By Jerry Flattum - 04/21/2006 - 04:36 AM EDT
The Pop/Rock industry is a history of greed and corruption, sex, drugs and violence, immorality and rebellion and sleeping till noon. But murder was never part of the shock equation. A story about a musician killing a musician, or a great artist caught up in shady deals--why it sounds like Hollywood.
The latest rap murder is the shooting of rapper Proof, Eminem's cohort, killed on 8 Mile Road. Meanwhile, Phil Spector is still awaiting trial for the murder of Lana Clarkson.
Pop/Rock's shady image started from day one. Stephen Foster died penniless, or, maybe it was 13 cents; something like that. His death allegedly had something to do with the birth of ASCAP and the need for a way to monitor royalties. The Hill sisters never collected a dime on "The happy Birthday" song.
The music industry is notorious for ripoffs, burns and bad deals. What's true and what's gossip?
Sinatra was well known for his mob ties. There's even pictures to prove it. There are dozens of books that discuss hoards of payola scandals, manager and record label rip-offs and other shady accounting practices. In fact, Clear Channel and other radio outlets are under current (2006) FCC investigation for possible payola scams.
Then there is the decadence: $50K cocaine parties, gold-plated toilet seats, and exotic animals roaming mansions in Beverly Hills.
When the Beatles were first starting out, Brian Epstein allegedly bought up all the copies of a singles release to push sales high enough to achieve Gold status. Naw...that couldn't be true.
On the personal front, stories abound of numerous drug arrests, smashed hotels, paparazzi with broken noses, criminal possession of whatever, pissing on statues, sexual escapades and other personal effrontries of a dispicable nature. Rumours and reports about dozens of out-of-court settlements help round out the seedy, depraved and decadent image of Rock/Pop. And we wouldn't have it any other way.
Other problems plague the industry, like Janet Jackson's career nearly destroyed by a garment malfunction, or the ability to legally "rip" CDs using Windows Media Player while piracy threatens to bring the house down. And this shit--as they say--goes way back. Jerry Lee Lewis marries a 13 year old cousin. Johnny Cash does jail time. Who was Dean Martin without a martini in his hand?
But the shock of excessive displays of wealth and personality pales by comparison to murder as a ploy or gimmic to increase music sales.
In the late 60s you could play a Beatle's album backwards to hear a recording of John saying, "Paul is dead. Paul is dead?" Yeah, that little gimmick certainly kept the Beatle's on the map. And Elvis's death is damn near the second coming of Christ. But nobody was ever killed.
Do you think the marketing people ever calculated the percentage of sales due to the "Paul Is Dead" trick and the continued strange reappearances of Elvis throughout the world?
Marvin Gaye's horrifying murder by the hands of his father is no ghost story. How can such an ambassador of Peace be gunned down in such a brutal manner? They say Marvin Gaye beat women. They said the same thing about Ike Turner. Sly Stone never showed up for concerts. Rick James suffered a stroke after his release from prison in 1998, months after he had hip replacement surgery. He died from a heart attack. The controversy over Ice-T's "Cop Killer" in 1991 has long been blowin' in the wind. The thing is, now, gangsters aren't shootin' cops, they're shootin' each other.
The latest murder of rapper Proof was allegedly predicted by Eminem in one of his songs, which sort of indicates that murders in rap are not all random, but perhaps even planned. Well, there are certainly gang wars and revenge usually takes a bit of planning.
Those who hate rap are frequently heard to sarcastically remark, "The more crime a rapper is guilty of, the more records he sells." Ya gotta have a rap sheet to be a good rapper.
Rock music--as contrasted with pop--has always been known for it's rebels. After all, what would rock music be without rebellion? From the days of LSD and mushrooms to spiked hair and noserings, rock goes out of it's way to not only shock but to flip it's proverbial finger at the face of mainstream. It has a reputation to live up to.
Even country had it's bad boy movement with Willie and Waylon, and now most recently, proud to be a redneck woman, Gretchen Wilson. But Willie is such an American icon it's hard to see the outlaw anymore (except maybe his new hobby of promoting the use of alternative fuels). Country is pretty much conflict-free. The Dixie Chicks got slammed for comments about President Bush. K.D. Lang's "coming out" and turning away from country music helped preserve country's Christian values image. But that's about it. Bar room brawls are a given...but it never leads to murder.
Country is exclusively white and don't even dare mention Charlie Pride. Country also has a reputation of patriotic, conservative and Christian. You don't hear a lot of synth work in country.
