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Toning down rap

Toning down rap — Tupac Shakur, Biz Markie, and others fall under increased lyric scrutiny from record labels

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Following the Ice-T ”Cop Killer” imbroglio, rap artist 2Pac (Tupac Amaru Shakur) was recently blamed for inspiring the murder of a Houston policeman with a song from his debut album, 2Pacalypse Now (Interscope). Now the double-barreled controversy seems to have cast a pall over major labels. Several artists and groups, including A&M Tragedy, Warner’s Juvenile Committee, and MCA-distributed FU2, among others, have been asked to tone down or omit controversial tracks from forthcoming albums. A source inside Warner says that the label has dropped at least on rap record and in considering not releasing another. Adds a spokesman for MCA: ”Any company would be idiotic to say that they might not think harder than they did a year ago” about the content of their releases.

But the doubts about rap may be due to more than timing or lyrics. In January, Warner recalled Biz Markie’s album I Need a Haircut because of a lawsuit over the ”sampling” of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s 1972 song, ”Alone Again (Naturally).” Now labels are wary of other sampling problems. In fact, says Bob Merlis, vice president and director of publicity at Warner Bros. Records, sampling has delayed the release of ”virtually every” recent Warner rap album — including Nubian M.O.B. and Donald D. albums — until each borrowed snippet in legally cleared. ”It’s not that we don’t take our artists’ word for it,” says Merlis, ”we just want to be ultrasafe.”