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Hip Hop Fridays: Industry and Street Notes...March 22, 2002

Sources have told us that the higher-ups at Radio One, Inc. the billion-dollar Black-owned radio network have admonished D.J.s and hosts against consistently spinning music that is not on the station's playlist until an assortment of record labels begin to "pay to play" - offer up money in exchange for airplay. The sources, from within, have informed us that on some Radio One stations across the country, if a Hip-Hop or R&B record that is not on the playlist is played more than five times the person responsible for such action risks being terminated. The drama inside of Radio One continues to unfold after the radio station made a controversial decision to hire an independent promoter Ventura Media Group, to pitch songs to program directors at its top 25 urban stations. Reportedly, the financial arrangement works like this: Ventura pays a fixed annual fee to each Radio One station for the right to serve as a promotional intermediary and in turn Ventura charges labels that sell urban music - Hip-Hop and R&B - $2,500 every time a program director (PD) adds a song to a station playlist. Radio One has reportedly defended the arrangement as a way to clean up an otherwise dirty system. Radio One Chief Operating Officer Mary Catherine Sneed has explained the standard corrupt process of "pay to play" in urban radio in the following manner, in a Black article, "The way it works now at urban radio is that (middlemen) give cash under the table to the program director at the station and then kick back money to the vice president of promotion at the record label," Sneed said. "It's not legal. We can't operate like that. Radio One intends to clean up this mess."

But Hilary Rosen, head of the the Recording Industry Assn. of America (RIAA), has a different view of the Radio One initiative saying, "These are false, trumped-up charges, Radio One is trying to use its leverage to get additional money from the record companies to put to their bottom line. We intend to... ask the FCC to write new rules because we think the tactics being used by Radio One and other broadcast groups are outrageous."

Industry insiders tell us that Ms. Rosen is lying, understandably, about the inaccuracy of Radio One's charges, in order to cover for the record labels' whose interest she represents. And a few added that the controversy is ripe with racial overtones as the Black publicly-traded firm Radio One Inc. attempts to break in, break up, and alter a White-corporate dominated network and system of "pay to play". Interestingly, Black Caucus member Rep. John Conyers has vocally expressed his displeasure regarding the "payola" allegations surrounding Radio One and the music business, telling reporters, "No matter how it is accomplished, payola is illegal, When radio stations, so-called independent promoters, or their employees demand money from record companies and recording artists for airplay, the payments are illegal unless disclosed, no matter how the transactions are structured"...

...Speaking of Clear Channel, sources have informed us that the corporate broadcasting giant is prepared to take on the monster, New York City "Blazin' Hip-Hop and R&B" station, Hot 97FM. The new competitor, backed by the deep pockets of Clear Channel made its debut this week at 105.1FM on the dial. The early word from sources is that the new radio station is not just looking to create new personalities, but to woo and "steal" hot talent, from other top markets and NYC's urban radio talent pool, even from Hot 97 itself.

...Things are changing dramatically over at Loud Records. Last week we got word that label owner Steve Rifkind was in a last-ditch effort looking for a buyer to take over 75% control of his struggling label. The effort was not successful and we were told by some close to the negotiations that as a result Loud, which was part distributed by Sony and part by Red, was swallowed up by Columbia Records - owned by Sony. Our sources at Loud told us that as of now the label was only under Sony, as is Columbia at present, but added that it was indeed possible that Columbia would eventually swallow Loud whole, in the near future, as we were originally told. Here is the official statement released by Sony regarding the Loud-Columbia activity:

"Loud Records and Columbia Records Group confirmed today that Columbia Records will be assuming a number of administrative functions for Loud, with a corresponding reduction of positions within the company. Loud will keep it's A&R and management teams intact and continue to do what the label does best - discover, sign and break new artists."

...No word yet on how this will affect Loud icons like Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep. But not all is bad for Loud, the label told us of their excitement over the impressive debut of the X-ecutioners, the unique DJ group whose 'Built From Scratch' debuted at #15 in the Top 200 charts three weeks ago and is currently #31...

