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Rap Wars; Interview With Reverend Al Sharpton; '90-Second Pop'

Aired March 9, 2005 - 07:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. It's just about half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING.
In just a few minutes, a new battle plan in the rap wars. The Reverend Al Sharpton is our guest. He's got a new hard-line proposal to make artists quit using violence to sell records. Is it going to work? That's ahead.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Also, "90-Second Pop" a bit later. The poppers are talking international terrorism, believe it or not. There's this major Hollywood star saying he may have been the target of an al Qaeda plot. And he is not even American. Intriguing. We'll get to it a bit later this half-hour.

O'BRIEN: Let's get to the headlines first, though. Carol Costello in this morning.

Hello. Good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. That was intriguing.

"Now in the News." Good morning, everyone.

There is more violence to report from Iraq this morning. Police say insurgents drove a garbage truck, laden with explosives into central Baghdad. At least two were killed, 22 others wounded. And just hours later, another suicide bombing near a joint U.S. and Iraqi military checkpoint near Ramadi. And a gruesome discovery in the western part of that country. Police there say they found at least 26 bodies shot execution-style in the village of Rumana. Marines are looking into that incident.

Crowds are gathering in Syria's capital city of Damascus this hour. It's a show of support for the Syrian president. President Bush and other word leaders are demanding Syria pull all troops out of Lebanon. Today's protest follows a mass pro-Syria rally in Beirut, Lebanon, organized by the Muslim militant group, Hezbollah.

In California, the brother of Michael Jackson's accuser is expected to be back on the stand today. The boy had testified he saw Jackson grope his brother. But under cross-examination, the boy admitted he had lied in a deposition. Jackson's lawyer also pointed out some inconsistencies in the boy's testimony. The jury in the trial could hear from Jackson's accuser very soon now.

And it's cold outside. The Northeast is digging out from a late winter storm this morning. At least eight inches of snow in some parts, gusty winds and frigid temperatures knocked out power to thousands of homes. The weather is wreaking havoc. Forgive that. I know that's a cliche, but it is wreaking havoc this morning on the roadways and causing major delays for air travelers. And, Soledad, just in case you're wondering, it's 16 degrees here in the city, but it feels like zero.

O'BRIEN: I was going to say, it feels like 3, because it is cold outside. All right, Carol, thanks.

Well, he is known as a straight shooter. Now, the Reverend Al Sharpton is taking direct aim at rap music, the FCC and also major advertisers. In just a moment, we're going to talk with the former presidential candidate about his new campaign, one that he hopes will prevent artists from cashing in on a culture of violence.


O'BRIEN (voice over): As hip-hop has grown into a multibillion- dollar industry, it's become famous for feuds. The latest example: the beef between rapper 50 Cent and his protege, The Game, which led to a shooting last month outside a New York City radio station.

Trash talk in the rap world is often more about selling records than personal feelings. Artists have been criticized for using violence to generate publicity and for romanticizing urban bloodshed.

Violent rap lyrics became all too real in the 1990s when two legendary artists and bitter rivals were gunned down in their prime, victims of an East Coast/West Coast rap war. Tupac Shakur was killed in 1996 in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. Notorious BIG was murdered the following year in Los Angeles. He released two prophetically titled albums, "Ready To Die" and the post-humus follow- up "Life After Death."

But violence hasn't diminished the public's appetite for hip-hop. And with the bridge to mainstream music, rap artists like Eminem, Jay- Z and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs have eclipsed many rock and pop performers as the country's most popular and best-selling stars.

But the prospect of 50 Cent capitalizing on the controversy surrounding his internal feud with The Game led the Reverend Al Sharpton to call for a 90-day ban on radio and TV airplay for any artist using violence to settle a score or hype a record.


Reverend Al Sharpton joins us this morning.

Nice to see you.


O'BRIEN: Aren't you concerned, though, that by raising awareness about this and talking about this, to a large degree you're putting money in the pocket of the people that you're trying to ban in the first place?

SHARPTON: Well, I think that that's a concern. But we've now seen consistent acts that's become a pattern. And I think to remain silent now is to really be a betrayal of our own young people.

I'm not talking about lyrics. I'm not talking about content. I'm talking about when an artist engages in violence that the FCC and advertising and radio stations have the right, as we do in sports, to say wait a minute, you cannot conduct yourself in that way, and say that you're going to use federally-regulated airwaves to promote your albums if you are, in fact, engaging in violence. Not singing about it, not rapping about it, but do a violent act.

O'BRIEN: Russell Simmons, who I know is a friend of yours, obviously the music producer, had this to say. He thinks in some ways you're pointing the wrong direction. Let's listen.


RUSSELL SIMMONS, RAP MOGUL: If a violent rap artist has some words that people don't like in middle America, we have to attack the root. That violence that 50 Cent or The Game is engaging in today is the same violence that's happening in Brooklyn and Queens and all over America today as well.


