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Can Rap Survive Gang War?


Is rap music getting a bum rap?

After a nasty night of gang violence last Sunday at Run-D.M.C.'s concert at the Long Beach Arena, which left more than 40 people injured, including five stabbings and one shooting, rap groups are being accused of inciting hostility and a bad attitude in young music fans.

Tipper Gore, vice president of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), said last week that "angry, disillusioned, unloved kids unite behind heavy-metal or rap music, and the music says it's OK to beat people up."

Rap has made newspaper headlines in New York too, with the local press citing reports of arrests at other rap shows across the country, including concerts in New York, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

And now L.A. promoters are saying that, at least for the time being, rap shows are history.

Long Beach Arena operator George Matson said his company, Facilities Management Inc., will "not book or allow to take place any attraction whose patrons have caused or who have a propensity to create situations likely to cause injury to other patrons."

L.A. promoter Brian Murphy, who's head of Avalon Attractions, agreed: "I think it's going to be a while before we see another big rap show in this town. We need to give it some time to cool off. If I was a parent, I'd be worried about letting my kids go back to another show."

Oddly enough, this growing backlash comes at a time when rap music has crossed over to the commercial mainstream. Run-D.M.C.'s current album, "Raising Hell," just hit the Billboard Top 10 after selling more than 1 million copies. Meanwhile, the Timex Social Club's rap single, "Rumors," has also become a huge pop hit, cracking the Top 10 after a long stay at No. 1 on every black and dance music chart in the country.

According to Run, one of the leaders of Run-D.M.C., reports of violence at rap shows have been greatly exaggerated.

"We've had beautiful shows all over the country," he said. "We haven't had any major problems. There are always bad kids in the audience, but I've been touring for four years, and I've never seen anything like this.

"These gangs are running your town. These weren't our fans. They were scumbags and roaches! These gangs came to try to kill people and get on the news. We played Detroit, which is a tough town, and we got respect from the gangs there. They knew not to mess with us. I got on stage and told them, 'You don't come to fight here. This is my turf and I want respect.'

"So they cross their hands over their chest and say, 'OK. This is Run's show. I won't mess with anyone 'till I get outside.' "

Run insisted that Run-D.M.C., which didn't even get to take the stage last Sunday, won't return to L.A. until authorities take "sterner measures" to protect the group's fans from local gangs.

"These gangs stand for everything that rap music is against," he said. "We're positive. We're telling kids to stay in school, to get jobs. We don't want nothing to do with this rampaging stuff.

"When we played the Sports Arena last year, we didn't have any problems, 'cause the security knew who these gremlins were and they stopped them. They wouldn't let them in. Here, the security just wasn't enough. Once these roaches get in, you've got trouble. Now our fans are probably so scared to see us, that they won't come near our show. And I can't live with that."

Was security lax at the Long Beach Arena, where chair-throwing battles between black and Latino gangs forced the cancellation of the rap concert?

Not so, said promoter Jeff Sharp, president of Baltimore-based Stage Right Productions, which has handled the entire 50-date Run-D.M.C. national tour. "I've been in this business 11 years, and I've seen some pretty rough stuff, and I've never seen anything like this," Sharp said. "I was sick to my stomach. These gangs came to hurt each other, pure and simple.

"We knew we weren't dealing with a Frank Sinatra crowd. We had more than adequate security. There were in excess of 150 security personnel on hand. Everyone who came in the doors was patted down and went through metal detectors. You could have had 200 extra police and it wouldn't have stopped what happened.

"Of course, in retrospect, the show should have never played. But this is a gang problem, a problem that even the LAPD and the mayor haven't been able to control, and they have a lot more resources than us."

According to Lt. Charles Brantley of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department gang detail, gang violence is worse than ever. "The gangs have been at a crisis stage for years," he said. "We have a very serious problem. The LAPD tell us the gangs are driving them crazy. There are probably 400 gangs, with anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 members in the L.A. County area, so you can imagine what a bad situation it is."

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