Gangster rap takes a right turn with "We're All in the Same Gang," the newly released collaborative single by the West Coast Rap All-Stars. The 14 rappers include M.C. Hammer (currently atop the single and album charts), Tone Loc (whose "Wild Thing" was the best-selling single since "We Are the World"), Young M.C. (who wrote "Wild Thing" before hitting the charts with his own singles), Digital Underground, Michel'le, Def Jeff, Oaktown's 3.5.7. and several acts still associated with "gangsta" rap, such as Above the Law, N.W.A. and Eazy-E. The single was produced by Dr. Dre, his first such work outside the Ruthless Records roster.

Like last year's "Self-Destruction," the all-East Coast rap-star project put together by the Stop the Violence Movement, "We're All in the Same Gang" is a strongly worded demand for an end to violence, particularly the gang violence that scars Los Angeles County, home to an estimated 90,000 gang members. An accompanying video (now being shown on BET and MTV) was shot in the tough Nickerson Gardens project, with security provided by members of the notorious Crips and Bloods gangs; during the taping, peace reigned between these usually deadly rivals.

The all-star "Gang" was put together by 33-year-old Michael Concepcion, who knows the culture firsthand as a founding member of the Crips. A few years ago, he was shot in a gambling dispute and left paralyzed from the waist down. "I wanted to stop these kids from making the same bad mistakes I did," says Concepcion, who got early commitments from a number of the major rappers before approaching Warner Bros. about distributing the single. Concepcion has since started his own label, Grand Jury Records, and the "We're All in the Same Gang" album introduces nine new acts. Part of the proceeds from the single and album will go to Project Build, a Los Angeles youth education organization.

Hammer's Talking Hit

M.C. Hammer, who will headline a Budfest tour that stops at Capital Centre on July 20, has also started his own label, Bustin' Records, to be distributed by Capitol. Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" is the first single to hit the top of the charts with lyrics recited rather than sung since Napoleon XIV's "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" in 1966.

New Kids 'N Comics

aving recently enjoined unauthorized 900-KIDS telephone lines, the New Kids on the Block have tried to stop the irreverent Rock N' Roll Comics from distributing a new edition spoofing the teeny poppers. After a federal judge ruled that both biography and satire are protected by the First Amendment, New Kids and Winterland Productions (which handles the group's immensely profitable merchandising) filed a trademark-infringement suit. After all, they've already licensed the New Kids name and image to Harvey Comics, which will release a trilogy in conjunction with the Kids' upcoming "Magic Summer" tour, as well as four ongoing series (including one titled "Backstage Pass"). The characterizations will resemble those in the Saturday morning cartoon program that will air on ABC this fall.

Last week, the Kids' "Step by Step" opened at No. 14 on Billboard's album chart, the highest new entry since Madonna's 1989 album "Like a Prayer." The same-title single is No. 2 on the Hot 100. Billboard notes that the group's mastermind, Maurice Starr, is behind seven Hot 100 singles, directly with the New Kids, Perfect Gentlemen's "Ooh La La" at No. 30, Ana's "Got to Tell Me Something" at No. 81 and Seiko's "The Right Combination" (a duet with Kid Donnie Wahlberg) at No. 65, and indirectly with members of his first teen-star group, New Edition -- Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison" is No. 2; Bobby Brown's duet with Glen Medeiros, "She Ain't Worth It," is at No. 12; and Washingtonian Johnny Gill's "Rub You the Right Way" is No. 15.

African American Music Symposium

The Smithsonian will observe African American Music Month by cosponsoring a Saturday symposium with the International Association of African American Music. "The Heart and Soul of America -- African American Music, 1970s to 1990" will feature record industry executives, performers, deejays and journalists. Among them: veteran producers Al Bell of Stax and Kenny Gamble of Philly International; artists Gerald LeVert, Mtume, Jeff Cooper and Teddy Pendergrass, in his first speaking engagement since the 1984 car accident that left him a quadriplegic; deejays Gary Byrd (New York's WLIB) and Melvin Lindsay (WKYS); and executives Larkin Arnold and Ed Eckstine (the latter rumored to be the new head of Polygram Records' American operations). The symposium begins at 10 a.m. at Baird Auditorium; the panels will be moderated by Billboard's black music editor Janine McAdams and Capitol Records' Gwen Franklin. The program is free and open to the public.