The top album on the Billboard chart this week is Bad Bunny’s “Un Verano Sin Ti,” a streaming juggernaut that is notching its fifth time at No. 1.
But just as notable is what lands at No. 2: “Wasteland” by Brent Faiyaz, an R&B singer from Maryland who eschewed the major-label route and has released his music independently, a path that usually means earning a bigger slice of a smaller pie. After putting out songs last year with guest spots by Drake and Tyler, the Creator, Faiyaz released “Wasteland” on July 8, with little advance notice. For the last week, the music industry has been focused on Faiyaz to see if he could not only topple Bad Bunny — one of the standard-bearers for streaming-driven superstardom — but also perform the rare feat of taking an entirely independent project to No. 1.
“Wasteland” didn’t quite make it to the summit. But it got close enough to make a statement that will surely be heard by every new artist contemplating accepting a major-label deal. “Un Verano Sin Ti” had the equivalent of 105,000 sales in the United States, including 147 million streams, while “Wasteland” had 88,000 sales, including 107 million streams, according to the tracking service Luminate. Weekly equivalent sales for “Un Verano” have never dipped below 100,000 since its release in May, and it has racked up a total of 2 billion streams in the U.S. alone.
Even though many artists today control their recording rights, and may have labels or imprints of their own, the majority of high-charting albums still pass through the major-label system. Each of the three global music conglomerates — Universal, Sony and Warner — operate large distribution arms that specialize in releasing music by independent acts. Bad Bunny, for example, may be signed to Rimas Entertainment, a company controlled by his manager, but Rimas has a distribution deal with the Orchard, owned by Sony.
To release “Wasteland,” Faiyaz went through Stem, one of several indie-distribution platforms. The last No. 1 album that bypassed the major-label infrastructure was “Skins” by the rapper XXXTentacion in late 2018, via the independent music company Empire.
Also on the chart this week, Aespa, a four-woman K-pop group, opens at No. 3 with the mini-album “Girls,” which had 56,000 sales, mostly as CDs. Harry Styles’s “Harry’s House” is No. 4 and Morgan Wallen’s “Dangerous: The Double Album” falls one spot to No. 5.