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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
12/3/2003 1:28:17 PM

Tags and topics realted to this article include Ja Rule and Irv Gotti.

After two decades of survival and success in the cutthroat music business, the world's pre-eminent white rap mogul found himself trapped in a place most horrific: A witness stand. In a federal courthouse. Under oath.

"It's the nastiest, most negative place I've been in a very long time," said Lyor Cohen, head of the Island Def Jam Music Group, testifying in an ugly legal tussle over the platinum-selling rapper Ja Rule.

It only turned nastier and more negative for the 43-year-old music executive. He lost the lawsuit. The judge implied he was "morally reprehensible." And the jury found him personally liable for millions in punitive damages.

Trial evidence also revealed that Island Def Jam owned 50 percent of Ja Rule's record label, Murder Inc. Federal prosecutors are investigating Murder Inc. for alleged money laundering, raising questions about whether IDJ and its publicly owned parent companies, the Universal Music Group and Vivendi, are indirectly in business with one of New York's most infamous drug dealers.

The trial offered a rare public glimpse into music business ugliness ordinarily obscured by platinum albums and glitzy videos. And the verdict was the first misstep for Cohen after a mercurial 20-year rise through the music business.

"Lyor's somebody who's really paid his dues," says music business veteran Bill Adler, who's known Cohen since those early days. "He's really gone from success to success."

Until now.

Still, Cohen remains head of IDJ — his contract expires in early 2004 — as lawyers appeal the judgment. Cohen's boss, Universal Music Group head Doug Morris, has said that the verdict "should in no way detract from the incredible accomplishments of Lyor at Island Def Jam."

It probably won't, predicted Bob Lefsetz, publisher of the music industry bulletin The Lefsetz Letter. And that speaks volumes about the music industry.

"This case will have no effect on the industry whatsoever," Lefsetz says. "This case will be an anomaly put under the rug. It (epitomizes) the history of the music business."


It was 1994 when Steve Gottlieb, founder of independent label TVT Records, signed an ambitious Queens DJ, Irving Lorenzo, as a producer/talent scout. "DJ Irv" quickly produced, signing Cash Money Click, a three-man crew featuring a Queens rapper named Ja Rule.

Lorenzo's circle of Queens friends included another, more menacing acquaintance: drug kingpin Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff, who would later serve 10 years in prison for leading a murderous crack-dealing operation that did $200,000 a day in business.

The Cash Money Click album was scrapped when a member was jailed. In 1996, Lorenzo — now calling himself "Irv Gotti," after the late Gambino family boss — jumped to join Cohen at Def Jam. Ja Rule went with him.

A year later, Cohen and Gotti launched Murder Inc. According to court papers, investigators believe McGriff provided Gotti with the seed money for his end of the deal.

"Gotti is the public face of Murder Inc.," an informant was quoted as saying in an affidavit filed earlier this year. "McGriff is the true owner of the company."

With Gotti producing the tracks, Ja Rule proceeded to sell more than 10 million copies of his first three albums, making himself and Gotti magazine coverboys and MTV staples.

That's when Gottlieb began thinking about releasing the old Cash Money Click recordings, along with new material from the group. Since Ja Rule was under contract to Island Def Jam, Gottlieb initiated talks with Cohen to secure permission.

"Everything had been very cordial," Gottlieb recalled. "I would see Lyor from time to time over the course of a year. I even had meetings with Doug Morris about it."

Gottlieb says he spent $1 million on production and promotion for the album. But in August 2002, nearly a year after Gottlieb believed a deal w

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