The recording industry dodged another bullet Monday when the Louisiana Senate narrowly rejected a bill to prohibit the sale to minors of recordings labeled by manufacturers as containing "explicit lyrics." The bill was defeated 19 to 18; 20 votes were needed to move the bill to the governor's office, but one state senator had passed away and another was less permanently absent. Still, it's probably a good thing those 19 nay voters were too busy to be analyzing the Billboard album charts, where an unusual trend has developed over the past four weeks.
Call it the "F" factor, and note how it's been front and center on the three most recent No. 1 albums. First up: N.W.A.'s "Efil4zaggin" ("Niggaz4life" backward), where two song titles feature the "F" word and almost every cut includes said (or, here, unsaid) word. It's used 223 times, by one count.
After one week at the top of the Billboard chart, N.W.A. was replaced by Skid Row's "Slave to the Grind," whose "Get the F Out" proved to be a very popular chant-along when Skid Row opened for Guns N'Roses at Capital Centre last month. Two weeks ago, Skid Row was replaced at the top by Van Halen, whose "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" turns out to be a rather sophomoric acronym.
What does all this mean? Other than the continued moral collapse of civilization, that there must be a lot of sophomores out there.
Who's Got the Beat? With self-styled hard-core "gangstas" N.W.A., violence seems to be not just something to rap about -- the new album includes tales of murder, gang rape and ritualized violence against women -- but to act out. Last January, N.W.A. producer and rapper Dr. Dre (Andre Young) allegedly attacked Dee Barnes, the diminutive hostess of Fox's rap show "Pump It Up!," during a party for the group Bytches With Problems (BWP) in Los Angeles. Barnes's offense? Allowing a piece on former N.W.A. member Ice Cube to be used in a "Pump It Up!" segment on N.W.A. According to a multi-million-dollar civil suit, Barnes alleges that Dr. Dre picked her up by her shirt and hair and "began slamming her face and the right side of her body repeatedly against a wall in the stairway"; that after she slipped out of his grasp, he "kicked her in the ribs and the hand as she attempted to fend off numerous blows," and then chased her into a women's bathroom and continued to "punch her in the back of the head while she tried to protect her face."
Barnes says she was saved from further harm only when Dr. Dre's bodyguard, who had prevented anyone from helping Barnes, grabbed the 6-foot-2 rapper and escorted him from the building. A misdemeanor battery charge was filed by the Los Angeles city attorney in April and was upgraded to aggravated battery in May when Dr. Dre failed to show up in court. An arrest warrant has now been issued for him.
Barnes's suit charges assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress and defamation. Though Dr. Dre has refused to comment specifically on the charges, he tells the current Entertainment Weekly, "They blew it all out of proportion. ... It's not like I broke her arm." Eazy-E, who not long ago attended a Washington Republican Senatorial Inner Circle luncheon with President Bush and party movers and shakers, told the Source magazine, "The bitch deserved it. She knew that." Barnes, 5 feet 3 inches tall and 105 pounds, begs to disagree, to the tune of $22.75 million. Perhaps N.W.A. will respond with an update on their infamous "F Tha Police," this time directed at lawyers.
Up and Dirty Those who think dirt settles at the bottom may want to check out the just-published updated Vintage paperback version of Fredric Dannen's 1990 "Hit Men: Power Brokers & Fast Money Inside the Music Business," a book that should flush the face of everyone in that business red with embarrassment, or purple with apoplexy. Dannen's was the first investigative look at the downside of the record world, one full of greed, corruption and payola (a word for a once-legal practice that became illegal and then reappeared in a thousand disguises, both legal and illegal, according to Dannen). The book, full of monumental power struggles and ego conflicts in back rooms and boardrooms alike, has done to the music industry what "Indecent Exposure" did to Hollywood. Perhaps the best unsolicited review came from CBS CEO Laurence Tisch, explaining why he sold CBS Records to Sony in 1988 for $2 billion: "Did you read that book 'Hit Men'? Would you want to be in that business?"
In a book filled with accusations of ethically vacuous and egomaniacal behavior, no one stands lower than former CBS Records head Walter Yetnikoff. Indeed, many industry insiders are convinced that Yetnikoff, once the most powerful man in the industry, became a former CEO because of Dannen's consistently unflattering portrait and the gutter talk, philandering and ruthless and often petty machinations revealed therein. Though Dannen claims no responsibility for Yetnikoff's fate in a new chapter, "Walter's Fall," the accumulation of detail was apparently too much for Sony's ultra-conservative management, which pushed Yetnikoff off its plane with a $25 million parachute after he had engineered its purchase (which had already earned him a $20 million bonus). Yetnikoff left CBS two months after "Hit Men" was published.
Interestingly, just like N.W.A.'s lyrics, most of the things Yetnikoff has to say about his industry enemies in "Hit Men" are not printable in a family newspaper. Should there ever be an audiocassette version of "Hit Men," it would probably need the Recording Industry Association of America's warning about explicit material. The paperback edition also includes updates on last year's payola trials and the wheeling and dealing surrounding Michael Jackson's "billion-dollar" contract.