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Combs to Headline Rare Rap Tour

TIMES STAFF WRITER

New York rapper Sean “Puffy” Combs, who this year made the unprecedented leap from record company CEO to best-selling artist, hopes to continue his winning streak by making rap music a more viable force in the concert business.

Though rap has been a dominant force on the pop sales charts in the ‘90s, its success has not translated into big concert ticket sales.

Combs--who records under the name Puff Daddy and whose debut album, “No Way Out,” has sold nearly 2.2 million copies since its midsummer release--hopes to reverse the trend by headlining a six-week tour that kicks off Nov. 9 in Auburn Hills, Mich., and reaches the Pond of Anaheim on Dec. 7.

The multi-act bill also includes Busta Rhymes, Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim, Usher, 112, Mase, Lil’ Cease, the Lox, Changing Faces, Jay-Z and Kid Capri.

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But Puff Daddy is clearly the main attraction on the tour, which was booked by ICM.

“On the face of it, Puff Daddy has had a huge record and is very well known,” says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a trade publication that focuses on the concert business. “But even though I suspect that this tour is going to do OK, it won’t be the same as if it was a rock act that had an album that was that big. Why that is, you can only guess.”

The low profile of black music on the concert scene is underscored by Pollstar’s list of the Top 50 U.S. tours of last year. Led by KISS and Garth Brooks, the 50 acts grossed nearly $750 million, but only two of the tours--R. Kelly and the multi-act Smokin’ Groves--were tied primarily to R&B; or hip-hop. Together, they grossed only about $15 million.

The imbalance is even more striking when sales figures for R&B;/hip-hop are compared to other genres in the U.S. record market. R&B; and rap accounted for 21% of sales in 1996, or about $2.6 billion of the $12.5-billion industry, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America.

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This year’s Smokin’ Groves tour averaged fewer than 6,500 fans per show in venues that could hold twice that many. Rap act Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, which has released two chart-topping albums in the last three years, is headlining a tour this fall with Mary J. Blige and Ginuwine that has drawn less than 50% of capacity in some markets--though it fell only about 1,500 tickets short of a sellout last Saturday at the 14,500-seat Forum.

“I don’t have an explanation for it,” Bongiovanni says. “It’s certainly not because there are so many tours competing for that same audience segment. It’s not like having three country tours playing the same market in the same time period and cannibalizing each other. That’s not the case with these rap and hip-hop shows. There’s nobody else out there.”


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