RAP STILL DOGS TIME WARNER

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A controversial ad campaign backing a new rap album may hammer another nail in the rap music coffin at Time Warner.

A music industry source said Time Warner will decide this week whether to distribute "Dogg Food," the debut album from gangsta rap act Tha Dogg Pound. Time Warner owns a 50% stake in Interscope Records, which distributes Tha Dogg Pound label Death Row Records.

Declining to distribute the album, which is expected to ship to stores platinum, could indicate Time Warner is submitting to pressure from rap music critics who have challenged the entertainment conglomerate to sever its ties to Interscope/Death Row.

Privately owned Death Row is now flying in the face of these critics with TV and print ads touting the October release of "Dogg Food," an album said to contain violent and otherwise controversial lyrics. Airing early next month on Fox, a national TV spot supporting the album will show the rap artists breaking out of prison and escaping in a convertible driven by two women, said George Pryce, publicity director at Death Row.

Thirty- and 60-second versions of the spot are already airing in more than a dozen urban markets. Mr. Pryce said he believed Time Warner had no involvement in the ad, created in-house by Death Row. Time Warner executives couldn't be reached for comment.

Death Row said it spent a "minimal" amount on the ad, but TV support for music albums is rare.

Death Row is also running a two-page print ad supporting free speech in October and November issues of Rolling Stone, hip-hop magazine The Source and trade papers such as Billboard. The ad lambasts rap critic C. Delores Tucker, the chairwoman of the National Political Congress of Black Women, who has led the charge against rap and against Time Warner in particular.

Separately, an Oct. 13 pay-per-view rap concert has been rapped by half a dozen of Time Warner Cable carriers nationwide, who refuse to carry it.

The New York concert, called "Free Expression in the '90s," is being produced by Spring Communications, Encino, Calif., and hip-hop magazine Rap Sheet, published by JSA Publishing, Santa Monica. The program was slated to be broadcast to 25 top markets.

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