For the first time in 20 years, a single company--Interscope Records and its family of hot young labels--captured the top four positions on the nation's pop chart this week.
With 10 albums in the Top 100 and a parade of potential blockbusters due out before Christmas, Interscope is having its strongest year since the Westwood-based record label's 1991 launch by record producer Jimmy Iovine and film producer Ted Field. Company sources project revenue for 1996 at $250 million.
"It's incredible what Interscope has done in such a short period of time," said Michael Yocco, entertainment analyst at Carmel-based Paul Kagan Associates. "This is one start-up that is truly competing with the majors."
Interscope slaughtered the competition this week with top-selling albums from rock band Bush, rap star Snoop Doggy Dogg, pop act No Doubt and the late rapper Tupac Shakur--acts released by its affiliated Trauma and Death Row labels.
By any accounting, Interscope is a phenomenon in the pop music business. Yet the company or its labels have been snubbed more than once by major record companies.
Time Warner Inc. dumped Interscope last year after a rap lyrics controversy involving Death Row. Interscope resisted Time Warner's demand to yield creative control over Death Row's music, a move that bolstered its image as a free-speech defender in the artistic community and also helped its owners negotiate a more profitable deal with MCA, which purchased half the company in February for $200 million.
Meanwhile, Death Row, whose owner, Marion "Suge" Knight, was sent to prison Tuesday for a probation violation, has since generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and dominated the pop charts several times--including this month.
"For corporations that don't want to tarnish their images by offering product they think might be offensive to some of their shareholders or major investor groups, the market speaks," Yocco said. "What music consumers want to buy are records with cutting-edge content, which is exactly what Interscope has to offer."
Ironically, Walt Disney Co. also rejected Bush's debut album two years ago and bought out the contract of artist manager Rob Kahane, whose $5-million Acme Records pact was deemed unprofitable. After Disney paid Kahane $1 million to leave, he resurfaced with partner Paul Palmer to launch Trauma, a joint venture with Interscope.
Months after joining the Interscope family, Bush's single shot to the top of the alternative chart, with its debut going on to sell more than 4 million copies. Bush's second album, "Razorblade Suitcase," entered the chart Wednesday at No. 1, selling an estimated 293,000 copies during its first week in the stores, according to SoundScan.
"John F. Kennedy said that you're only as important as the people you surround yourself with--and in the music business that holds true times 10," said Kahane, whose company has generated more than $100 million in revenue from Bush and No Doubt records since 1994. "We credit a huge part of our success to Jimmy and Ted, who believed in our vision and just let us do our thing to launch these type of albums."
Once branded as a "gangsta rap" company, Interscope is quickly emerging as a full-service record company with a string of pop hits by such rock and R&B; acts as Marilyn Manson, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails, the Wallflowers and Blackstreet, which has the current No. 1 single in the nation. Interscope's spectacular success has helped push MCA from last to first in the current-album market share race recently.
Current-album market share is a useful measure for determining how tuned in a company is to contemporary consumer tastes. But it is not necessarily a gauge of current or future profitability. Interscope has often been criticized by rivals for spending too much money to acquire acts and to launch joint ventures.
But sources at Interscope say that the company is operating in the black and is expected to post a $25-million profit this year. Sources also said MCA is preparing to purchase the remaining 50% of Interscope and to install Iovine as president of the corporation's music sector.
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Top of the Pops
Interscope Records is the distributor of the top four albums on this week's national pop chart. This is the first time a single company has had the top four in more than two decades and underscores the phenomenal success of the young MCA-owned label group.
Latest- week sales Artist Album (thousands) 1. Bush Razorblade Suitcase 294 2. Snoop Doggy Dog Tha Godfather 205 3. No Doubt Tragic Kingdom 157 4. Tupac Shakur Don Killuminati 154 5. Celine Dion Falling Into You 153 6. Mobb Deep Hell on Earth 143 7. Foxy Brown Ill Na Na 128 8. Space Jam Soundtrack 119 9. Kenny G Moment 107 10. Toni Braxton Secrets 99