Nas in front; holiday lifts older releases

Nas, the Gotham rapper who’s released eight albums in 12 years, debuted at No. 1 this week with “Hip Hop Is Dead” (Def Jam), according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Disc, his third to top the charts, sold 355,000 copies in its opening week. He also topped the chart in 1999 with “I Am … The Autobiography” and in 1996 with “It Was Written.”

“The Price of Fame,” the fifth album from Columbia Records rapper Bow Wow, sold 262,000 to debut at No. 6. His last two discs, “Wanted” and “Unleashed,” both debuted at No. 3.

Nas’ album barely edged the soundtrack to Disney’s “Hannah Montana,” which spiked 28%, selling 349,000 last week.

Top 50 saw only two debuts: RBD’s “Rebels” (EMI Televisa) sold 94,000 (No. 40), and Trick Daddy’s “Back by Thug Demand” (Slip-N-Slide/Atlantic) moved 87,000 (No. 48).

The top 10 saw several discs enjoy healthy sales boosts as Christmas Day approached.

Collection “Now That’s What I Call Music! 23″ rose 33% on sales of 313,000; Carrie Underwood’s “Some Hearts” was up 47%, selling 292,000; the Beatles’ “Love” (Apple Corps Ltd./Capitol) more than doubled sales with 282,000; Josh Groban’s “Awake” perked up 15% to 255,000; and Daughtry’s self-titled disc was propelled 38% to 250,000.

But the big winner was Justin Timberlake, whose “FutureSex/LoveSounds” shot up 13 slots to No. 9 on sales of 230,000, nearly double the previous week.

Last week’s chart toppers, Young Jeezy and Taylor Hicks fell out of the top 10: Jeezy to No. 18; Hicks to No. 15.

The last two years have seen the music industry embrace the Tuesdays around Christmas like never before. This week saw several frontline releases, including Switchfoot’s “Gravity,” Matisyahu’s “No Place to Be” and Omarion’s “21,” along with an assortment of compilation albums.

But as holiday recipients start to redeem online gift certificates, the early winner is an album that won’t be out for another month: Norah Jones’ “Not Too Late.” On Wednesday morning the pianist-singer’s Jan. 30 release was at No. 2 on Amazon.com and No. 5 on iTunes and was prominently featured on the Walmart.com site.

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