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Death Row Releases a Compact Diss

October 22, 2000|SOREN BAKER | Soren Baker is a regular contributor to Calendar

Since the unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur in 1996 and the Notorious B.I.G. a year later, most high-profile rap acts have shown restraint when discussing the type of feuds that some observers feel were responsible for the two deaths.

After a period of confrontation in both real life and on record leading up to the deaths, explicit threats by one rapper toward another have been rare on records. But that changes with the venomous "Too Gangsta for Radio" album, which has just been released by Death Row Records.

On almost all of the 19 tracks, various rappers take pointed verbal shots at Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube and other defectors from Death Row. Although the wording may frequently be humorous, the tone is sinister as one rapper after another is threatened with bodily harm.

Underground veteran C.J. Mac taunts and threatens Dre, whose production work helped make Death Row a household name in the early '90s. On one track, he claims that Dre's "gangsta" persona is purely an act and boasts that he would not back down from an altercation with Dre.

In one of the album's most chilling moments, Tha Realest predicts that Eminem, who records for Dr. Dre's Aftermath Records, will be the first white rapper to be murdered.

Two previously unreleased Tupac Shakur songs barely make a blip on the controversy scale compared to the incendiary rhetoric on the rest of the album.

So what's all this tough talk?

Are the threats just another round of hype in the gangster rap world--a way to sell more albums?

Or are they a sign of something more menacing?

C.J. Mac insists that his intention is to expose Dre as a fraud, not to start another round of violence.

"Everybody's talking gangster, but it's not real," says Mac, who recorded his song independently of Death Row and was then approached by the label to put it on the album.

Marion "Suge" Knight, who co-founded Death Row in 1992 with Dre and is now serving a nine-year sentence for violation of probation, also said that the album's aim is to expose hypocritical statements made by the artists, some of whom left Death Row on less than friendly terms.

"I don't think these [Death Row] artists are so much attacking them," Knight says. "These artists [on the Death Row CD] are really from the ghetto. They're living the stuff that all of these guys [Dre, Snoop, Eminem] make money off of. They're not in the ghetto, but they glorify it and then everybody thinks its so nice in the ghetto, which it's not."

A representative for Aftermath Records said the label had no comment on the Death Row album.

Death Row was the leading gangster rap label on the West Coast in the early '90s and a prime locus in the purported East Coast/ West Coast rivalry. Death Row's Tupac Shakur had been one of the most outspoken participants in the disses toward other rappers.

But sales eventually fell as Dr. Dre severed ties with the label in 1996 and as the company's legal problems grew.

Knight was imprisoned in 1996 after a judge determined that he violated probation by kicking a man during a scuffle at a Las Vegas hotel.

Knight had been on probation since 1995, when he pleaded no contest to two counts of assault stemming from a 1992 attack on two aspiring rappers in a Hollywood recording studio.

Knight says the new album is healthy for hip-hop.

"Gangster rap is people talking about things they've done or things that go on in their neighborhoods in the ghetto," he says, speaking by phone from Mule Creek State Prison in Northern California. "But if you're living in the suburbs and you're letting somebody else write your lyrics and you're making money off it, then you're not even keeping it real to the rap game."


SNOOPING AROUND: Death Row's next release may not include the venom of "Too Gangsta for Radio," but its title is sure to raise some eyebrows. "Dead Man Walking," due in stores Oct. 31, is an album of unreleased material from Snoop Dogg, recorded prior to the rapper's departure from the label in 1999. The album cover shows the lanky rapper handcuffed and in a prison uniform.

Snoop and Death Row have expressed their displeasure with one another before, but Knight says that Death Row is releasing the album because of its quality, not to intimidate Snoop, who now records for Master P's No Limit Records.

"It's a great album," Knight says. "To me, it's him at his best. I think the fans are entitled to hear the great work. It was recorded when he was hungrier. You can hear it in his voice."

No Limit, meantime, plans to release Snoop's fifth studio album on Dec. 19. Maybe the most interesting thing about it, given the Death Row companion piece, is its title: "Last Meal."*

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