...It was less than a decade ago that Wu-Tang broke ground of sorts with its one-of-a-kind deal with the malt liquor company St. Ides (Does anybody remember how ill those beats were - done for those commercials?). Well, the trend continues with the recent announcement that Dr. Dre will be pushing Coors Light beer this May. The Dr. Dre-Coors Light ads will begin running this May in Oakland. The ads are the brainchild of ad agency Carol H. Williams . When asked why a major alcohol company would break with tradition and sign a rap artist, Dr. Dre, a spokesperson for Coors reportedly said, "Because of his relevance to our consumers - particularly our urban consumers...and his 'broad appeal' ". It will be interesting to see how the Bay Area activist community and the movement against alcohol ads in Black communities across America will respond to the super-producer's sales pitch for Coors...

...It appears that the growing demand for an album by Styles P of the Lox is picking up momentum and in keeping with the Lox' slogan "We are the streets". Arguably the streets' most popular rapper, 1/3 of the "holy trinity of rap" finds himself simultaneously featured in "Best Of" mixtapes. The more recent compilation, put out by D.J. Kay Slay's Streetsweepers is unbelievable - with 54 tracks! That should hold down the artist's most die-hard fans until the album, "A Gangster And Gentleman" drops sometime in May. Right now, the streets are particularly nodding their heads to the title track and "My Life" form the Lox member whose nick- name "Paniero" comes from a mixture of the artists' two favorite actors Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro...

...The Terror Squad's crooner Tony Sunshine is making Nate Dogg-like waves with his hot new song "T.O.N.Y.", which samples the Nashiem Myrick-produced beat from Capone-N-Noreaga's 1997 classic by the same name. The long-awaited debut from the Hip-Hop/R&B artist has been warmly received by clubs and radio in New York City. In fact, last week popular Hot 97 host Angie Martinez opened her highly-rated drive-time show with "T.O.N.Y.", several days in a row. On the song, listeners can hear the late great Big Pun describe Tony Sunshine as a Boricua R&B version of himself. The song is hot...

...Hollywood is still talking about the recent Def Jam Party, earlier this week which honored Ludacriss and Ja'Rule, for their multi-platinum success. The party was packed and included performances by a multi- bodyguard-accompanied Jay-Z, Ludacriss, Ja'Rule w/Ashanti and Freeway and Beanie Sigel. Speaking of Ludacriss and Ja' Rule, the two are criss-crossing on respective mini-tours across the U.S. Here are upcoming dates:

Ja Rule Blacksburg, VA 03/22/02
Ludacris Baltimore, MD 03/27/02
Ludacris Washington, DC 03/28/02
Ludacris Buffalo, NY 03/30/02
Ludacris Toronto, Canada 03/31/02
Ja Rule Hartford, CT 04/05/02

...Independent retailers tell us that sales for the R.Kelly-Jay-Z collaboration, "The Best Of Both Worlds", have been much slower than hoped for. It appears that the album's bootleg debut in February combined with the street-release of the "alleged" R.Kelly sex tape, only two weeks ago and Def Jam/Jive's timidity in promoting the album aggressively, (there is not even a picture of R.Kelly or Jay-Z in any of the advance marketing and sales material)have resulted in the sub-par performance for the self-titled "god-MC" and the "R&B messiah". And any hopes of winning over White-suburban affections to the album are quickly being dashed by the lack of a music video for the album and the brutal reviews the album is getting in the mainstream press in papers like the Detroit Press and USA Today When one considers that the album probably went gold on the street, selling for as much as $10, and that the "alleged" R.Kelly sextape/DVD flooded urban markets for the hefty price tag of as much as $20, it appears that the underground economy may have made more cheddar off of the hype over the all-star album than did the two principals and even the major distributers involved - BMG and Universal. We will be sure to get you all the Soundscan figures on the project's first-week sales...

...Ironically, The Soul Train Music Awards provided a snapshot of the divergent paths of collaborators Jay-Z and R.Kelly. Jay-Z won the Soul Train Music Awards R&B/Hip-Hop album of the year for The Blueprint and was warmly received by the audience while the mere mention of R.Kelly's name by Ronald Isley, while giving thanks for an award, sparked a chorus of boos from the crowd in attendance. However, the seasoned veteran that he is, Mr. Isley had some interesting things to say to Launch Music regarding the incident, afterwards, "I felt that I heard some cheers and I heard some boos. I've been around long enough to listen to them boo Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and quite a few. And then those people come back for whatever reason and go right back to the top. So, I know, through the boos, they still love who they boo. They're just disappointed in something from that entertainer. But that entertainer always bounce back. I've lived long enough to see those entertainers, such as the Diana Ross and the Supremes, and all those people bounce right back." Deep...

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, March 22, 2002

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