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Soundtrack Revisits the Landmark Tracks of N.W.A

July 29, 2001|STEVE HOCHMAN

How have things changed since N.W.A released its "Straight Outta Compton" album in 1988?

The violent imagery of the collection's landmark track, an indictment of police abuse, stirred such strong reactions that an FBI official charged that the song encouraged violence against law enforcement officers. Many observers, however, look back on the song today as presaging much of the urban tension that erupted following the Rodney King beating.

Now, for the soundtrack to the movie "Training Day," some rappers have revisited the topic of police misconduct. It includes a reworking of N.W.A's song under the title "Watch the Police" by C-Murder and Trick Daddy as well as a teaming of P. Diddy with David Bowie on a remake of Bowie's "This Is Not America." There's also a new song, "Cops DR2," by N.W.A co-founder Dr. Dre.

In "Watch the Police," the violence is replaced by vigilance.

"We're not trying to start no trouble with [the police]," says C-Murder. "But we're trying to educate people to the dangers."

He says that the changed attitudes can be traced in part to the light the original song shined on the subject.

"There are still problems, but from both sides there's more understanding," he says, specifically of the situation in his hometown of New Orleans. "The police and the people are working it out a little bit."

That reexamination was what Priority Records Vice President and general manager David Erlich had in mind when he signed on as executive producer of the soundtrack, due in stores Sept. 11, with the movie scheduled to open Sept. 21. The movie, directed by Antoine Fuqua ("Bait," "The Replacement Killers") and starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke, deals with police corruption.

To contribute tracks written specifically for the film, Erlich also recruited Snoop Dogg, Xzibit (performing with the new group Golden State Warriors), Cypress Hill, Gang Starr and the Lox. Dre and Snoop also have small roles in the movie, as does singer Macy Gray--although she's not on the album at this point.

"A lot of artists on the album have been personal victims of the way police have sometimes treated the urban community," Erlich says.

"But they do feel that their side is getting exposed more than it was when N.W.A did [its debut album]. And because of some of the scandals that have come out, for better or worse, some of the artists feel vindicated."

P. Diddy teamed with Bowie on the song scheduled to be used over the closing credits. The track, co-written by Bowie and guitarist Pat Metheny, was originally used in the 1985 film "The Falcon and the Snowman." For Fuqua, it was perfect to wrap up his film.

"I loved the original of that song and wanted to find something I could use it in," Fuqua says. "It always moved me--it's not the American dream, not the America that was promised. It was a perfect fit for this movie. I'm hoping all this music can help get the message out there and make young people more aware of what's going on in the news."


UNION LABEL: The film and TV industries narrowly escaped recent strikes. But could a music business work stoppage be looming?

While such artists as Don Henley and Courtney Love have raised the prospect of starting a new union for musicians, both are already members of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, or AFTRA, which is gearing up for negotiations to renew its collective bargaining agreement with record companies next summer.

Many of the key issues of the writers' and actors' negotiations, including residuals and intellectual property rights for digital distribution, are expected to be flash points.

AFTRA represents roughly 11,000 singers in the recording industry--both so-called royalty artists, who are solo acts or group members, and for-hire performers, who do session work. (Instrumental artists with no vocal credits do not come under AFTRA's jurisdiction.) The union has contracts with all the major record labels and most independents, accounting for 95% of record releases in the U.S., says Ann Chaitovitz, AFTRA national director of sound recordings.

In the past, a strike in the recording industry--largely a business of individual acts--was not even considered a remote possibility. But several managers surveyed by Pop Eye pointed to the dissatisfaction expressed by such name acts as Henley, Love, Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette as evidence of a new consciousness.

"With the industry changing so fast we need to protect ourselves no matter what happens," Chaitovitz says. "There are going to be new and different streams of revenue, and we have to make sure artists share in them both legislatively and through the collective bargaining agreement."

To that end, AFTRA is launching a twofold effort looking toward next June's contract expiration. On one front, it's trying to build a higher profile among performers and the public. On the other, it's trying to define what are key issues for its members, initiating a series of regional committee sessions to study the matters.

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