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Hip-Hop News: Rap Artist Are Trying To Be More Media Friendly
In the past rappers like Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube have cleaned up their acts when their careers were flagging. But today's rappers, tired of being viewed as one-dimensional gangstas and aware that more palatable images are ultimately better for business, are making a conscious effort to clean up their acts while still on top.
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Posted by Robert
Rap News Network
1/11/2004 11:38:31 PM

Tags and topics realted to this article include 50 Cent, Ja Rule, P. Diddy, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Eminem, David Banner, Nelly and Jay-Z.

P. Diddy donates $2 million for the children of New York City. Missy Elliott, on her single "Wake Up," raps: "If you don't got a gun, it's all right. If you're makin' legal money, it's all right." Murder Inc., the hip-hop label, decides to drop "murder" from its name. And 50 Cent saves his raunchier, more belligerent rhymes for mixtapes — sold on street corners and in specialty stores — releasing more restrained, radio-friendly singles for mass consumption.

In the past rappers like Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube have cleaned up their acts when their careers were flagging. But today's rappers, tired of being viewed as one-dimensional gangstas and aware that more palatable images are ultimately better for business, are making a conscious effort to clean up their acts while still on top.

"It's not only about satisfying your boys in the hood anymore," said Nelson George, author of "Hip Hop America" (Viking). "Now the mainstream matters as much if not more than they do."

It has been a long time since hip-hop was thought of as fringe music strictly for urban audiences. "Get Rich or Die Tryin' " by 50 Cent was the top-selling album in the country last year, besting Norah Jones's "Come Away With Me." Hip-hop dominated the nominations for next month's Grammy awards.

Sharing top honors with six nominations each were Jay-Z, OutKast and Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes, while Ms. Elliott, Eminem and 50 Cent each earned five. Three of the five acts in the record-of-the-year category are hip-hop singles. With this increased visibility comes new challenges. An executive at Arista, OutKast's label, said: "In the beginning, that rough shoot-'em-up stuff was part of the marketing of hip-hop. Now a lot of people consider it a hindrance. Wal-Mart won't stock your album if you're too gangster."

Murder Inc. (now simply called The Inc.) is not the first label to rechristen itself. Death Row, the West Coast outfit that made gangster rap a multimillion-selling commodity throughout the early- to mid-1990's, changed its name to Tha Row after the fortunes of the company had reversed, with many of the label's biggest acts, including Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, defecting.

For Murder Inc. the decision to change its name was a pre-emptive strike of sorts. With federal investigators looking into whether the label was started with drug money, and the label's flagship artist, Ja Rule, in a volatile feud with 50 Cent, a name like Murder Inc. was proving to be more trouble than it was worth for a label whose biggest artists, Ja Rule and the R&B singer Ashanti, are as Top 40 as it gets.

"Ja Rule is probably being purchased more in a mall in Virginia than on 125th Street," Mr. George, the author, said. Nevertheless Irv Gotti, the founder of Murder Inc., argued that investigators and potential business clients were having trouble seeing past his company's former name.

"Ashanti is a wholesome girl from Glen Cove who in two years has sold seven million worldwide," he said. "But Revlon is like, `I don't know if I want to be in business with an artist signed to Murder Inc.' "

Like sports stars before them, rappers are now hawking everything from soft drinks to deodorant and appearing in Old Navy and AOL ads. But more than just endorsement deals are at stake. Some rappers — like P. Diddy (who owns a record label, restaurant chain and clothing line), and Jay-Z (who owns a record label, clothing line, sneaker line, vodka company and sports bar) — are veritable cottage industries.

"They're brand managers now, and they have to think about how their actions are affecting the brand," said Erik Parker, music editor of Vibe magazine.

After years of accusing the media of misrepresentation, today's rappers and others in the business are making a concerted effort to put their spin on stories, deciding what about their lives will become news, using mainstream news

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