Pop quiz: which musical act sold the most U.S. albums in the 2000s? Not the Beatles, not Elvis, not Madonna, not Michael Jackson. By a margin of 2 million, the honor belongs to Eminem, who sold 32.2 million albums during that span.

Last week he added another 792,000 units to his career tally with the debut of his latest album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, which claimed the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts. The LP’s opening-week performance was the year’s second-best, trailing only Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience. Eminem’s first-week totals also mark an improvement on his popular 2010 album, Recovery, which sold 741,000 units, and 2009′s Relapse, which moved 608,000.

“Eminem is a perfect example of an artist who has really developed his musical career and talent over a long period of time,” says Vickie Nauman, President of 7digital U.S., which powered the Call of Duty partnership. ”Cream rises to the top, and Eminem’s cross-over appeal in rap, hip-hop and popular music is phenomenal.”

So what, exactly, is causing Eminem to buck industry trends and actually improve his commercial performance from album to album? It seems to be a mix of a loyal fan base, clever marketing and smart partnerships. And it begins with artistry.

“Eminem is Elvis,” says Kevin Liles, founder of KWL Enterprises and former president of Def Jam. “Eminem is one of the greatest rappers of all time. He continues to do Eminem and not chase a particular sound–and not only be an artist, but create art.”

The rapper’s style–characterized by witty wordplay and a jackhammer-like flow–has earned Eminem roughly 100 million fans across the major social networks. According to data outfit Musicmetric, he added nearly half a million over the past week, a 64% increase over the prior week. Eminem now has more than 77 million fans on Facebook alone, twice as many as Barack Obama.

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