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Hip-Hop Fridays: Industry And Street Notes…January 30, 2004


...Could it be that one of the best pictures of the influence of Hip-Hop on the bottom line of Corporate America can be found in the recent commotion revolving around the legendary kings of "hate-radio," the Hip-Hop morning team Star and Bucwild? Those BlackElectorate.com “Insiders” and (and later, visitors to DaveyD.com) should remember the exclusive piece that I wrote, describing in some detail, the dynamics surrounding, and impact that the politically-incorrect shock jocks were having on the stock price of Emmis Communications (Emmis owns WQHT-FM in New York City, Hot 97, the station on which Star and Bucwild appeared). I learned this summer that as many as 9 Wall St. analysts were considering downgrading their estimates of Emmis’ stock price based upon a pessimistic view of the outcome of contract negotiations between Star and Bucwild and Hot 97, while the team was under suspension (which sources say was part punishment, as well as a negotiating ploy on the part of Emmis and the result of Star's ill-timed comments about AT&T which supposedly cost Hot 97 a $50,000 advertising buy) last Spring and Summer. During the suspension MTV’s Sway filled in, and fortunately for Emmis, the ratings for the morning program did not fall – holding steady and actually improving depending upon how you slice the ratings data - in the absence of Star and Bucwild. This, along with the announced departure of Hot 97 VP of Programming, Tracy Cloherty (a powerful sometimes ally and "apologist" of the duo and unofficial "buffer" between Emmis and Star), who is launching a television show with Shakim Compere and Queen Latifah, emboldened the negotiating hand of Hot 97 and Emmis Communications, who having seen continued good fortune, were persuaded to believe that Star and Bucwild were no longer “essential.” Sources tell us that had the ratings of Sway’s morning show fallen dramatically, Star and Bucwild would have gotten almost virtually all that they demanded in negotiations from Hot 97/Emmis, which some have reported was $2.7 million and a unique contract that would have enabled syndication of the show outside of New York. That worst case scenario never materialized and Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan earlier this month was celebrating the near “perfect” performance of Hot 97 in the absence of Star and Bucwild, saying to shareholders, "HOT (WQHT-FM) continues to be incredible, posting a 3-share lead over a direct format competitor. New York made this comeback because everything’s working: sales, ratings performance, management and a sound focus..."

In the final quarter of last year, rumors began to circulate that Hot 97 had decided to not renew the contract of Star and Bucwild and that the tandem had been permitted by Emmis to sign with another station, provided that they would not contract with a radio station within 12 to 18 months that competes in the lucrative New York City market. The industry and street gossip and chatter indicated that indeed a new home had been found for the duo – Hartford, Connecticut. According to the reports, a radio staion, formerly known as WMRQ, and owned by Clear Channel switched its classic rock format last fall and became WPHH – an “urban” radio station, "The New Power 104.1." For weeks rumors swirled that first in December, and then in January, Star and Bucwild would be making their debut on WPHH. But December came, and then Janaury, and no sign of Star or Bucwild. What happened?

Well, yesterday I spoke to representatives of both Emmis Communications and Clear Channel. The Emmis representatives told me that indeed it is a wrap for Star and Bucwild. There is no contractual relationship between the two parties and the suspension evolved into an official parting of the ways. The representative was careful to not use the word “termination.” Interesting.

The Clear Channel representatives that I spoke to late yesterday were literally buzzing with excitement over the possibility that Star and Bucwild might end up with them. But after having spoken to sources at Clear Channel Radio headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, as well as WPHH 104.1 in Hartford Connecticut, I can tell you that there is no contractual relationship between Star and Bucwild and Clear Channel, or any of its local affiliated stations. I can say that the folks at WPHH want the pair and that they are not in any way bashful about expressing their desires. A high-level official at 104.1 told me repeatedly for emphasis, “I would love to have them here!” Stay tuned...

...I will get right to the point. Cassidy is killin ‘em out here. Here, means indastreets not industry, yet, that is. Die-hard Cassidy fans could not care less about his new single and video, “Hotel,” featuring R. Kelly; they are already getting their fill of no less than 4 “Best Of…” Cassidy Mix CDs that are circulating in the inner cities. That is approaching (not yet quite) 50 Cent territory, for an artist who is down with a Super Producer (Swizz Beats), but who did not have the benefit of a multinational corporation pushing him. And to add to his street legend, there is a DVD circulating, that we have seen, which purports to be a a video and audiorecording, shot in a studio, of a freestyle battle between Cassidy and Freeway of Roc-A-Fella Records. If genuine, the footage clearly shows Cassidy victorious. If Cassidy is able to combine the mainstream success and popularity among Black women that accompanies making records with R & B messiah; along with the grimy street credibility and artistic respect that comes from mix CDs and freestyle battling, he will be in rarefied air for any Hip-Hop artist post the golden age 1988 era. Cassidy shines again with the new collaboration with Snoop Dogg, "Make You Scream"...

