VIOLENCE BEGETS CALL FOR SUMMIT : RAP MUSIC DEATHS FUEL INDUSTRY'S WORRIES.
The president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is calling for a ``rap summit'' to address the violence that threatens to destroy the hard-core hip-hop community.
``We're going to try to get some of the industry leaders together behind closed doors to talk about not only the violence but where hip-hop is going,'' said NARAS President Michael Greene. ``It's safe to say that within the next couple of months we'll be announcing something.''
Greene's comments follow Tuesday's release of slain rapper Notorious B.I.G.'s posthumous album, ominously titled `` 'Til Death Do Us Part . . . Life After Death.''
B.I.G., whose real name was Christopher Wallace, was gunned down in the Miracle Mile district of Los Angeles on March 9, following his appearance on the Soul Train Music Awards. Tupac Shakur was killed in Las Vegas on Sept. 7 while riding in a car driven by Marion ``Suge'' Knight, CEO of Death Row Records.
Greene said he has talked to producer Quincy Jones and Keith Clinksdale, CEO of Jones' hip-hop magazine, Vibe, about putting together a meeting of rap industry representatives to address the future of the genre.
Some of the issues Greene hopes to hit: establishing boundaries for lyrical content; creating mentoring programs in which veterans of the music industry tutor young entrepreneurs; and investing record industry profits in programs that aid urban areas.
The summit will be closed to the press and public, as was an event held at NARAS' Santa Monica headquarters in December 1995 to discuss drug abuse within the rock community. That meeting drew 400 record executives, managers, artists, agents, promoters and attorneys. It was called by Greene after the heroin-related deaths of Blind Melon singer Shannon Hoon and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain.
``We're giving the industry an opportunity outside the limelight to honestly talk about the situation,'' said Greene.
Clinksdale, who has studied rap for years as president of Vibe and former editor of Urban Profile, said most rap stars lack the maturity to handle sudden wealth and fame. Shakur was 25; B.I.G. was 24.
Also, ``gangsta'' rappers are reluctant to cut the ties to their often trouble-plagued roots, fearing a loss of street credibility, Clinksdale said.
``What exists in hip-hop is a perverse marketing dynamic where they are forced to live the life they sing about,'' he said. ``If Robert DeNiro does a movie where he's a crazed lunatic, you don't expect him to be one in real life.''
A meeting on rap issues could be expected to draw mixed reactions from the music industry, as did Greene's drug summit. That gathering was publicly lauded by anti-drug abuse factions and some artists, including members of Aerosmith. But it was privately criticized by record company executives who do not believe they are responsible for reining in the personal lifestyles of artists.
``A lot of people are still very angry at me for calling attention to (drug abuse), and they are mad at me for saying that we, as an industry, needed to address it,'' Greene says.
Greene said talks of toning down lyrics undoubtedly will lead to cries of censorship. He's prepared to argue that lyrics can paint an arresting picture of inner-city life without promoting violence.
``The reason rap music is so important is that it documents the condition of a whole strata of our population,'' he said. ``But if you have people advocating violence and drug abuse and degrading women, that's a different issue.
``The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we've gone from chronicling the condition to making the condition worse. We would like to see that explored in a closed-door setting without the press.''
Clinksdale said he is joining with Greene because the future of hip-hop is uncertain unless the violence stops.
``I definitely think the music industry has a responsibility to stop this,'' he said. ``But the power to do that rests in the hands of the artists and the producers. The people that created (gangsta rap) hold the keys to power.
``To simply put it on a label is unfair. To put it on the artist is unfair. All the industry is going to have to work together toward turning things around.''
B.I.G.'s album, released by New York-based Bad Boy/Arista, was expected to top rap music charts when sales figures are released next week. The Tower Records location on Sunset Boulevard sold 150 copies of the album in a sales promotion that began at midnight.
``It's just the morbid curiosity of having his last album,'' said store employee Laurie Miller.