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POP EYE

Label Presidents Need Thick Skin, but This Is Ridiculous

June 30, 1991|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Let's face it--when you're a record exec, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf isn't always around. You have to make the tough decisions. For example:

* When one of your top promotion execs beats a staff member with a cattle prod--and the staffer files a harassment suit, do you get rid of the exec? (Capitol Records did.)

* When the leader of your hot new band dies of a heroin overdose just after the group completes its debut album, do you still put the record out? (PolyGram Records did.)

* When your fading superstar band is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but isn't selling any records, do you quietly wait till all the hoopla has blown over--and then drop the band from your roster? (MCA Records did.)

So what would you do if your hottest rap act was in the midst of an acrimonious meeting with one of your top execs--and one of the band's posse suddenly pulled out a pistol and threatened your exec over the label's performance? That's what happened at the New York headquarters of Chrysalis Records earlier this month when D.J. Premier, the leader of the duo Gang Starr, went with several of his cronies to meet with the label's black music chief Ed Strickland. The issue was whether Gang Starr's record was a high-enough priority in the label's promotional efforts.

"It happened so quickly that no one could say exactly what happened, but it wasn't pretty," said a source close to the label. "There was a heated discussion about the way the group's current single was being handled and one of the guys tried to get tough and showed his gun. The members of the group came back the next day and everyone was apologetic, but it still shook everybody up."

According to Chrysalis Records President John Sykes, the label had lengthy discussions, both with the band and among its executives over how to handle the incident. According to some early press reports, the band had been banned from the premises. According to others, the group was being dropped entirely. (The band's management did not return our phone calls.)

Sykes insists the label is keeping the group on its roster, though he made it clear he would not tolerate anyone toting guns around the offices. He also implied that while Gang Starr members are not formally banned from the label's New York headquarters, meetings with the group are currently scheduled outside the building.

"We've met with the band and I think we've worked everything out, though for now the band isn't doing any direct business in the building," Sykes said. "We've enjoyed a great success with them so far and we're looking forward to working with them in the future."

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