O'BRIEN: He says essentially that's their roots. This is what they're coming from.

SHARPTON: And if they're going to rap about it and sing about it, they have the First Amendment right. But if they do it, they don't have the right then to expect the airwaves to say that it's conduct that we're going to promote.

We do this to any basketball player, any baseball player. If they engage in violence, they're not in the next game. If you and Bill had a shootout outside last night, you would not be on the air this morning.

This is the only part of the entertainment industry, there's no rules. There's no regulation. And what I'm saying is Russell is right. They have the right to talk about the violence they come from. I come from that violence, but I do not have the right to go out and engage in violence, and then ask the federal airwaves to allow me to continue in my career like it's nothing.

Are we saying these kids are nothing? We saw the FCC outrage over Janet Jackson's flashing at the Super Bowl. We're not going to be outraged about actual shootings in front of radio stations?

O'BRIEN: What's the response been from the FCC?

SHARPTON: We're going to meet with them. We're going to meet with advertisers. We want to know why dollars that come out of our communities are being used to uphold those that engage in violence. Again now, I'm not talking about content. I'm talking about actual acts of violence. Are we condoning them by not putting a standard in the business?

O'BRIEN: Do you then see a voluntary imposition of these standards from the entertainment industry? Do you think that's realistic?

SHARPTON: It's been done in sports every day. We do it in every form of sports. We do it in Hollywood. There's a moral clause in contracts. There's one in your contract.

O'BRIEN: But you don't -- but in my contract, it doesn't -- I'm not better off if I engage in violence. When you're talking about rappers, it actually builds their credibility. It makes them more popular. For most people, that's not the case. A shootout doesn't help their career. For rappers, it actually helps their career and the industry, frankly.

SHARPTON: It may help because it's permitted. It would not help if it is not permitted, because if stockholders of advertisers say wait a minute, we didn't realize this is what we're allowing to happen, it would not help their career, which is exactly my point.

If you take the profit out of it, it would not help their careers. If a guy gets into an argument and goes for his gun and thinks, wait a minute, I could lose my airplay, it might make that gun stay in the holster. And that is what I'm saying.

We need to stop helping them make their careers by acting in a violent way. We need to say, say what you want, do what you want. I think some of the music is great. I'm a fan of some of the music. Some I think is misogynist. But that's not the point. The point is we've got to give them an incentive to say no matter what my rap is, I don't have the right nor is it going to be lucrative to me to engage in that activity personally.

O'BRIEN: Well, we will see if this idea flies. The Reverend Al Sharpton, nice to see you, as always.

SHARPTON: We'll try. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Thanks -- Bill.

HEMMER: Soledad, some incredible pictures to show you of a very close call in Austin, Texas. Two people almost losing their lives in this boating accident. A man swept through a dam on Lake Austin when the current pulled his boat toward an open floodgate. His companion, a woman, you will see right there in the boat, too, got out just in the nick of time when workers threw her a rope.

The man is Dirk Hoekstra. He was plunged 60 to 100 feet into the bottom of the lake. He survived a mile downriver. Hoekstra shares his remarkable story a bit later this morning here on AMERICAN MORNING.

And, Chad, needless to say, he knows he is lucky to be alive after that. Wow!

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, no kidding. There was an awful lot of rain in the Hill Country over there a couple of days ago, Bill, to the west of Austin, the west of San Antonio, all the way from Round Rock and even some severe weather near Georgetown. That obviously got some of the water up, and obviously you see what happens if you get too close to those dams.


O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, one airline raises the stakes in the cutthroat airline business. We're talking round trip fares as low as 100 bucks. Andy is "Minding Your Business" just ahead.

HEMMER: Also, "The Contender" now in the reality ring. Was it a knockout success its first night this week? Did you watch? We'll check in with our 90-second poppers a bit later this half-hour on AMERICAN MORNING."


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Let's get right to Jack with the "Question of the Day."


The Army is having recruiting problems, particularly among blacks and women. In 2000, African-Americans made up 23 and a half percent of Army recruits. Today, it's less than 14 percent. Similarly, women as recruits declined from 22 percent to 17 percent during the same period.

It's tough to tell whether the decline is because of opposition to the wars in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Or perhaps the economy is improving, thus providing better job opportunities at home. But either way, it is a problem for Uncle Sam.

The question we're asking is: How should the Army go about attracting more minorities and women?

Mike in Columbia, South Carolina: "Drop 'the don't ask, don't tell' policy, and they can load up with all of the recruits they want."

Jacqueline in Ohio: "They could start with our commander-in- chief getting us out of unnecessary wars. There is nothing like the prospect of dying to make you want to go out and join the Army."

Doug in New Jersey: "More minorities and women would consider enlistment if war was put in its proper place as the last resort."

Sandy in South Carolina: "My advice would be to stop making commercials that sound as though they're about to embark on a vacation of a lifetime and pay them what they are worth, which is a hell of a lot more than they get now." And Lee in Ohio writes: "To improve recruitment, women should need to register for the draft and incentives should be devised to allow them to have children without sacrificing a military career."

