Blige is queen of R&B charts in 2006

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NEW YORK - It was a year marked by head-scratching sales downturns as well as a revolving door for the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 albums chart.

While R&B and hip-hop's command of the chart's top 10 wasn't as healthy as in the recent past, the two genres still generated some good news. If 2005 was Mariah Carey's year, 2006 definitely belongs to Mary J. Blige.

Blige's aptly titled "The Breakthrough" shut down those who wondered if she still had the goods after reuniting with P. Diddy on 2003's "Love & Life." This year's comeback diva is indeed enjoying the last laugh. Blige reigns over Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart for the year, as well as the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs recap, thanks to the single "Be Without You."

Blige's riveting performance on that track and the top 10 R&B/hip-hop song "Enough Cryin'," netted her the No. 5 slot on the year-end Top Billboard 200 Albums chart. She is one of only two R&B/hip-hop artists appearing in the top 10 of the year-end Billboard 200 album tally. The second? Eminem with the hits compilation "Curtain Call: The Hits."

Carey's 2005 album, "The Emancipation of Mimi," outperformed the bulk of this year's R&B/hip-hop releases. It finished at No. 11 on the Billboard 200 year-end recap and No. 7 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums year-end tally.

Blige's male R&B counterpart is Jamie Foxx, whose 2005 album "Unpredictable" also lived up to its name. claiming the No. 2 slot on the year-end Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.

Another veteran who made a memorable 2006 impact was Lionel Richie. Teaming up with Norwegian duo Stargate (2006's Hot 100 producer of the year), Richie scored his first R&B chart hit in 10 years, "I Call It Love." That record claimed the No. 10 spot on the Hot Adult R&B Songs recap.

R&B newcomers weren't shy about grabbing their share of the limelight.

Engaging vocals and fancy footwork propelled Chris Brown to several year-end accolades.

Aside from his No. 5 slot on the year-end Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and his No. 9 showing with "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)" on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs recap, the teen heartthrob carved a niche for himself in the pop recaps. He is the No. 1 name on the Top Artists, Top Male Artists and Top New Artists tallies. Those charts combine statistics from The Billboard 200 and The Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

Another formidable newcomer is singer/songwriter Ne-Yo. Like Brown, he placed three singles on the year-end Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs recap. His debut album, "In My Own Words," is perched at No. 4 on the year-end Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Former Destiny's Child member LeToya finished in the top 30 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums recap with her self-titled solo debut.

Sales, especially on the usually stalwart side of the hip-hop fence, raised eyebrows as well as questions in 2006. Atlanta's T.I. sparked hopes of better days when his "King" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.

Year-end recaps find him ruling No. 1 on the Top Rap Albums chart and No. 3 behind Blige and Foxx on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums recap. He also planted three cuts on the Hot Rap Songs recap, including "What You Know." On the Billboard 200, however, T.I. comes in at No. 21 -- the first rapper after Eminem (No. 6) to appear on that recap. The only other rapper to make the top 40 cutoff on the Billboard 200 is Chamillionaire at No. 34 with "The Sound of Revenge," which clocks in at an impressive No. 12 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.

Chamillionaire is followed on the Billboard 200 recap by Beyonce at No. 38. Her "B'Day" bested T.I.'s first-week debut. But both of those albums fell short of Justin Timberlake's impressive first-week sales.

Another strong contender in the rap field for 2006 was Ludacris, whose "Release Therapy," released September 26, debuted at No. 2 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 1 on The Billboard 200. But while his album tops out at No. 20 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums tally for the year, it stands at No. 81 on the Billboard 200 Albums recap.

Other rap releases expected to fare well as crossover titles surprisingly haven't been able to maintain mainstream traction. Diddy debuted at No. 1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and The Billboard 200. But on the latter chart, it slid rapidly to No. 36 after just four weeks and didn't make the top 50 on the year-end Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.

Other acts that met with less-than-expected sales were Chingy, Lloyd Banks, Pharrell and the Roots, and Janet Jackson, whose "20 Y.O." finished the year at No. 32 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums recap.
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