So what does all-white Country have to do with all-black Rap? Well, this is the underlying theme of the rap murder story. Blacks kill blacks and the black/white thing has something to do with it. And there's something suspicious about Country being all white and Rap being all black, isn't there?
There's a big catch in all this rebellion/bad boy-girl stuff. What starts out non-commercial becomes commercial. What starts underground becomes mainstream. So, we device new ways to up the ante. Drugs weren't enough, so we added spiked hair and nose rings. We ate rats, demolished hotel rooms, pissed on famous statues, and wrapped boa constrictors around our necks. We drank whiskey straight from the bottle and started bar room brawls for the fun of it. We especially did all kinds of nasty sexual things like wear pointed cones for breasts or simulate intercourse while singing into a microphone. We even admitted we're gay.
Notice the use of "we." You see, ya can't say it's just a rap thing, or a gang thing, or a music industry thing. It's not just those who make the CDs, but those who buy them.
Speaking of audiences, Rap is not shocking anymore. Hell, it's well over 20 years old, even older, if ya trace it back to Sugarhill Gang's, "Rapper's Delight." But what rap has become...is sad. It's sad that people are dying.
Joplin, Morrison and Hendrix died from overdoses. Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash. Elvis abused himself beyond drugs. There were even a few suspicious suicides, like piano player Richard Manuel from the Band and Seattle rocker Curt Cobain's murder or suicide is still under debate.
Rap made having a criminal record not only acceptable but desireable. Somehow a criminal turned rapper became the newest twist on the classic rags to riches story. But it wasn't the end of the line. It wasn't a bad boy turns good story. Well, self-proclaimed x-pimp rapper superstar Ice-T became a fighter for social causes and a movie star. But for other lesser known rappers, to stay in the loop, rappers had to keep committing crime, you know, so homies didn't think they sold out. Committing crime to stay in the loop is a ridiculous theory and even more ridiculous if it's true.
Glorifying gang bangers? Hell, that's nothing new. We've been glorifying the Italian mob and Old West outlaws for decades. Some of the most famous people in the world are killers. However, I can't think of a single one that sang and danced professionally.
There's always a lot of buzz about disenfranchised black youth, unemployment, poverty, gangs and prejudice. It's a popular socio/political issue. it's not only popular, but obviously one of the most heated issues facing America. But is this the true backdrop for the rash of rap murders in the last 15 years?
Things have been relatively quiet on the black/white front, meaning, no riots, marches or uprisings to speak of. But an imaginary walk across America is all you need to see this country is still very much divided along color lines. Of course society is to blame. It's blacks killing blacks, not whites killing whites.
So yeah, prejudice is real. But it's not the reason rappers are dying.
According to the news reports, the reasons for these murders lies somewhere between arguments over pool games and girlfriends to drug disputes of one kind or another.
What the reasons are really depends on your perspective. It's possible to argue that prejudice and overall social conditions led to environmental factors which contribute to a climate of crime, drugs, poverty and all the way to murder. You can blame just about anything on society with reasonable justification. But when a bullet takes the life of a guy who said something stupid about someone else's girlfriend, it's real hard to blame anyone other than the guy pulling the trigger.
Name calling. Win/lose or cheating disputes during a poolball game. Being owed a $1000 for a bag of coke. Yes, it's quite possible to say these kinds of interactions and conflicts are socially conditioned. It's possible to say there is a lose of morals and that our education system has failed to train its citizenry in the art and science of dispute resolution.
Have things changed since the days of slavery or even the racial turmoil of the 60s? Some of our most important leaders are black...or Hispanic. The National Conference of Black Mayors estimated more than 300 of the nation’s 542 African American mayors were in attendance at a 2005 conference. Condelezza Rice meets with world leaders on a weekly basis, and she's no token. LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa manages one of the largest and most violent cities in the world. A handful of the wealthiest and most powerful individuals in entertainment are black, notably Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, and the infamous Michael Jackson.
Sports? Tiger Woods changed the history of golf forever. Basketball, Football and Baseball is rampant with black millionaires. And the argument that sports and entertainment is the only place blacks can go is as weak as any other race card played in the killing game.
Rapper millionaires are a dime a dozen. What does that say about equal opportunity?
Rap haters see the crime, the gangstas, the bad attitudes, the misogeny; murder is expected. Rap haters don't see families destroyed, mothers who cry, and friends and lovers devastated.
Rap didn't bring attention to inner-city poverty and mayhem. It hasn't raised the consciouness of the public to black youth or a rampant drug problem. What rap has done is drawn attention to the stupidity of gangs hunting gangs, rappers shooting rappers. The reasons...don't really much matter.
