Rappers Nelly, Eminem take top spots

The Boss took a beating from a pair of hip-hop superstars in the album charts this week, slipping to third place as St. Louis rapper Nelly stepped up to reclaim the top spot and the infamous Eminem slid in just behind him.

Nelly’s “Nellyville” (Universal) scanned 183,000 copies — a 12% drop but sufficient to top “The Eminem Show” (Interscope/Shady) at 179,000. Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” (Columbia) sold just under 167,000 units.

Meanwhile, folk-rock songwriter James Taylor crept up quietly to give the big boys a run for their money this week. “October Road” (Columbia), Taylor’s first studio effort since 1997′s “Hourglass,” bowed at No. 4, selling nearly 154,000 copies in its first frame.

And Arista’s sleeper phenom of the year — rocker Avril Lavigne — continued her steady climb up the rankings, gaining four spots to land at fifth. “Let Go,” the 17-year-old songwriter’s debut effort, has sold almost 1.2 million copies to date.

Songwriters in the money

Two other buzzy songwriters continued to gain ground this week: Norah Jones’ first album, “Come Away With Me” (Blue Note), was up two spots to No. 13, and John Mayer’s LP “Room for Squares” slipped two places to No. 21 but boosted sales by 6% to more than 47,000.

The second-highest debut of the session belonged to veteran R&B crooner Keith Sweat. Singer’s ninth album, “Rebirth” (Elektra) opened at No. 14, selling almost 58,000 discs.

The young bluegrass act Nickel Creek enjoyed an unexpectedly strong bow at No. 18 with “This Side,” their second effort for respected roots-music label Sugar Hill. Despite minimal promotion efforts, “Side” managed to scan a hefty 51,000 in its first week out — putting the group on a trajectory to top even the sales of their far better-known labelmate Dolly Parton.

Also bowing in the top 20 were Snoop Dogg’s “Doggystyle All-Stars VI” (MCA), which debuted at No. 19, and Detroit hip-hop crew Slum Village’s “Trinity (Past, Present & Future)” (Capitol), which started in the 20th spot.

Next week’s chart will likely be more of the same; there aren’t any new contenders with the heft to rival either Nelly or Eminem. But Virginia hip-hop duo Clipse should make a strong showing with their inaugural Arista release, “Lord Willin’.”

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