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"With her sophomore album, Ashanti has proven herself to be an artist that’s going to be around for a while. She seems to be filling the Janet Jackson void right now."
——Wherehouse Music’s Violet Brown
GIRLS GONE WILD!
#1 Ashanti, #2 Beyonce, #4 Michelle Branch
Lead This Week’s Album Chart
This week’s HITS Top 50 is fueled by plenty of estrogen, topped by the #1 debut of Murder Inc./IDJ’s Ashanti, whose Chapter II turns the page on what has been a spectacular rise for the hip-hop/R&B diva, who racks up 326k in first-week sales.

Ashanti provides Murder Inc. chief Irv Gotti a welcome respite from his legal problems this week, as the duel of the divas lands Columbia/CRG’s Beyonce in the second slot and Maverick’s Michelle Branch at #4, with only J’s Luther Vandross spoiling the distaff dominance at #3.

Wherehouse Music Urban music buyer extraordinaire Violet Brown is even more pumped than usual, after handily defeating Bob Bell in the company’s annual Fourth of July three-legged race: "With her sophomore album, Ashanti has proven herself to be an artist that’s going to be around for a while. She seems to be filling the Janet Jackson void right now. The single reminds me of Janet’s ‘That’s The Way Love Goes’—it has that kind of vibe—and the video is incredible. We thought that the album would be huge, and we bought it that way. But it absolutely lived up to expectations. And now, I look forward to whipping Bell’s butt in the Labor Day hot-dog eating contest."

And while Shady/Aftermath/Interscope’s relentless hip-hop icon 50 Cent climbs to #5 on a 20% gain, and Elektra/EEG rock gods Metallica bang away #7, sisters are doing it for themselves in the rest of the Top 10. The female-fronted Evanescence’s Wind-up debut is at #6, Blue Note’s Norah Jones keeps hanging around at #8 and the girl-powered Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle soundtrack on Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax rises 12% to #10, with RCA’s Kelly Clarkson (#11) and J’s Monica (#13) just outside the charmed circle. The Top 10 is completed by Hypnotize Minds/Columbia’s Three 6 Mafia album at #9.

Other chart newcomers include Columbia Nashville’s Buddy Jewell, winner of the Nashville Star reality TV competition, at #12—giving Columbia four of the Top 12—and RCA Nashville’s Tracy Byrd at #42.

The only other double-digit increase in the Top 50 was registered by DreamWorks Nashville flag-waver Toby Keith (25-22, +10%).

Look for a high chart debut next week from Virgin Latin diva Thalia, making her English-language bow.

HITS LIST IS HAVING
A HEAT WAVE
Pass the BBQ sauce. (7/3a)
TOP 20: A LIL MORE OF THE SAME
Like a broken record... (7/1a)
WATCH THIS
We aim to please. (7/3a)
BLACK MUSIC MONTH:
6 IN THE MORNIN'
Origin story of the real OGs (7/3a)
PRE-HOLIDAY PONDERING:
POP TOP EDITION
Have another Beer, we insist. (7/2a)
WHAT NEXT?
The biz ponders action after some reflection.
GRAMMY SPECULATION
100% guaranteed to be somewhat accurate, probably.
BLACK MUSIC MONTH
...continues.
TRUMP'S IN THE BUNKER
Just to inspect it, though.
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