NEW YORK — Two years after extricating itself from a controversial alliance with gangsta rap distributor Interscope Records, Time Warner has again come under fire from activists who accuse the company of poisoning young people by distributing the sex- and violence-themed music of rappers Lil Kim and Junior M.A.F.I.A.
On the morning after Time Warner's stock hit an all-time high of $47.625, Chairman Gerald M. Levin probably expected a warmer reception Thursday when he arrived at Harlem's Apollo Theater for the company's annual meeting.
Instead, he was greeted by sidewalk pickets outside the 125th Street landmark, protesting Time Warner's "corporate greed" for backing the hard-core performers. Time Warner's Atlantic Group has a distribution deal with Undeas Entertainment, the Brooklyn-based rap company that discovered the two hot-selling new acts.
Inside the theater where the careers of Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson and scores of other stars were launched, Levin got a tongue-lashing from C. DeLores Tucker, chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women and a longtime campaigner against gangsta rap.
Tucker read raunchy lyrics from songs by Lil Kim and Junior M.A.F.I.A., spelling out some of the more sexually explicit words.
The music inspires violence among youths and "explicitly teaches young girls to be whores," she said, telling Levin, "You condone the destruction of our children."
Levin countered that the company is committed to balancing "artistic integrity and freedom with social consciousness," and added that music industry veteran Quincy Jones, whose Quest Records is distributed by Warner Music Group, is communicating with Time Warner's new artists to try to "help them understand the impact of their music."
(Ironically, it was outside a Los Angeles party for Jones' Vibe magazine on March 9 that gangsta rapper Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down.)
Earlier in the two-hour meeting, which attracted 800 shareholders, Levin acknowledged the until-recently poor performance of Time Warner stock. The share price was nearly flat for 10 years until breaking out of its slumber this year and rising 22%. It closed Thursday at $47.25, down 37.5 cents, on the New York Stock Exchange.
Levin said the company had long been in an "asset-building mode" but is now "strategically complete" and ready to deliver better stock performance. There will be new pressure for him to make good on the promise.
Prodded by disgruntled shareholders who called for more accountability, Levin recently changed his mind and supported a system under which all Time Warner directors will stand for reelection annually. The change in the corporate charter was adopted Thursday by just over the required 80% of all outstanding shares.
Tough new outside directors also joined the board: Stephen Bollenbach, chief executive of Hilton Hotels and former chief financial officer of Walt Disney; J. Carter Bacot, chief executive of Bank of New York; and Gerald Greenwald, chief executive of UAL. Analysts say the three CEOs are independent-minded and will hold Levin's feet to the fire if he doesn't perform.
Following the meeting, Ted Turner, vice chairman and largest individual stockholder of Time Warner, was asked about the prospect of having his sworn enemy, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, join him in the ranks of Major League Baseball owners. Turner's Atlanta Braves are now part of Time Warner; Murdoch is negotiating to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers from the O'Malley family for $350 million. "He's not an owner yet," Turner snapped.
Any buyer of the Dodgers must be approved by other team owners. Asked how he would vote, Turner said: "I don't know yet."