Justin Timberlake really understands how to sell records. Last week, The 20/20 Experience, his first in seven years, debuted at the top of the Billboard charts. It's the best-selling album of 2013 so far, moving 968,000 units, and the 32-year-old R&B crooner did it by taking it back to the old school of entertainment. He went on a major publicity blitz before the album dropped March 19.
This young man, who had been focusing on his acting career, really put in the work to promote his new music. It began when he released the album's first hit single, "Suit & Tie," on Twitter in early February. He followed up with performances during Super Bowl weekend and the Grammy Awards, and capped it off with a weeklong stint on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, a surprise show at South by Southwest, and a concert special on the CW. It also helped that his record label streamed The 20/20 Experience on iTunes and released an exclusive edition at Target that includes a couple of bonus tracks.
Everything Timberlake has done is how I used to do it back in the day when Luke Records was the hottest independent hip-hop label in the nation. I'd do press junkets, host listening parties, and perform the hell out of my new songs at nightclubs and concerts for radio stations. When I signed Pitbull, I made him do the same thing. You work your ass off to sell your new music so your fans see how much passion you have for it.
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Timberlake proves you don't have to manufacture drama or constantly appear as a guest on other artists' tracks to sell records. Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, and Drake are always showing up on other rappers' albums or putting out free online mixtapes every other day because they think if they're not on a record right now, they'll become irrelevant.
To generate buzz for their albums, they think they have to be involved in some shocking event, like Ross being shot at after his birthday party at LIV, where he bought endless bottles of expensive rosé champagne. Lil Wayne dissed the Miami Heat; then he acted half-dead at the hospital so his mug was plastered all over TMZ for more than 24 hours.
Timberlake is doing it Michael Jackson-style — the right way — by building anticipation for his new music instead of faking his way to headlines.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.