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POP MUSIC | Pop Eye

Is KROQ Really Playing Cypress Hill? Um, Er, Yes

March 05, 2000|STEVE HOCHMAN

A funny thing happened to Kevin Weatherly, program director of alternative-rocker KROQ-FM (106.7) recently. He was pretty sure he had his car radio set to his own station, but when he heard Cypress Hill's new " 'Rock' Superstar," a pretty much straight hip-hop track that affectionately mocks the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, he thought he must have accidentally tuned to neighboring rap station KPWR-FM (105.9).

"I had to punch the button to make sure what station it was," he says.

Of course, if he'd been listening to KPWR, he would have been hearing Cypress Hill's " 'Rap' Superstar," a slightly different track on a similar theme. But it's still understandable.

Though Weatherly approved putting the song on his station, he's accustomed to hearing hip-hop on KROQ only from rock bands such as Limp Bizkit and Rage Against the Machine, who have incorporated elements of rap. Adding a track by a real rap act is a new move. And it's one that Cypress Hill and the promotion team at Columbia Records are pushing hard for in advance of the May 2 release of the L.A. trio's next album, "Skull & Bones."

"This might prove how blurry the lines are [between rock and rap today]," says Chris Woltman, Columbia vice president of promotion, noting that the track (featuring guests Everlast and the Deftones' Chino) has started to pick up solid airplay at key rock stations across the country. "It's a statement record, and the 18-year-old kids will buy Rage and Cypress and DMX today. They run the gamut. The two worlds have almost become one."

Weatherly says he still needs to be convinced his audience will go for it wholeheartedly. KROQ fans, he says, are hard to get to react to anything other than Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, Korn, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Blink-182 these days. Even longtime staples Beck and Nine Inch Nails are having a hard time. But he wants to expand the station's musical range and strengthen its listener base, and hopes this is the kind of move that can pay off.

RINGSIDE: If Don King were to get hold of the showdown set to take place in Las Vegas in June, they might treat it like a boxing championship.

Sure, Hilary Rosen, the chair of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, versus Michael Robertson, the founder of MP3.com, doesn't quite have the sizzle of a Tyson-Holyfield rematch.

Still, in music business circles, this is a heavyweight match. Rosen and Robertson are the principals in the legal battle that could well shape the future of the industry. Rosen's RIAA filed a federal suit in New York in January accusing Robertson's company of making it too easy for fans to copy and share digital music files without paying for them. Robertson has countered that it's just the high-tech descendant of home taping, and that the RIAA is trying to stop the future rather than keep up with it.

And the only place--at least outside a courtroom--where both of them will be appearing will be EAT'M, an annual music conference emphasizing emerging artists and technologies. What's more, the dates of the conference come right when a final ruling in the suit is expected.

The two combatants won't be appearing together, due to the suit--Robertson is doing a "fireside chat" on June 8 and Rosen will be featured on a label presidents' panel the following day. Still, it's a coup for EAT'M, which is only in its third year but has quickly become a hot spot for talent discoveries and discussions of the new avenues for music exposure.

For Lisa Tenner, a former artist manager who founded and still produces the conference with partner Sue Shifrin Cassidy, scoring both Robertson and Rosen was an endorsement for EAT'M's stature, which she attributes to its embrace of issues regarding new media and artists.

"We're at a time when there are so many new developments happening that can help a new act, but a lot of it is not well-established and is very confusing," Tenner says. "We're trying to provide a forum for information and resources to help young artists navigate through it all."

DOWN ON THE FARM: A simple e-mail to 30 friends exploded New York band the Rosenbergs into the status of indie giant-killers.

The band had been chosen to appear on the "FarmClub.com" TV music show tied to Jimmy and Doug's Farm Club, the Internet-focused record label launched by Universal Music executives Jimmy Iovine and Doug Morris. But faced with a bulky contract giving various options and rights to the company--including an ownership stake in the band's Web site if the appearance led to a record deal with Farm Club--the band decided not to appear.

Instead, the members wrote up a diatribe accusing the show of trying to co-opt independent music and take advantage of young artists. The broadside was posted on the band's Web site (http://therosenbergs.com) and e-mailed to a handful of friends. But soon it was spread throughout the music business and the band was a cause celebre.

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