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Hip-Hop Fridays: Industry and Street Notes...September 27, 2002

The few that know about it are shaking their heads in awe. A 60 Minutes feature on Jay-Z is in production right now. A few weeks ago, the still relatively camera-shy Brooklyn rapper granted CBS and 60 Minutes cameras rare access and the result, according to sources, will be a 60 Minutes segment on the rapper, his musical impact, community development projects, and business savvy. Negotiations regarding the taping emphasized that the spotlight be placed upon Jay-Z's non-music-related and underreported involvement in community activities as well as power broker business moves. We'll see if 60 Minutes keeps to its word. We have our doubts but however it turns out, it is good to see a hip-hop artist seeking to emphasize their non-music leadership roles and responsibilities. Sources tell us that the project was masterminded by Island Def Jam's Lyor Cohen. CBS producers indicate that there is no air date as yet for the segment but that a major promotion for the show featuring Jay-Z will be executed through the website. In other Roc-A-Fella "power"/business moves, with the purchase of Armadale Vodka complete, the challenging distribution campaign moves forward. So far, the company has distribution in Miami, Los Angeles and New York and is aggressively negotiating deals to ensure expansion of the two-grain vodka into other major cities...

...Speaking of the ROC, it turns out that the creative life of an artist has certainly changed in the post-September 11th world. Turns out that the Harlem Diplomats' album initially titled, "Diplomatic Immunity", has been pushed back in order to make room for the Paid In Full soundtrack (released the end of October) - the Damon Dash-produced movie with the same title that features Cam'ron in the starring role. The new timeline, which would have the Harlem Diplomats album coming out in February also gives the label and producers ample time to edit out whatever lyrical references have been made, on the album, that may be deemed offensive in the hyper-sensitive and politically correct new environment. So far, a Juelz Santana reference to Mohammed Atta has been taken out and the group's references to their local crew nick-named "The Taliban" are coming under fire from inside and out of the industry...

...In still more news, successful Roc-A-Fella negotiations with street and underground legends, M.O.P. are almost a foregone conclusion but still not a 100% done deal. Talks continue and a free flow of creative ideas remain in exchange between M.O.P.'s management and Roc-A-Fella staff members who are very much looking forward to the day that the Brownsville-Marcy marriage is consummated, but their is only so much prep work that can be done before the paperwork is signed. Look for this to be done before the year is out...

...Lost in all of the hoopla surrounding Funkmaster Flex's simmering "beef" with Steph Lova and an expected assortment of legal problems is what the charges could mean to the DJ's growing business empire. From various marketing contracts to a new deal to put out a limited edition inventory of specialized trucks bearing his name, to a new TNN weekly show called Fast Rides With Funkmaster Flex produced and hosted by the DJ, featuring celebrities and their cars; Funkmaster Flex has a lot to lose over what most are describing as a petty dispute between two on-air personalities. Nowadays, endorsement contracts have clauses that permit those paying out to terminate the business relationship not on conviction, or arrest but as a result of accusations and negative publicity. It will be interesting to see whether Flex has one of those deals. If worse comes to worse Funkmaster Flex could always fall back on his partnership with a customizing shop, which has been offering a Flex-version General Motors Yukon XL. Its interior features handmade leather seating, four flat television/DVD screens and the mandatory Alpine audio system. The DJ is rumored to have received up to 50 orders for his close to $100,000 trucks. By the way, people would be wise to not look at the Nas - Jay-Z; Funkmaster Flex vs. Steph Lova; and Hot 97 against Power 105 scenarios at such low levels. The real beneficiaries of all of this controversy, aside from the record labels and distributors are two media corporations - Emmis Communications, which owns Hot 97, and Clear Channel Communications, which owns Power 105. As of yesterday's (September 26, 2002) stock market close, Emmis' market capitalization was $1, 029,000,000 and Clear Channel's market cap was at $21,197,000,000. Funkmaster Flex and Steph Lova' are pawns and pennies in all of this...

...Instead of gawking at Ruff Ryders, Aftermath, Def Jam, Roc-A-Fella, and Murder Inc. those seeking to understand the business forces that really drive Hip-Hop should take a look at Universal Vivendi - the multi-billion conglomerate that owns Universal Music and thus owns significant portions of and/or distributes all of the above record labels. This week was a rough one for Vivendi which is laboring under the weight of a $17 billion debt overhang. Vivendi let 6 of its board members go (they officially "resigned") and is looking to sell as much as $11 billion in assets in order to pay off/lighten its enormous debt burden. Barry Diller, Chairman of Universal Entertainment, and Doug Morris head of Universal Music recently met with Jean-René Fourtou, the new chief of Vivendi to discuss the nightmare scenarios that will include restructuring their respective jurisdictions. Fourtou had made it clear, since taking over last month, that any asset of Vivendi is a candidate for sale. And with Universal music being one of the most profitable parts of the struggling Vivendi empire, many Wall St. analysts have suspected that eventually the company might be forced to sell the $5 billion member of the Vivendi body. Still others have argued that it will be the music division that will survive any sales and restructurings. This week Fourtou announced that the struggling media empire would speed up sales of assets and focus on entertainment and telecommunications. This seemed to indicate that its music and entertainment divisions in America were safe, for now, but because these businesses would become the focus of the new restructured conglomerate, further job and budget cuts or freezes at Universal Music could be expected soon, even in already diminished Hip-Hop and R&B areas...

...How hot is 50cent? How quickly things change. After a 1999-2000 where he was hated by every rapper in the game and even shot in the jaw, 2002 finds that right now, it is hard to find anybody hotter on, the streets. After signing with Eminem's Shady/Aftermath records this summer after a bidding war that involved J, Universal and Jive Records, the intrigue around the Queens rapper has only accelerated. Right now there are 7 Best Of... 50cent mixtapes out on the street, all moving, and according to the rapper, all by design. Before signing his estimated 1 million dollar deal with Eminem, 50 cent told MTV, "I have full access to the streets through mixtapes - that's my forum. I take full advantage of it. I don't have it where I can say, 'Put this on [the radio program] "Top Eight at 8,"' " he continued. "When it gets to that point, it's gonna be terrible for them because the artists that are out there don't control the street. They skipped over that and went to mainstream radio once they came out." With the mainstream power of radio-friendly Aftermath and Eminem behind him, we shall soon see if 50's prediction is accurate. Not everybody, however is happy about 50 cents signing. Most notably Ja Rule, who has battled 50 on wax and with real fisticuffs. Ja reportedly told The Source, " If you're gonna be authorizing [50 Cent] to spew records on me, then I wanna do what I gotta do to take your company under. And that goes for Dre, Em or whoever."...

...Speaking of The Source a bit of a controversy has erupted among heads over the magazine's granting of 5 mics to the new Scarface album, The Fix. It seems that some of the die-hard 'Face fans were disappointed with the release while a whole new audience of fans of the artist from the 5th Ward of Houston love what they heard from a more mature and introspective artist. Our suggestion is don't worry about the mic count, just enjoy the latest album by one of Hip-Hop's top ten greatest MCs of all-time. By the way, we hope you all will remember the serious dues Face has paid with virtually the whole government coming after him and Rap-A-Lot Records. Read our article from two years ago, Hip-Hop Fridays: Rap COINTELPRO Part IV: Congress Holds Hearings On DEA Rap-A-Lot Investigation
about how the DEA tried to take him under

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, September 27, 2002

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