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GRAMMYS '89 : Backstage Harmony: Talk About Rap and a Boycott Flap . . .

February 23, 1989|DENNIS HUNT and STEVE HOCHMAN

As with the music on stage, harmony was the order of the night backstage at the Grammy Awards Wednesday night. Even the few strident notes were sounded politely.

RAP-UP: The only real controversy surrounding the Grammys this year was the boycott generated by some of the rap acts to protest the fact that the new rap award was not included in the televised ceremonies.

Reached by phone at his hotel room after he won the Grammy, Will Smith--the Fresh Prince of D. J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince--said he was "more than happy to accept it." But, he added, "I'm not as happy as I could have been. . . . (The presentation not being televised) detracts from the excitement of the award."

Smith, one of three nominees to boycott the ceremony, said he had no regrets about the action.

"Absolutely no second feelings. The way it happened was exactly the way I wanted it to happen."

Smith also insisted he had no hard feelings toward Kool Moe Dee, a fellow nominee who didn't participate in the boycott and who took over the presenter's role (for R&B male vocal) that had been offered to Smith.

Said Smith, "Everybody to their own opinion."

Kool Moe Dee, who used the televised slot to do a short rap portraying rap music as a positive influence, was critical of the boycott when meeting the press backstage.

"One management company started it and went to the papers and figured all the rappers would follow," he said in reference to Rush Artist Management, which handles D. J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince and fellow boycotters Salt-N-Pepa and L. L. Cool J.

"It was wrong. They were trying to turn it into a race thing. . . . I felt it was a negative move not to come to the Grammys--like crying over spilled milk."

CONTROVERSY II: The only other controversy flared when aging English rustic-rock band Jethro Tull won in the new hard-rock/metal category--a slot that was installed expressly to accommodate rowdy young forces like the pre-race favorite, Metallica. Said a slightly embarrassed Mike Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, "Our membership in those (new and progressive) categories is growing and still has a little way to go."

SLOW CAR: Bobby McFerrin, who stole Tracy Chapman's thunder by winning four Grammys and blocking her sweep, mentioned the importance of video to the success of "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

"I feel . . . that the visual aid helps the ears to hear," he said, "and we're all very excited to see what a performer looks like. I spent all day (recently) getting my car fixed, and when I was driving home across the Golden Gate Bridge, water and steam came out--I was very annoyed they didn't fix it right. A car came by and honked and (the driver) said, 'Don't worry, be happy.' It helps."

McFerrin also commented on President Bush's use of the song in his campaign.

"I was bothered that Bush used the song in a partisan way. He didn't ask to use it. I would never have let anyone use it, even Jesse (Jackson) or (Michael) Dukakis."

OUTFIT OF THE EVENING: Irish singer Sinead O'Connor's black halter top, bare midriff, torn, faded blue jeans and large black work shoes. The latest addition to her shaved-head look is a tattoo of militant rap group Public Enemy's insignia--a view through a telescopic gun sight--over her left ear. None of which detracted from her electrifying performance of her song "Mandinka."

"I thought it was a little odd that they asked me to perform, because of the way I look," a nervous-looking O'Connor told the press backstage. "But I find it encouraging that they asked, because it's an acknowledgment that they are prepared not to be so safe about the music and push forward with people slightly off the wall."

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