Gangsta rappers Delmar "Daz" Arnaud and Ricardo "Kurupt" Brown, better known as Tha Dogg Pound, are on the prowl again.
The Los Angeles duo, who broke into the music business working with their mentors Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg, have been holed up in a recording studio since May. Their highly anticipated debut, "Dogg Food," is scheduled to be released next month on Death Row Records, which is distributed by Interscope--half of which is owned by Time Warner.
The media giant has been at the center of the latest controversy over rap music since May when U.S. Senate Majority leader and presidential candidate Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and other critics launched a crusade to stop Time Warner from selling "violent and sexually degrading" rap music.
Pressure on the conglomerate is certain to escalate next month when Daz and Kurupt release their record, rife with potentially offensive lyrics, that is expected to enter the national pop chart at No. 1. Sources say Time Warner is so nervous about the album that the firm asked representatives for the rap duo to postpone its release.
Daz and Kurupt not only turned down the request, last week the headstrong rappers started filming a TV ad to tout the project. The 30-second spot--planned for broadcast during prime time early next month on the Fox TV network--is an uncommon practice in pop music promotion. The ad depicts a prison revolt in which the rap duo transform into pit bulls, attack a guard and drive off in a getaway car full of women.
"You know what I have to say to your boy Bob Dole and all those other fools who are running their mouths off?" said Daz, the 22-year-old cousin of Snoop Doggy Dogg, during a break from filming at a sound stage in Culver City. "I say, 'You handle your business, Bob, and we'll handle ours. Ain't no way you can stop us. Our record is on its way, and whether you like it or not, it's going to be huge.' "
Echoing his partner's defiant stance, Kurupt scoffed at the notion that Tha Dogg Pound should alter its music to pacify the corporation or its political foes.
"Our music is about as raw and uncut as it gets," said Kurupt, also 22, tugging at a bar on the cellblock set. "Anybody who got upset in the past over so-called gangsta rap is going to get real hot about the stuff we're about to put out. We believe in free speech, man, and we ain't holding nothing back."
A representative for Time Warner said Monday that the company had no knowledge of the TV ad, which is being financed by Death Row Records. Time Warner also denied that its officials asked to postpone release of Tha Dogg Pound album.
If Time Warner does balk at releasing the record, it could be considered a breach of its contract with Interscope, the Westwood-based record label that distributes music by Death Row, the nation's most lucrative rap firm.
Headed by Marion (Suge) Knight and Andre (Dr. Dre) Young, Death Row has built its reputation on the phenomenal success of Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre. The label has sold more than $100 million in music and merchandise since 1992 to rap fans around the world.
Warner Music Group Chairman Michael Fuchs has said the company has yet to decide how it will resolve questions about its rap music. Time Warner also distributes rap through such labels as Tommy Boy and Elektra Entertainment.
But as pressure mounts, speculation is swarming throughout the media company that Time Warner will soon move to sever ties with Interscope, in which it has invested an estimated $120 million since 1990 and retains an option to acquire the remaining 50% in two years.
Although selling Interscope might silence critics in the short run, it could pose long-term problems for Time Warner's reputation with artists. Bickering over power at the company has already forced the costly exit of four highly regarded music executives and damaged the image of Warner Music as a refuge for independent, creative thought.
Despite the cloud hanging over their record label's future, Daz and Kurupt wrapped up shooting on the TV ad and spent the weekend filming a video with R&B; singer Michel'le for their first single, "Let's Play House," which is set to hit the airwaves by August.
"These politicians can holler all they want to get their votes, but it means nothing to us or the people who love and buy our music," Kurupt said. "What these people don't understand is that what we do is just a form of poetry. We spend every minute we're awake trying to create music that is so bumpin' and has so much flavor that it just shocks you. That's what we live for."
Unlike Snoop Doggy Dogg and other rap stars, Daz and Kurupt have avoided run-ins with the law.
Kurupt, a Philadelphia native, is considered among aficionados as one of the nation's premier rappers. He linked up in 1990 with Daz, a deejay and producer from Long Beach, after impressing Snoop Doggy Dogg during a rap contest at the Roxy.
The duo, who cite Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder as their musical heroes, entered the inner circle of their other idol, Dr. Dre, following an introduction from the esteemed rap producer's cousin Warren G.
Daz's production skills and Kurupt's lyrical prowess played a prominent role in the success of Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" and Snoop's "Doggystyle." But now, the pair are ready to break out on their own.
"Me and Kurupt ain't the type of guys out running the streets all the time--we're buried at work in the studio making songs," said Daz, flashing a disarming smile. "We come from decent church-going families and while my mama may not agree exactly with what I'm doing, she knows I give thanks to God every day for the music with which my life has been blessed."
But rap critics remain unimpressed.
"It's clear that the comments of these alleged entertainers today are motivated solely by a desire to hype record sales," said Nelson Warfield, press secretary for Dole's presidential campaign. "Maybe this particular group is getting nervous that its trash is not going to sell. We see it as a cheap publicity stunt."
Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin continues to be bombarded with complaints from Dole and other gangsta rap opponents, including U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Liebermann (D-Conn.); William J. Bennett, the nation's former drug czar, and C. DeLores Tucker, chair of the National Political Congress of Black Women.
The list of detractors also includes Time Warner board member Henry Luce III and New York State Comptroller Carl McCall, trustee of a huge pension fund that holds Time Warner stock, each who has recently asked management to resolve the problem.
"I've got one thing to say to the people who keep blaming everything on music," Kurupt said. "If you succeeded in canceling our album tomorrow, would it stop all the murders and the rapes and crime and corruption? What do they think caused all the social problems in this country before rap was invented?"