Five Burning Questions: HipHopMagz Staffers Discuss NAV’s ‘Bad Habits’ No. 1 Debut on the HipHopMagz 200

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Following a short-lived retirement at the beginning of 2019, Canadian rapper-singer NAV emerged in March with sophomore LP Bad Habits — which is now the No. 1 album in the country, topping the Billboard 200 albums chart with 82,000 equivalent album units moved. 

While the XO signee has long been the subject of Internet derision for perceived coattail-riding and general celebrity thirst in his music and public life, the Bad Habits debut would seem to be incontrovertible proof that he has more of a built-in fanbase than he's usually given credit for. But what other factors might be at play behind his debut? And has the album changed our opinion of NAV as an artist at all?

Billboard staffers debate these questions and more in this week's Five Burning Questions. 

1. All right: Scale of 1-10, how surprised are you to be talking about NAV having the No. 1 album in the country this week?

Josh Glicksman: 8. In the spirit of March Madness mayhem, which keeps rolling into April, let’s draw a few comparisons — Bad Habits is certainly not a Cinderella story, folks. Sure, NAV isn’t a top seed in the rap game, but it’s not like he pulled off any sort of major upset here, either; Jenny Lewis deserved much better numbers for her excellent On the Line, which will resurface on plenty end of year lists, but it was never a serious contender to top the Billboard 200. NAV nabbing the No. 1 is more so a circumstance of a lack of serious competition in the past few weeks than anything else. Basically, Bad Habits won the NIT.

Bianca Gracie: 8. I really can’t believe we’re having this conversation right now! I thought Rich the Kid would’ve taken the crown when The World Is Yours 2 dropped on the same day, especially because his last effort debuted at No. 2. But I’ll give NAV a small benefit of a doubt. Other than Rich, he didn’t have much competition in terms of album releases (Netflix’s The Dirt soundtrack wasn’t going to make a dent.) And his previous album peaked at No. 8, so I guess it's not a total stretch he'd jump to No. 1 with his sophomore set?

Ross Scarano: 8. I know it’s the wild west out here and that there are various ways to go about getting a No. 1 album, especially in the early part of the year, when competition is less stiff. Maybe I’m foolish to underestimate the strength of a VLONE merch collab, but yes, I am surprised. 

Andrew Unterberger: 6. I wouldn't have predicted it, but once I heard it was even a possibility it seemed almost pre-determined. On the charts as in all other walks of life, sometimes it just comes down to who wants it more. 

Christine Werthman: I'd say a solid 7. I didn't realize that people were listening to this album that much. Though perhaps it should've been a 3, because, really, what was his competition? Rich the Kid had a respectable showing but wasn't going to knock him down, Ariana Grande is still sitting at No. 2, and it's too soon for those Billie Eilish numbers to come through yet, right?

2. What do you consider the biggest factor behind the chart success of Bad Habits?

Josh Glicksman: Adding a deluxe version of the album with eight new songs in the middle of the week certainly didn’t hurt. The newly tacked on tracks brought the project’s grand total to a whopping 24, allowing NAV to benefit supremely from streaming numbers. It’s hard to fault the rapper-singer for deploying the oft-used strategy to his success — considering that 30 percent of all U.S. music streams were either R&B or hip-hop in 2018, there’s no reason to avoid using that data to his advantage. Of course, it’d be ignorant to disregard the role that features from heavyweight names like Future, Young Thug, The Weeknd, Meek Mill and Gunna played in accomplishing the feat as well. 

Bianca Gracie: Two words: Abel Tesfaye. The Weeknd is a Billboard chart regular, with three No. 1 LPs under his belt, as well as a respected figure among his hip-hop and R&B colleagues. So if it wasn’t for him making his debut as executive producer for the album, I’m sure it wouldn’t reach this position — especially not this fast. Along with Tesfaye lending his immense popularity to his XO Records labelmate — I don’t know whether to classify that as pity or enthusiasm — the features also play a role. NAV scored a slew of current rap favorites for the record (Meek Mill, Gunna, Young Thug and Lil Durk), whose notable streaming numbers surely rubbed off on these sales.

Ross Scarano: VLONE. NAV’s friendliness, which is how I understand his star-studded list of features. (Other rappers must just enjoy hanging with NAV.) His XO affiliation. His taste in beats, which make Bad Habits an easy, homogenous listening experience, like if RapCar featured NAV on every song. I can’t unbraid those factors from each other to champion just one.

Andrew Unterberger: Hard to say "streamability" without getting flashbacks to some truly unconscionable Bud Light ad campaigns, but that does appear to be the ticket here. Light, melodic and unobtrusive, NAV made the perfect 16-track hip-hop album to hit play on and never once be bothered enough to move away from — and then to be on the safe side, he piled another eight tracks on top of that for a late-arriving Deluxe edition. Them streams add up, and for Bad Habits the sum was 57,000 streaming equivalent album (SEA) units, more than enough to make it the album to beat on the BB200 this week. 

Christine Werthman: Hate listens? Kidding, kidding. Kind of. I think that all the flack I saw NAV catching on Twitter inspired me to give the album a listen. Any kind of press — or publicity on social media — is good press, I suppose, and I'm sure that a lot of people who were not fans before tuned in because they wanted to hear what all of the Twitter fuss was about.

The surprising conclusion is that, once you listen to Bad Habits, you realize it's not a wholly objectionable listen — at least if you don't listen to the lyrics, which range from lazy ("Stackin' my racks, dawg, do you got my back, dawg? / Cover my back, dawg, yeah") to embarrassing ("I'ma throw a private ceremony, me and money gon' elope") to eerily possessive ("Bought her a bust down Patek, now that girl is stuck with me/ I brought you to where you at, don't you turn your back on me"). But the production is sort of woozy and late-night enough that if you turn down the volume, it kind of sounds like a lighter version of something from Drake or the Weeknd — like OVO Kidz Bop.

