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POP MUSIC | Pop Eye

Rappers Draw Up Plans for TV Cartoon

April 04, 1999|STEVE HOCHMAN

Anyone who's seen Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott and Busta Rhymes in concert or in videos knows that they're both highly animated characters.

Now they're teaming up to become just that--literally.

Development is underway for an animated TV series centered on the two hip-hop figures, with their management company, Violator, working with HBO on the project.

"We're just trying to find the right writers now," says Chris Lighty, chief executive of Violator, adding that the project will try to avoid the charges of racial stereotyping that initially accompanied Eddie Murphy's animated Fox series, "The PJs."

"With the success of 'King of the Hill' and 'The Simpsons,' we know that if someone lets us do it right, we can do what [Murphy] has tried to do but without offending our people. There's a way to be comedic and laugh at ourselves without putting ourselves down."

The actual shape of the series is still being worked out, though it will likely take off from the larger-than-life characters the two rappers have established.

"We wanted to find a way to put those two together because they're incredible personalities," said Mona Scott, president of Violator's management division. "And as opposed to playing themselves or real-life characters, we wanted to take it to another level. Animation seemed the perfect way to do that."

It's also part of a larger plan to animate the presence of Violator itself in the market. Between the firm's record label, a joint venture with Def Jam, and the management division, Violator has a high-powered roster that includes LL Cool J, Mobb Deep, Noriega, A Tribe Called Quest, Foxy Brown, Big Punisher and Fat Joe, in addition to Elliott and Rhymes. Those acts have combined for record sales between 8 million and 12 million a year for the last four years.

But unlike Def Jam or such rivals as Master P's No Limit or Puff Daddy's Bad Boy, the company itself hasn't been seen as a name-brand entity.

With that in mind, Lighty and Scott are stepping up activity to give the company a higher profile. First up is an anthology album, due in June, that will showcase their artists, with new tracks from Elliott and Rhymes, the solo debut of A Tribe Called Quest's Q Tip, and a teaming of Fat Joe, Big Punisher and Eightball.

"Brand name means a lot in hip-hop," says Violet Brown, urban music buyer for the Wherehouse stores, the nation's largest music retail chain after acquiring Blockbuster's outlets. "As a buyer, I know the name, but the general public I don't think does, certainly not like Bad Boy or No Limit. They should definitely keep working Violator as a brand."

Scott isn't sure she wants to expand as much as some companies have, but blueprints have been drawn for more moves into film and television and even clothing--Rhymes already has a line of togs and is soon to launch his own shoes.

"There are so many other outlets to expose and cross-market the artists that it's a shame if you don't take advantage of them all," Scott says. "A recording career is just one small part."

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GONE PHISHING: Choices for New Year's Eve 2000 have just increased in Southern California and decreased, at least for the moment, in New York.

Phish is laying plans to show up in SoCal for a series of concerts over the weekend that starts Dec. 31. The Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion is a likely site, as it has campgrounds for the Vermont band's fans, many of whom follow the group around the country.

That comes on top of the expected Staples Center appearance by the Eagles and Jackson Browne, and a Universal Amphitheatre show by Jimmy Buffett.

Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones have officially said no to an offer rumored to be as high as $10 million to play Madison Square Garden that night, with the average ticket price expected to be more than $600. A spokeswoman for the band says that the Stones had never officially planned to do such a show, and that after two years spent largely on the road, they are looking forward to a nice New Year's with family and friends.

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LIPS SERVICE: The audio equivalent of 3-D glasses at movies? That's what the Flaming Lips are hoping to achieve on an upcoming tour. They've bought 500 sets of headphone radios--at a total of $10,000--which will be loaned to fans at concerts so they can hear a better mix of the music than that coming from the regular sound system.

The audio will be broadcast via a very low-watt signal on an unused frequency, and fans can actually bring their own portable stereos if they prefer. In fact, people in the immediate vicinity outside the venues will be able to pick up the sound if they choose.

Of course, it would also be possible to listen to a ballgame or something during the show.

"We don't care what you listen to," said the Omaha group's manager, Scott Booker, noting that the system was tested during a show at the recent South by Southwest conference in Austin. "We hope you listen to the show, but if you're going to pay 10 bucks to come in and not pay attention to the show, that's up to you."

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