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Shakur Shooting May Have a Chilling Effect on Others

Pop music: Some in the industry believe it will become tougher for new rappers and black entrepreneurs to get a chance.

September 10, 1996|From Times Staff Writers

While the hip-hop world expressed sympathy, if not surprise, Monday over the shooting that left rapper Tupac Shakur in critical condition in a Las Vegas hospital, one top record executive predicted that the incident could have a chilling effect on the progress the industry has made in recent years in opening the doors to black entrepreneurs.

"What the shooting is going to affect is the establishment perception of young black men in the record business--and it's going to have a very, very negative effect," said one top West Coast executive, who, like most others interviewed Monday, did not want his name used in this article.

"People don't want to be associated with stuff like this. They are going to look at other young hard-core executives and artists who come up from the streets and they are going to generalize."

This, he suggested, could lead to some potentially gifted rap artists being shut out of the industry because labels might be fearful of being embroiled in violence and confrontation.

"Watching what has happened to Tupac is exactly like watching what happened to Kurt Cobain," the executive said. "Cobain died twice and they brought him back to life before he eventually committed suicide. Tupac has had nine bullets in him in the past two years."

Other executives, however, say that many in the industry are already wary of working with hard-core rap artists and entrepreneurs.

"People already have been nervous about doing business with some of these guys," an East Coast executive said Monday. "This is a weird kind of thing to say, but at least [Saturday's shooting] was in the confines of a group of people who were already perceived as being violent . . . where if it had spread into another camp, that I think would be much more alarming. It is reinforcing the existing perception that there are certain camps that are dangerous."

Shakur was shot at least four times late Saturday following the Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas. Shakur was a passenger in a car being driven by Marion "Suge" Knight, the head of Shakur's label, Los Angeles-based Death Row Records. Knight was also grazed in the head by the gunfire that reportedly came from a passing car just off the jammed Las Vegas Strip. The label is distributed by Interscope Records, which is partially owned by MCA Inc.

Interscope was formerly associated with Time Warner, but the conglomerate sold back its interest last year after becoming the target of a campaign that accused rappers, including Death Row artists, of promoting violence and misogyny in their records. There was subsequently a bidding war that ended with MCA entering into a $200-million partnership with Interscope in February.

One lure for many of the bidders was the sales power of Death Row Records. Shakur, for instance, has sold an estimated $75 million worth of records in the last two years.

However, there is an "escape clause" in the contract that allows MCA to pass on distributing any Interscope album that it considers objectionable.

Shakur's latest album, "All Eyez on Me," was assigned to PolyGram Records before the February pact was signed with MCA. No one at Death Row, Interscope or MCA Inc. was available for comment Monday.

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In the music world, however, Shakur's shooting was the talk of the rap community around the country. In New York, DJ Mister Cee, director of A&R at Mercury Records and a disc jockey at WQHT-FM, said he thinks young rappers may be sobered by the weekend shooting.

"If there are artists living that lifestyle, I think they'll step back and look at the Tupac situation and be a little bit more cautious in what they do--and even in what they say," he said Monday. "They'll check themselves twice--maybe even three times--before saying or doing anything that's going to incriminate them later on--mentally or physically."

There has been for more than a year a growing rivalry involving rival camps of East Coast and West Coast rappers--chiefly artists associated with Death Row Records and Sean "Puffy" Combs' Bad Boy Records in New York. The bitter feud has been acted out in person, on award shows and in the lyrics of some records.

In Shakur's "Hit 'em Up," he accuses Notorious B.I.G., a Bad Boy rapper, of being involved with the 1994 incident in New York when Shakur was shot and robbed just outside a recording studio. In numerous interviews, B.I.G. has denied the charge.

Alan Light, editor in chief of Vibe magazine, which has written extensively about Shakur, said he doubts the shooting will do much to change the direction of hard-core rap.

"If it truly were a wake-up call they would have awakened before now," he said. "It's not like this was the first time. Certainly in his recent interviews and records, Tupac's tone has been invincible."

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