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N.W.A's Dr. Dre Target of Suit by Host of Rap Show : Pop music: $22.7-million lawsuit over an alleged assault dramatizes the debate over the possible relationship between pop lyrics and violent crimes against women.

July 23, 1991|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"He picked me up by my hair and my ear and smashed my face and body into the wall," said Dee Barnes, the petite host of a Fox-TV rap show, describing the night that, she claims, rapper Andre Young attacked her in a Hollywood club.

"Next thing I know, I'm down on the ground and he's kicking me in the ribs and stamping on my fingers. I ran into the women's bathroom to hide, but he burst through the door and started bashing me in the back of the head."

The alleged assault, which occurred during a private party on Jan. 27 at the Po Na Na Souk club, has become the center of a $22.7-million lawsuit filed by Barnes, 23, against Young (who goes by the stage name Dr. Dre) and the other three members of the Los Angeles rap group N.W.A.

And Barnes says her suit--which accuses Young of "assault and battery" and other N.W.A members with "libel, slander and infliction of emotional distress"--is at its core about the close relationship between N.W.A's misogynistic lyrics and violent crimes against women.

"My lawsuit is not just about one five-foot three-inch woman getting slapped around by a six-foot two-inch guy," said Barnes. "It's about how N.W.A rages violence against women in general. Millions of little boys listen to this crap--and they're going to grow up thinking it's all right to abuse women."

Three weeks before Barnes filed her June 27 claim, N.W.A released "Efil4zaggin," an album laced with graphic lyrics about beating, raping and murdering women. The album contains two selections in which Young brags about brutalizing women that get in his way.

Despite receiving virtually no radio airplay, "Efil4zaggin" shot to No. 1 on the Billboard pop album chart. A follow-up to the critically and commercially successful "Straight Outta Compton" album in 1989, the new album sold more than 1 million copies in two weeks. It is still in the Top 10.

Young--who faces one misdemeanor battery count related to the Barnes incident--allegedly attacked her in late January because he was upset that a television spot featuring former N.W.A member Ice Cube had unexpectedly been inserted into a segment on her "Pump It Up" show last December spotlighting N.W.A.

Neither band members nor their attorney would discuss the suit with The Times, but Young, 26, recently acknowledged the incident in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine: "I just did it, you know. Ain't nothing you can do now by talking about it. Besides, it ain't no big thing--I just threw her through a door."

N.W.A leader Eric (Eazy-E) Wright told the Source, a New York-based rap magazine, that Barnes "deserved" what Young is alleged to have done to her.

While there have been criticisms regarding what some see as misogynistic impulses over the years exploited in some songs by various hard-rockers and rappers, no group has raised the ire of media watchdog groups as much as N.W.A. Some critics say "Efil4zaggin" contains some of the most vicious anti-woman rhetoric of any album ever marketed by a mainstream record distributor.

"The message on N.W.A's record is that violence against women is fun," said Robert DeMoss, youth culture specialist at Focus on the Family, a Pomona-based Christian media watchdog group and radio broadcaster. Earlier this month, DeMoss urged 1.8 million readers of Focus on the Family's monthly magazine to ask retailers across the nation to remove the N.W.A album from their shelves.

"Efil4zaggin," released by Ruthless/Priority Records, is distributed in this country by CEMA, which is owned by the giant British conglomerate Thorn/EMI and handles Capitol and EMI product in this country.

Although the record is stickered with a warning label that reads: "PARENTAL ADVISORY--EXPLICIT LYRICS," some U.S. retailers, including the 146-outlet Owensboro, Ky.-based WaxWorks record retail chain, have already refused to carry the album.

Russ Bach, president of CEMA, which manufactures and ships everything from classical to children's music, defended his company's decision to distribute the N.W.A package.

"This is a free-speech issue," Bach said. "I may not personally approve of what is on some of these records, but people should have the right to buy them if they want to."

Tammy Bruce, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women, said she plans this week to contact Ruthless/Priority and CEMA to protest their "irresponsible" participation in the release of N.W.A's new album.

"Our problem is not so much with sick young men like N.W.A who have the right to create this kind of so-called art," Bruce said. "But with the cultural gatekeepers like the executives at CEMA who invite this trash into the mainstream."

Today, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to review a sweeping federal measure that would grant sexual assault victims the right to sue manufacturers and distributors of "sexually explicit and violent" material whose products may have incited the crime. Some observers say the bill could potentially affect recording artists such as N.W.A.

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