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POP EYE

Rappers Welcome MTV's Enthusiasm

June 18, 1989|PAUL GREIN

MTV's decision to expand its afternoon "Yo! MTV Raps" show from a half-hour to an hour and to rerun it the following morning has been greeted with a hearty "yo!" by members of the rap community.

That adds up to 12 hours of rap programming each week, a quantum leap from the 30 minutes MTV devoted to rap as recently as last September.

Lee Masters, MTV's executive vice president and general manager, said that rap has been one of the three biggest phenomena to hit the channel in its eight years of existence, along with new wave and heavy metal/hard rock. He added that "Yo! MTV Raps" consistently vies with the loopy game show "Remote Control" as MTV's top-rated daily program.

Masters acknowledged that the channel initially approached rap "gingerly," but said that rap has proved to be as well-accepted by the MTV audience as metal.

"And I would also say that it is as widely disliked as metal," he added. "They each have a contingent that's fanatical and another that really hates it and we try to balance the two."

Masters added that a "Yo! MTV Raps" theatrical film is in development for late fall release, featuring performances and backstage interplay from a host of top rap stars. Among the acts expected to appear in the film, in which Universal appears to have the inside track: LL Cool J, Tone Loc and D.J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince.

MTV's enthusiasm for rapper Tone Loc is credited with helping his "Loc-Ed After Dark" album become the first rap release to generate back-to-back Top 10 pop hits, "Wild Thing" and "Funky Cold Medina."

"MTV made Tone Loc," said Russell Simmons, president of Rush Artists Management in New York. "They're a lot more progressive than pop radio."

Simmons, whose company represents such rappers as LL Cool J and Slick Rick, noted that before MTV began playing rap so aggressively, rap records would often stall after fast starts.

"They'd get to about 700,000 units and then hit this brick wall," he said. "The last EPMD album went gold and went to No. 1 on the black album chart, but 60 days later it was dead. Our new EPMD album is going to sell a lot more."

Bill Adler, Rush Artists' director of publicity, added: "The effect of 'Yo! MTV Raps' has been astonishing. MTV is opening radio's ears, and radio is following their lead. Kids have gotten a whiff of rap on MTV, and now they've begun to demand it."

Michael Ross, president of Delicious Vinyl Records, the Los Angeles-based company that broke Tone Loc, agreed that MTV was instrumental in Loc's success.

" 'Wild Thing' was starting to break big out here in L.A. and then MTV started banging the video and the record really caught on nationally," he said. "It was just about ready to explode and MTV helped explode it."

Ross added that MTV's embrace of Loc "opened the minds of a lot of people in middle America--young white kids who weren't into rap before. . . . It's all what's happening in the streets. Rap records are selling. And once they become a major commodity in the marketplace, forces like MTV take it very seriously. And why not? It's making them money."

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