...Next to Cassidy in the northeast corridor mixtape circuit, the Hip-Hop artists most frequently being mentioned in the same sentence as the word “next” are the G-Unit’s Lloyd Banks who needs no introduction and Philadelphia’s Jakk Frost (who my circle say sounds more like the Notorious B.I.G. than any rapper they have ever heard) and the Harlem Diplomats’ affiliated JR Writer. Jakk Frost shines on his new “U Don’t Know Jakk” Mix Cd hosted by the Drama King, Kay Slay; while JR Writer is popping up on the ever-increasing quantity of Diplomats Mix Cds. In my opinion Jakk Frost and JR Writer each have a real chance. The challenge for the former will be to avoid the pitfalls that faced Shyne (who also sounded very much like B.I.G.); and for the latter – JR Writer – it will be to avoid the pitfalls that snared an artist like Wu-Tang Clan affiliated Cappadonna. Cappadonna blew up in mid-to-late 1995 and early 1996 because of guest appearances on tracks with Wu-Tang Clan members (including one of the best verses in the history of Hip-Hop on the track “Winter Warz,” and I am willing to debate that with anyone – smile). But he blew up at a a faster rate than we were prepared to handle, with the Clan having so many members “in line” for album releases ahead of him; as well as there being no real developed mixtape circuit like today to satisfy and even increase the street demand for Cappadonna. Cam’ron and the Diplomats have to watch out for the same. I think they can handle it. In more “next” or bubbling up news, the first sighting of a “Best Of…” Mix CD for G-Unit member Young Buck has occurred. It is being put out by Southern Hospitality and is called, “Young Buck: The Lost Member...

...The mention of Cappadonna makes a nice segue into the news that Lyor Cohen has been lured away from Island Def Jam Music Group to head the Warner Music Group’s recorded music division, reportedly for an over $50 million contract and a sweet equity deal. Lyor was one of Cappadonna’s biggest fans in early 1996, testing the waters to see if he could even be signed. Method Man would tell me of Lyor Cohen’s serious interest in Cap, but nothing ever materialized in the way of the Clan’s honorary tenth member, as I used to refer to him, going to Def Jam. Anyone who has ever met Lyor Cohen knows that he is quite a character. Known as the “checkwriter” of Def Jam, there was nothing like Lyor’s unmistakable Jewish-New York accent and brash attitude to add levity to the most intense negotiation or meeting. He became an increasingly polarizing figure, and I would often here of tension, and contract and supposed payment disputes between Lyor and other artists signed to Def Jam; but Method Man and RZA were very fond of Lyor and grew to respect his opinion (it was Lyor who convinced a very skeptical Wu-Tang brass to allow Puffy to remix Method Man’s “All I Need,” featuring Mary J. Blige ). Of course there were times when we did not agree (like when Lyor tried to convince us that it would be better for the success of Wu-Tang Clan’s second album if it were to follow, in chronological order, a sophmore release from Method Man) or when he felt that my interaction with Def Jam employees was putting too much pressure on the label; but there was no doubt that Lyor Cohen was an artist’s executive. And he relished his role as the most acceptable intermediary and "buffer" between the multinational corporation that was the real financial power providing capital to the record label, and the Hip-Hop artists who was becoming the real financial engine, generating revenue for the company. It was quite a balancing act. Lyor understood, better than any executive that I worked with – before or since - that he stood in between two worlds. One good example of this was a meeting that we had with him in the summer of 1996 regarding the intersection of Method Man’s budding career as a movie actor (I was his agent of record for the movie Copland, starring Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone) and his sky-rocketing music career. At one point in the conversation Lyor was expressing his confidence in Method Man’s bright future as an actor but he conveyed his concerns that the habitual lifestyle, lack of punctuality, and different norms of the Hip-Hop world were unacceptable in Hollywood as well as the corporate world, that Lyor himself had to answer to. At the time Def Jam was part-owned by Polygram and Lyor shared some things with us regarding the demands and customs of the multinational corporation. As vividly as it was yesterday, I can remember Lyor saying of Polygram, and his role as an intermediary – "Believe me, you don’t want to see the f***ing beast! I shield you guys from having to deal with the f***ing beast because they would not understand or tolerate the s*** that goes on with you guys. So I don’t always extend opportunities outside of music for you…because I don’t want the s*** to fail and for you to have to face those mother******s!” If you have ever heard him speak then you know how funny and dramatic Lyor sounds when he is dead serious. My mind almost immediately went to that conversation when I heard the news of Lyor’s move to Warner Music Group, because of the irony of the fact that now, perhaps with his sitting at the right hand of Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Roger Ames as the head of a premier division of a multinational, Warner Music Group, Lyor Cohen - the "artist’s executive" for some – has become part of the "beast" that he warned us about. Word is that Warner Music Group has plans on cutting about $250 million in costs, which could include laying off as much as 30% of its work force...

