NBA Brawler Ron Artest, Playing a Different Tune

By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2004; Page C01

Yesterday morning things seemed pretty dicey for the NBA's Ron Artest, as chatter about "the poster boy for bad behavior" and talk of federal lawsuits, possible criminal charges and suspension appeals fluttered about the airwaves. Drama, people. Then there was the little matter of the $5 million -- $5 million! -- in lost wages, the kind of thing that happens when you hand out beatdowns to fans, and end up being told to sit your heinie down for the rest of the season and repent.

So if you think Artest, he of the anger management classes, would be having a bad day . . . you would be wrong. In fact, it was an exceedingly good day. Reached yesterday, the soft-spoken Indiana Pacers forward didn't sound like a man who Friday night launched "the worst brawl in NBA history" (if you turn to the "Today" show for your historical references, that is).

Suspended Pacers player Ron Artest, above with Allure, is spending his time promoting the R&B trio's latest album. (Tom Strattman -- AP)

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Never mind the season-long suspension from the NBA, never mind a career put on hold, never mind doing the requisite mea culpa. (He'd already done that earlier on "Today" when he told Matt Lauer that he wished the whole thing had never happened but that goshdarnit, he had been "frustrated.")

Artest had other things on his mind. Namely: "Giving the fans good music."

Music is his path, he says, as in, "I'm just trying to stay on the path that I was going. That's the only thing that I can do."

The path, he says, is one he's been on since he was 13 or so, and yesterday, finally, after four years of trying to get his record label, TruWarier, off the ground, and four years of trying to get some respect for his music, finally his path had been cleared. Tuesday, you see, is the day that new CD releases hit the market, and yesterday Artest entered the marketplace for the first time as a music mogul-in-making, proudly pushing "Chapter III," the latest effort of Allure, the R&B girl group that he's taken under his wing. (En Vogue they're not.)

"I just wanted to follow in the footsteps of these other labels," he told us, naming a few of the big boys: "Roc-A-Fella. Bad Boy. . . . I like giving the fans good music. . . . It's great. It's like a dream come true."

Of course dreaming of music isn't exactly a new thing for the NBA; there's something about the bling and bombast of the music world that players can't seem to resist. Usually the allure is found in the mine-is-bigger-than-yours world of rap, where a violent backstory and a shoe box stuffed with possibly ill-gotten gains makes for marketing magic.

Shaquille O'Neal had a run in the '90s with four rap albums, performing under the guidance of Fu-Schnickens, a hip-hop group that had some cred but no one seems to remember now, according to Billboard's Geoff Mayfield. (Only one of Shaq's CDs went platinum -- "Shaq Diesel" in 1993.)

Kobe Bryant tried his hand at spitting rhymes, as did Allen Iverson, whose allegedly homophobic verse had folks apoplectic even before his album hit the shelves. Neither Bryant nor Iverson actually released an album. (And then, from the other side, there was Master P, for whom having a gazillion-dollar rap empire was not enough; he had to play basketball, too, failing to make the NBA cut but playing starting guard for the American Basketball Association's Las Vegas Rattlers. Bow Wow tried to be "Like Mike," acting and playing basketball in his feature film in 2002.)

Not the same thing, Artest says: He's different.

And the difference would be?

"Our project is out, in the stores and selling copies right now. We're selling; they weren't selling copies." Not that Allure is a name on every music buyer's lips. It's enjoyed moderate success, according to Mayfield, releasing two albums since 1997 (the first one went gold).

Artest is different, too, in that he chose to debut an R&B album rather than take the more common route via rap. (He likes, he says, all kinds of music, from country to pop to rock.) Unusual, also, was his decision to take a back seat and executive-produce rather than shove himself in front of the mike. He raps, and he's spent some time recording tracks for a CD of his own.

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