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Hip-Hop Fridays: Industry and Street Notes...


This week we saw Raekwon from Wu-Tang who informed us that he is finishing up studio work on his upcoming new album. The Chef told us that he expects the album to be out by Spring of this year and that he looks forward to hitting the road for some promo work and touring...We also received word before the New Year that Roc-A-Fella Records may be leaving Def Jam and its distributor Universal. Evidently Damon Dash, Jay-Z and Kareem "Biggs" Burke want fair market value for their Hip-Hop powerhouse and are not satisfied with their financial arrangements, as they are currently structured. Senior-level Universal sources told us there is a good chance that we may see Jay-Z and company distributed elsewhere because they have no intentions of agreeing to the terms currently demanded by the R.O.C. On a side note, sales for Jay-Z's innovative MTV "Unplugged" were significant but a bit lower than expected in their first week, with the live set, which features The Roots (who perfectly render Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige's "Can't Knock the Hustle")coming in at a little over 143,000 units sold, according to Soundscan...

The Jay-Z vs. Nas situation promises to carry us at least through the Winter with the release of several brand new mix tapes which not only feature the growing music catalogue of the "battle" between the two stars but also live interviews granted by the two living legends. On Cutmaster C's latest, "People Are Talking", an excerpt of the controversial and much-sought after interview between Jay-Z and New York's Hot 97's Angie Martinez, from a couple of weeks ago is aired, with an obviously uncomfortable Jay-Z explaining how he believes Nas violated the code of the streets and how things are handled in the Marcy and Queensbridge projects by his depictions of Jay-Z as a homosexual etc...which he felt was over the top when compared with his "Takeover" which he states was only a take on Nas' career or "sport" as he referred to the subject matter. H.O.V. does state in the interview that he was not thinking about anything other than his beef with Nas when he recorded "SuperUgly". He tells Angie Martinez that the cut is a freestyle intended as a letter to Nas, not really something he meant for the whole world to hear. He implies remorse for the hurt feelings and embarrassment caused by"Super Ugly". On Funkmaster Flex's "Big Truck Series" part 4, co-hosted by Nas, the Queensbridge rapper, in an exclusive, tells Flex that Jay-Z violated the rules of the game by his public references to the mother of Nas' daughter and his relationship with her. Nas even goes as far as to quote a line from the movie "Scarface" in order to make his point. Even though Nas pushes the situation further in his comments, he does state that he knows there is a good Brother inside of Jay-Z, underneath all of what is going on. But Nas does say that he believes that Jay-Z cares about no one but himself these days...

The streets are still buzzing over the 4 minute-plus "freestyle" delivered by Cam'ron on the recent D.J. Clue/D.J. Envy "Desert Storm" Volume 1 mixtape. Cam'ron, recently signed to Roc-A-Fella, has a lot of people open to the possibilities of his latest career move which has the talented artist backed by the firepower of a premier label and superstar roster. These days the Harlem artist has been making the rounds with Roc-A-Fella's Philly native, Beanie Sigel and of course, there is the "Just Fire" track which features Cam'ron (who was managed by Roc-A-Fella CEO Damon Dash for years prior to his recent signing) with labelmates Memphis Bleek and Beans. Cam'ron says it best when he opens the freestyle with, "Y'all better get ready to hear a lot of this - R.O.C., Philly, Harlem..."speaking of the Clue/Envy tape, we are loving the collaboration, featured on the tape, between Lil' Mo and Sheek of the Lox. Lil' Mo' may be the heiress in waiting for Mary J. Blige's "Queen of Hip-Hop Soul" honors. The young star is the vital singer of the moment, for Hip-Hop artists, with guest appearances on the Mobb Deep, Fabolous, Jay-Z, and Ja Rule albums in just the last 12 months...

We are anxiously awaiting the new Kool G. Rap album, My Life 2, but with anxiety. The album is still slated for a January 8th release, but considering the recent business decisions and problems of the 7-year old Rawkus Records we would not at all be surprised if the record doesn't receive the push that G. Rap deserves, or if the album doesn't see the light of day... Sources tell us that Rawkus, like Tommy Boy Records, is heading in the direction of becoming an imprint label. Rawkus earned $13 million in revenue in the year 2000...

A very reliable little bug was put in our ear regarding some efforts being formulated by the RIAA to stop music piracy that is said to be running rampant in New York City. Of course the targets of the effort are going to be the Black and Latino " bootleggers" on the corners and not the White recording engineer, label representative or suburban teenager who gets just-recorded music and burns it to CD and mass disseminates/distributes it via MP3 technology and the Internet. We have gotten word to a few members of the Congressional Black Caucus that they should frame the anti-piracy efforts in a similar fashion to how Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA.) makes arguments regarding the disparity in drug sentences. To us, in the framework of that analogy, pirating music at the high-end (inside jobs from within record labels and recording studios) is like selling powder cocaine, while bootlegging music (as a street merchant) is like selling crack cocaine. Of course the RIAA, like the Justice Department, is looking to make an example of those on the bottom end of the process. Our Congressional sources tell us that the music industry has Queens and Brooklyn squarely in their sights as homes of the supposed worst offenders...

Speaking of Congress, Hip-Hop mogul Russell Simmonswas on the Hill to visit House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt recently. The co-founder of Def Jam Records is continuing his political maneuvering and it is believed that his efforts and interests may dovetail rather nicely with the Democratic Party's intention to take back control of the House of Representatives this year. While he gets an A for effort there still exists no evidence that the social magnet and fashion entrepreneur can translate his relationships, experience and credibility in the music industry into a voting bloc. Disappointment still abounds over the perception that Mr. Simmons was disinterested, powerless or ineffectual to address concerns raised by New York City's Black Democratic establishment over the manner in which the Simmons-backed candidate for Mayor, Mark Green, handled the subject of Rev. Al Sharpton in his runoff against Fernando Ferrer. Parallel to those concerns is a stream of disappointment over the lack of the materialization of a "Hip-Hop vote" in the recent mayoral elections. Eyebrows were raised in June, when Simmons announced that the city's Hip-Hop community would not just influence the election but actually pick the next mayor of New York. Expectations were heightened further when it was learned that Simmons was working to persuade The Source Magazine to endorse Mark Green, possibly on the cover of its magazine. No such endorsement took place, and there is still the question of the relationship between "Hip-Hop Minister", Conrad Muhammad and Russell Simmons, who both, in public, nodded their heads in agreement at Minister Louis Farrakhan's encouragement that they settle their differences...

Black Caucus member Rep. John Conyers is preparing to draft an "artists' bill of rights" that aims at improving the payment structure of recording industry contracts. The Black lawmaker hopes to shorten the length of contracts that new artists are compelled to sign. Rep. Conyers also hopes to have artists receive their digital royalties in the form of direct payments. Mr. Conyers told Billboard magazine, " I am now looking at legislative options to help eliminate any inequities and economic imbalances..." It will be interesting to see how prominently Hip-Hop artists are factored into Rep. Conyers' efforts...


Cedric Muhammad and John Chambers

Friday, January 4, 2002

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