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YEAR IN REVIEW 1995 : POP MUSIC : Rap Hit a Brick Wall--But Then It Bounced Back Again

December 31, 1995|Steve Hochman

Who won the rap wars of '95? It depends on who's keeping score.

Gangsta-rap opponents like National Political Congress of Black Women chair C. Dolores Tucker, Sen. Bob Dole and ex-cabinet official William Bennett are credited for Time Warner's jettisoning of Interscope Records (and its $100 million in revenues) and forcing out executives Doug Morris and Danny Goldberg.

"This campaign has restored a sense of shame to our society," says David Horowitz of the conservative Los Angeles-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture. "I don't think there was any other reason that [Time Warner] dumped Interscope. It was their sense of embarrassment."

But Interscope Records chairman Jimmy Iovine doesn't see it that way.

"The entire industry has not changed one bit of the music it's releasing," he says.

Instead, he says, Interscope was a sacrificial lamb in a battle that had more to do with political posturing than anything else: "Time Warner let them look like they won something so they'd leave them alone."

In fact, Interscope--despite being the home of volatile rap leaders Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre, 2Pac and Tha Dogg Pound--is expected to land a very rich deal with another media giant. And Morris and Goldberg have already scored prominent jobs as MCA Music chairman and Mercury Records president, respectively.

And by the time the album expected to be the flash point--Tha Dogg Pound's "Dogg Food"--was finally released in October after many delays, the rhetoric had cooled. The album earned barely a peep of protest.

But Harold Vogel, entertainment analyst for the New York brokerage Cowen & Co., says a larger message got through. "The point was made very noticeably to the record companies that you have a responsibility more than just selling as many records as you can," he says.

That doesn't mean the issue is dead. Coming albums from 2Pac and Dre will likely renew the debate. Meanwhile, Tucker and the watchdog organization the Parents Music Resource Center are planning campaigns for stricter labeling of albums and for restrictions on sales to minors.

"I don't think they've gotten the message yet," says PMRC president Barbara Wyatt. "There still has to be a stronger message that they have to think of the end user, and in this case that's the children."

And of course 1996 is an election year--though Horowitz says he'd be surprised if entertainment became a major issue in the campaign: "It's so easy to get burned, as Dan Quayle knows, that most candidates will be inclined not to get into it."

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