album’s approach has been well-received critically, but has yet to generate the kind hits either side of the Atlantic that she enjoyed a decade ago.  

Rae Sremmurd, Sremm 4 Life (Ear Drummer/Interscope): Speaking of Goulding: Her most recent top 40 Hot 100 hit was scored alongside Swae Lee, who was also a chart fixture of the late ‘10s — both solo and with brother Slim Jxmmi, as hip-hop duo Rae Sremmurd. The Brothers Rae have since fallen somewhat out of commercial favor, but they’re hoping a return to their Sremm album series (responsible for three straight top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 from 2015-18) will bring them back to the limelight. They get additional assistance on Sremm 4 from featured stars Future and Young Thug, as well as production from longtime gold-spinner Mike Will Made-It.