Public outcry will not stop rap's rap sheet until rappers start shooting civilians. As long as they shoot each other, rap haters will say the disease is controlled. Of course, gang bangers have been perpetrating crime on civilians for a long time. It's just that a famous rapper has yet to shoot a civilian, a civilian that captures the hearts and minds of the American public. Is that what we're waiting for?
Both rapper Proof and his assailant gunned each other down allegedly over a pool game. Proof was considered Eminem's right-hand man (April 2006). The shooting took place on Eight Mile Road, made famous by Eminem.
Scott La Rock was shot to death in 1987 while attempting to cool down a domestic dispute involving Boogie Down Productions colleague D-Nice. La Rock was the original DJ for the hip hop group Boogie Down Productions. Their debut album, Criminal Minded, was an instant hit and is considered a classic and masterpiece of the genre.
King Tubby, dubbing and remixing pioneer was shot dead outside his home in 1989. The killer was never caught.
Also in 89, Michael Menson of Double Trouble was soaked in gasoline and lit on fire.
MC Rock, rapper with The Almighty RSO, was stabbed to death in 1990.
Trouble T-Roy (Troy Dixon), rapper with Heavy D and the Boyz fell off a balcony (1990).
Brandon Mitchell, rapper with Wreckx-N-Effect was shot to death during an argument over a woman (1990).
Charizma, rapper with Peanut Butter Wolf--shot to death in 1990.
Deah Dame, rapper with Damian Dame, died in a 1994 car crash.
Mr. Cee, rapper with R.B.L. Posse (Ruthless By Law), was murdered in 1995.
Tupac Shakur (2Pac), a gangsta rap superstar, was shot to death in 1996 at age 25.
Rapper Seagram Miller was shot to death in Oakland, California, in August 1996.
Notorious B.I.G., gangsta rap star, was shot to death in 1997 at age 24. This was only three years after the release of his successful album “Ready to Die.” This album was filled with cursing, violence, and immorality. One cut was titled “Suicidal Thoughts,” and Notorious B.I.G. sang, “When I die, -----, I wanna go to hell.”
Rapper Fat Pat (Patrick Hawkins) was shot to death in 1998.
Luis “Papo” Deschamps, rapper with Sandy y Papo, died in a car crash in 1999.
Malcolm Howard, rapper with 4 Black Faces, was shot to death execution style in 1999.
MC Big L (Lamont Coleman), rapper with Diggin’ In the Crates Crew, was shot to death outside his home in 1999.
Rapper MC Ant was shot to death in 1999.
Matthew Roberts of Blaggers I.T.A. died in February 2000 at age 36 of drug related causes.
Q-Don (Raeneal Quann), rapper, was shot to death outside a Philadelphia nightclub in April 2000.
Yusef Afloat Muhammad, rapper with The Nonce, was found dead alongside a Los Angeles freeway in May 2000.
Bruce Mayfield (aka Chip Banks and Bankie), rapper with The American Cream Team, was shot to death over a money dispute in November 2000.
Lloyd “Mooseman” Roberts, rapper who worked with Iggy Pop, Ice-T, and Body Count, died in a drive by shooting in February 2001.
Prince Ital Joe, reggae and rapper who worked with Tupac and Snoop Dogg, died in a car crash in May 2001.
Tonnie Sheppard, rapper and cousin of rapper Haf-A-Mil, was stabbed to death in a recording studio during a fight with studio executives in May 2001.
Coughnut, rapper with Ill Mannered Posse, died in a car crash in October 2001.
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, singer with rap group TLC, died in a car crash in April 2002. A few days before her own death, Lisa had hit and killed a 10-year-old boy with her car in Honduras.
Jam Master Jay, rapper with the popular group Run-DMC, was shot to death in his recording studio in October 2002 by an unknown assailant.
In November 2003, Anthony “Wolf” Jones,” 38-year-old former bodyguard for “P. Diddy” Combs, was shot to death in a gunfight outside an Atlanta nightclub. $7,000 was found on Jones’ body. Jones and Combs had been acquitted of gun possession and bribery charges stemming from a 1999 shooting inside a New York nightclub.
In December 2003, federal prosecutor Jonathan Luna was gunned down during the trial of rapper Deon Lionnel Smith, who was accused of running a violent drug ring.
Rapper Juston Potts (nicknamed “Kanyva”) murdered his promoter on June 7, 2004, because “she told him he didn’t have the talent to sell records.” -- “Aspiring rapper arrested in killing,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 8, 2004.
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