...The exclusive in depth 2-hour interview and meeting between Minister Louis Farrakhan and Ja Rule is to be released soon on DVD under the title, “Bring The Peace: Farrakhan Meets With Ja Rule On The Beef With 50 Cent.” The DVD captures the entire interview between the two, much more lengthy than what was aired on BET and MTV and includes rare footage of Minister Louis Farrakhan’s farm where the meeting took place, and scenes of the two at dinner, with family. The colorfully-packaged DVD is divided into 5 “chapters” or sections, 1) The Bring On The Peace intrerview 2) Ja Rule’s Arrival 3) Meet And Greet 4) Getting Acquainted 5) Dinner Time. Related to this, in an exclusive three-part interview that the Minister granted to The Final Call, Minister Farrakhan states that he has spoken to 50 Cent by telephone but has not, as yet, met with him as intended...

...The streets are lit right now over Big Mike’s new mixtape, “What’s Beef?,” which begins with excerpts of various Eminem songs over his career where the multi-platinum artists spits lyrics with racial overtones. Do you all remember Eminem’s little-noticed lines where he compared himself to Elvis? Big Mike includes it and it goes a little something like this, "I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley/ to do Black music so selfishly/ and use it get myself wealthy." Big Mike ends the Eminem “race-medley” with excerpts from the controversial recording “Foolish,” made around a decade ago where Eminem states, “...Black girls are bitches.” This is followed by Eminem’s devastating lyrical reply to his own racially charged recording (s) and more verbal heat directed at Benzino and Source magazine...

...The Source and Dave Mays continue their stated effort to expose Eminem and racism in the music industry. But of late they have added a political twist to their efforts. The recent event organized by The Source in Beverly Hills that featured Congresswoman Maxine Waters, I have learned, was preceded by a personal effort by Mr. Mays to recruit premier activists on the East and West Coasts as surrogates or supporters in the effort to raise critical questions regarding race in Hip-Hop and the music industry. While many of the activists agree with David Mays’ position, there is tremendous skepticism about the motivation behind the effort, as many see it as part of a continued personal problem he has with Eminem. On radio appearances on both coasts in the aftermath of the revelations that Eminem had years ago made a demo tape with racist lyrics, David Mays has received a mixed reaction to his efforts. Ironically or not surprisingly, it has been many Black women who have provided the most resistance to David Mays’ presentations, charging that The Source magazine not only had little to say about the issue in years past, but was actually a purveyor of images and products that are disrespectful of Blacks, women, or both. This week, in an added twist to the convoluted saga, which is making for a strange reallignment of allies and foes, reports circulated around supposed tension between New Black Panther Party Leader Brother Malik Zulu Shabazz, Eminem, and Hip-Hop mogul and philanthropist Russell Simmons. The New Black Panther Party, David Mays’ (who has called for an investigation into financial ties between Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, HSAN, and Eminem, and Interscope Records) Source magazine and the Village Voice (which has in the past written critical articles of both Russell Simmons and HSAN President Dr. Benjamin Chavis) are at the center of a controversy over a previously publicized quote attributed to Russell Simmons in the Village Voice regarding Malik Zulu Shabazz and the battle royale that is accelerating over a fight that some say is really between "two White guys" - Eminem and David Mays. Could it be that Black thinkers and leaders are being enlisted as surrogates in a personal feud between two White members of the Hip-Hop community, that is masquerading as a public debate on racism against Blacks in the music business? How paradoxical would that be?...

...Speaking of Brother Malik Zulu Shabazz, he can be found on a Special CD put out by The Source reportedly critiquing Eminem saying, "like an Elvis Presley who has "really ripped us off and "exploited his whiteness and the usurpation of the hip hop industry to garner himself millions and deceived a Black Following. So this is good that (The Source) has come out so Black People can see Eminem for what he really is." Some great points are being made on all sides but again, are these “disagreements,” "critiques" and "beefs" truly about principles, race, Hip-Hop culture, or more so just clashing and competing personalities? I wonder. Either way the cash register rings along the way for the magazines and the companies that own them. Eminem is featured on the cover of the current issues of both The Source and XXL magazine...


Cedric Muhammad

Friday, January 30, 2004

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