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Murder Charge Puts Rapper Under the Spotlight : Pop music: Even though he didn’t pull the trigger, Snoop Doggy Dogg faces a murder charge. Will the controversy help or hurt his debut album?

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It’s been widely predicted that rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg’s debut album next month will explode onto the national pop charts at No. 1--selling as much as 300,000 copies in its first week.

But that was before the rapper was charged with murder by Los Angeles police on Tuesday. Snoop did not pull the trigger but was allegedly driving the Jeep the shots were fired from.

So will the negative publicity of a murder charge derail the album’s likelihood of storming the charts?

“No way,” said Lenny Beer, editor in chief and chart specialist for the trade journal Hits. “Strangely enough, the controversy surrounding this shooting will probably only serve to put Snoop even more in the spotlight.

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“Kids have been waiting for Snoop’s debut for months, long before there was any word of a murder charge. The guy is a major talent and the buzz on his first solo record is gigantic.”

The talk among industry insiders, in fact, is that the controversy could push the album’s first-week sales past the 400,000 mark--larger than the last albums from Michael Jackson and U2.

Executives at the album’s distributor, Time Warner-affiliated Interscope Records, declined to comment Wednesday on the criminal case, but sources at the company confirmed that Snoop’s legal problems will not stand in the way of his album’s release--now targeted for the first week of October.

Currently featured on the cover of the new Rolling Stone and two pop music monthlies, Snoop emerged from nowhere to stardom last year with his guest appearance on “The Chronic,” a 2.5 million-selling album by controversial rapper and producer Dr. Dre.

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The lean 6-foot-4 Long Beach native--credited with a slow, funky and laid-back delivery that distinguishes his work from the volatile aggressive style of other vocalists in the gangsta rap genre--is being touted in hip-hop circles as the hottest rapper in the nation.

After presenting an award on the MTV Video Music Awards last week, Snoop, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, surrendered to Los Angeles Police Department detectives. The 21-year-old rapper was charged with murder Tuesday along with two other men and was released on $1-million bail.

Snoop’s bodyguard McKinley Lee has acknowledged the shooting on Aug. 25 in the Palms area of West Los Angeles, but claimed he fired his weapon in self-defense.

Snoop’s arraignment has been postponed until Oct. 1, when he is expected to enter a plea in West Los Angeles Municipal Court to one count of murder, including a special allegation of use of a firearm.

The charges didn’t stop Snoop from performing Tuesday for about 5,500 mostly teen-age fans in Rochester, New York, on the first date of Dr. Dre’s much-hyped but long-delayed hip-hop caravan, which also features sets by Onyx, Boss and Run DMC. The concert plays at the Greek Theatre on Oct. 27 and in San Diego on Oct. 24.

The Rochester concert went off with neither a hint of violence nor a mention of the murder charge.

“Snoop and Dre really put on one hell of a show,” said Sheila Rayam, a Rochester Democratic and Chronicle newspaper reporter who attended the concert. “Like everywhere else in the country, Snoop is the rage out here. Kids are rushing into record stores trying to buy his new album. If he actually gets sent to jail, this record’s going to go through the roof. No doubt about it.”

Not everyone is so enthusiastic.

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While no one in the music industry expects the type of media backlash last year against Time Warner over the controversial lyrics of Ice-T’s “Cop Killer” song, at least one family organization is concerned about Snoop’s sudden rise to fame.

“It’s truly a sad statement about our society that an alleged murderer can end up serving as a role model for our kids,” said Bob DeMoss, youth culture specialist for Focus on the Family, a Colorado Springs-based Christian media watchdog group that monitors sexual, violent and misogynistic entertainment.

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Focus on the Family was one of dozens of parent and police groups that called for Time Warner to recall Ice-T’s album and restrict all records with “cop-killing” references, a request to which the New York media giant eventually succumbed.

Yet, DeMoss said, “Time Warner is continuing to stick its neck out and my hunch is they will ultimately be the big loser in the end. As parents begin to see the type of entertainment that Time Warner inflicts on the family I think that they’re going to find revenues drying up in other areas.”

Executives at Warner Music Group, a subsidiary of Time Warner declined comment.

Witnesses at the scene of the killing told police it occurred during an argument between the victim, Phillip Woldemariam, and a group of men who pulled up in Snoop’s black 1993 Jeep.

Snoop’s attorney David Kenner said Wednesday that over the past three months Woldemariam had assaulted Snoop with a gun, held it to his head, as well as hit him and threatened his life during the recent filming of a video. Woldemariam recently had been released from jail after serving a one-year term for shooting a gun on a school yard, according to court records.

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Kenner said his client will be vindicated.

“This is a clear case of self-defense by a bodyguard hired for the purpose of protecting a person who has achieved some celebrity and notoriety,” he said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Ed Nison of the Hardcore Gang Division said Wednesday, however, that Kenner’s explanation of the events is being disputed by at least one witness who claimed the killing was gang-related. He said that the victim was shot in the back and was apparently unarmed at the time of the shooting.

Snoop Dogg has told journalists that he grew up singing in a Long Beach ghetto church and he played football but at the age of 15 was selling crack and gangbanging with the Crips.

Snoop told Vibe magazine that he spent time in jail for selling cocaine to an undercover cop.

“Young niggas was killing each other and they getting a lot of media hype,” Snoop told Vibe. “Now you’re getting a lot of media hype because there’s a lot of black teens that are doing rap. So, which sounds better to you?”


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