Plus, hip hoppers support indicted activist

By Rob Brunner
Updated April 12, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Babyface illustration: Tim Bower

ABOUT ‘FACE Not since ? & the Mysterians’ 1966 hit ”96 Tears” has punctuation caused such a stir. This time the artist in question is ? — at least that’s the credit on ”There She Goes,” a hard R&B single recently sent to radio and already garnering airplay. So who’s the mystery man? None other than Babyface, who’s attempting a makeover for his first Arista album, due in July. ”We’re [thinking] nobody is going to believe this is Babyface,” says Arista exec Lionel Ridenour. ”His name would make programmers assume, ‘Oh, it’s another ballad. I can wait on that.’ This sets the tone for a reinvention.”

Still, some radio execs think it’s a dubious strategy. Says Jana Sutter, music director of St. Louis top 40 station KSLZ, who remained unaware of the single until Arista coaxed her into spinning it: ”Honestly, if you put the name Babyface on a CD it’s going to get listened to a lot more than a no name.” No question about it.

TINY ‘TOONS When the Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine staged a concert in support of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal in 1999, it prompted a massive outcry. Could a similar controversy be brewing around the case of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly known as Black Panther H. Rap Brown? A benefit for Al-Amin is set for May 12, in L.A., with hip hoppers Mos Def, Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, and Mystic performing. Unlike Abu-Jamal, Al-Amin has not been convicted of any crime (the trial begins in September), having pleaded not guilty to charges he shot and killed an Atlanta sheriff’s deputy on March 16, 2000. ”I really don’t know a lot about the case,” says Jurassic 5 rapper Akil. ”I just know the brother’s character and his legacy, and for me that speaks above the allegations.”

Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, is concerned about but ultimately resigned to such uninformed advocacy. ”If the artists don’t [know] the facts, it’s to a certain extent immaterial. The facts are what are going to find H. Rap Brown guilty or innocent.” Still, facts will likely give way to fiery rhetoric as the concert nears. ”[I’m not worried] if this becomes controversial,” says Akil. ”Just being a hip hop artist is already controversial, so I don’t think that I’m stepping up into nothing that I’m not already in.”