3. Rap Twitter tends to have a field day clowning on NAV — do you think he deserves it? And does Bad Habits change your opinion about that at all, one way or the other?

Josh Glicksman: In general, it’s hard to say that anyone “deserves” to be clowned on Twitter — obvious exceptions excluded, of course. With that being said, Bad Habits is chock full of one-liners that don’t do NAV any favors. On “Habits,” the 29-year-old boasts (??), “I was hot when I was broke, but now you look at me, I’m icy/ Now when I go to the club, they don’t look at my ID/ Gotta make sure that my gang is right beside me.” Bragging that he no longer gets carded is a tough flex to buy for someone about six months away from entering his 30s. Congrats on getting your whole crew in the club, though — a true sign of a good friend.

Bianca Gracie: I first heard of NAV on Travis Scott’s criminally underrated "Beibs in the Trap" in 2016, but little did I know that collaboration was going to be the highlight of his catalog. Canada has gifted us with droves of talented rappers in recent years, but NAV isn’t one of them for me. He relies on Auto-Tune way too much without attempting to use it in a new or interesting way and, his bars are just so lazy. I can’t tell if he’s being serious or if he’s just trolling us all, but I’m here for the ongoing roast sessions! And no, this album won't change my mind, nor will any project that follows. 

Ross Scarano“Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” It’s the attention-based economy, baby — and Nav is getting attention with every joke. Maybe he’s grateful. Bad Habits, which includes the line, “Sober I will never be, off the pills I'm cuddly,” has not changed my opinion about NAV.

Andrew Unterberger: He deserves it in that I have to imagine he's actively courting it in some ways at this point — and if not, he's certainly not running from it, anyway. Bad Habits doesn't change my opinion of him as a punchline, but it helps me understand how he sorta uses it to his advantage: He doesn't mind if you can see his machinations at work, as long as they are in fact working. He's laughing all the way to the bank — who cares who else is laughing too? 

Christine Werthman: Listen, I don't condone bullying. But if you want to make fun of NAV for his music, Bad Habits would support your cause.

4. Tell us one thing you like about Bad Habits.

Josh Glicksman:  It gives us new material from Meek Mill, The Weeknd, Young Thug, Future, Gunna and more. Despite the fact that NAV struggles to hold his own with any of the big name features, the talented guest list provides a nice change of pace in an otherwise monotonous project and gives Bad Habits some newsworthy buzz. It’s a Catch-22 for NAV: There’s very little chance he grabs the top slot without the big name features, but it also feels like he’s not even the main artist on at least five tracks on the album. 

Bianca Gracie: This question forced me to actually sample the album in its entirety, which my ears do not appreciate. But I’d say the strongest point of Bad Habits is Meek Mill’s feature on “Tap.” He flows effortlessly on the moody trap production, and also gives us a fun What a Time to Be Alive reference with my favorite line: “I got bands for real, diamonds on me, they dance for real/ All these sticks and drums, banging like we in a band for real.”

Ross Scarano: I think that Young Thug admitting he’s sexually attracted to his aunt is perverse and brave.

Andrew Unterberger: I mean honestly, I kinda dig how low-intensity this album is. It's downright hilarious that a song called "Price on My Head" (with The Weeknd moaning "Night when I rest, with a knife by my bed/ I'm so paranoid, I'ma sleep when I'm dead" on the hook) could be so chill. When the lyrics don't get in the way, this is perfectly ideal zone-out work listening. 

Christine Werthman: The Young Thug appearance. Also hearing the line "Skrrt skrrt Prada skirt" on "Vicodin" made me laugh.

5. What's your favorite moment from Pitchfork's "Lunch With Nav" piece?

Josh Glicksman: NAV going off about the paparazzi not taking his picture and then immediately dismissing the idea that he cares too much about outside validation. His reputation is all he cares about, and I just wish that he’d admit that — because sometimes we all need that validation. Like in high school, I bought this pair of electric blue sneakers that I thought were a no-doubt hit. When no one complimented those kicks, I tried to brush it off like I didn’t care, either. But it bothered the hell out of me. And now those electric blue Nikes are stashed away somewhere forever — which is a damn shame because those kicks were fire, NAV.

Bianca Gracie: His whining about TMZ not snapping a picture while he’s trying to stunt in front of Delilah with his Lambo truck — that’s such a hypebeast thing to do! I wouldn’t be surprised if he was rocking some custom Supreme during the fiasco. The line “All my jewelry on and they don’t even take one picture” pretty much tells you everything you need to know about why he gets dogged on so much.

Ross Scarano: Tough call — shout out to Alphonse — but reading it again, I love the detail about how he’s overdressed for lunch, temperature-wise. Who among us hasn’t forgone comfort and kept on too many layers to preserve the integrity of a fit? Perhaps what fuels the jokes is the sense that Nav is closer to us than we care to admit, that if we were to suddenly come into possession of a Metro Boomin beatpack and professional guidance from XO, we would fail to appear cool enough too. Is he the ultimate expression of relatability as widely sold by Drake? Have you also fumbled when attempting to separate the cap from the truth? Do we resent NAV because we are NAV?

Andrew Unterberger: NAV shrugging off his haters between bites of shrimp tempura and tuna tartare: "It’s online from somebody with 10 Instagram followers, on private, with a dog picture display — they don’t matter.” Got 'em/us. 

Christine Werthman: His threat to his friends that if they didn't get this album right, then the "big dinners are fucking done.”