O'BRIEN: Lots of good suggestions. That's sort of a nugget of...

CAFFERTY: We'll get this thing solved by 10:00.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Higher pay is one key issue, right?

O'BRIEN: Well, I also think a lot of women and children, I mean, all those stories that we did as people were deploying.


O'BRIEN: You know, they had to leave their kids behind.

SERWER: Right.

O'BRIEN: I mean, there's got to be something to work out. Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You're most welcome.

HEMMER: Here's Andy over here, talking about Delta making some more in-flight changes for the comforts. Boy, we've heard that before. And business travelers in the Northeast may soon get a low- cost alternative. Back to Drew now.

Good morning.

SERWER: Good morning, Bill.

An old-line carrier is cutting back and a new airline is expanding. How often have we seen this?

First, Delta Airlines is announcing it's going to stop selling food. Not enough people buying it. Can you imagine, chateau Delta? People are just not paying hard-earned coin for their fare.

Now let's review. First of all, they used to give away meals. Then they started selling meals. And now, they're just going to be giving away crackers, snacks, granola.

HEMMER: Pack a lunch, huh?

SERWER: Yes. The other thing Delta is doing -- and we've about this as well -- they're getting rid of the pillows, joining American Airlines and Northwest. You know, I like to snuggle up. Some people talk about the germies (ph) and all that. They say that people are bringing their own pillows. I've any never seen that before. I think they mean those inflatable neck things maybe.

HEMMER: They would save 300 grand a year, is that right, for the airlines?

SERWER: Well, that was another one, yes, the pillow thing.

CAFFERTY: Who do you like to snuggle up with?

SERWER: Well, no, just my pillow, Jack. Not a stranger.

O'BRIEN: Who are you flying with?

SERWER: No. We talked about that yesterday.

CAFFERTY: Would you give us a copy of your future itineraries here just among us people?

SERWER: You're not going on the same flight.

O'BRIEN: I'll go.

SERWER: All right, thank you, Soledad. All right, I know who my friend is here.

JetBlue, meanwhile, is saying that it's going to probably get into the shuttle business, competing against Delta and US Air for those lucrative Boston to New York and New York to D.C. flights. Round trip between the two cities, 100 bucks. That is half of what the other shuttles charge, and it's about half of what Amtrak charges. They say they can make money doing it. It's a lower cost airline.

HEMMER: And you can watch TV on JetBlue.

SERWER: Oh, yes, with a leather seat and a pillow.

HEMMER: And a pillow.

O'BRIEN: Do they feed you on JetBlue?

SERWER: Yes, sometimes.

O'BRIEN: Interesting.

HEMMER: Thanks, Andy.


HEMMER: Looking for the next P. Diddy? 50 Cent has a new album. I love saying that. And this is just the beginning of his ever- growing empire. We'll get to that in a moment here on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Do we even like that song?


HEMMER: Marginal. Hey, it's Wednesday, "90-Second Pop." Here are the pop players. Andy Borowitz is back with us, the ambassador of humor at I live that. Amy Barnett is back today from "Teen People."

Amy, nice to see you.

Thank you.

HEMMER: And the prince of urban populism, Toure.

TOURE: Were you and Soledad really fighting outside?

HEMMER: We had this scum battle. You heard the Reverend Sharpton mention that, yes.

TOURE: I heard the Reverend Sharpton talk about that.

HEMMER: Yes, we kind of sneaked in today.

Listen, let's talk about "The Contender." It premiered on Monday night on NBC. Not a whole lot of people watched it. Is it hitting the mat as opposed to getting off and running?

TOURE: You know, I have loved so many of NBC's reality shows. They have had a history of doing smart ones. This one, I can't watch it. I tried to watch it. And my eyeballs were like repelled from the screen. I don't know what happened.

AMY BARNETT, "TEEN PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: And it's really sad. This was to be Sylvester Stallone's big comeback, you know.

HEMMER: And Sugar Ray Leonard is involved, too.

BARNETT: But, I mean, really for Sly, this could have been so huge. I mean, it could have been the show. It could have been the magazine, which looks like midlife crisis monthly. I think he should go back to opening Planet Hollywoods, like, in Madagascar. I mean, there has got to be a need there.

BOROWITZ: I think this show needs a twist. Like maybe the winner on "The Contender" could get to beat up the winner on "American Idol." That I would pay to see.

HEMMER: You know, I think you should be a producer on the show. A lot of people did not watch this on Monday night. It's got, what, 14 more shows to go. But I think there's an underlying drama in this. One of the players commits suicide after the series is shot. Does that add to the plot in this show?

TOURE: I don't know. I mean, every week you've got two guys fighting each other, which is better perhaps than "The Apprentice," where they're just doing, you know, happy tasks. So you want to see that fight. But, I mean, you know, I don't know if this is even going to make it to the end at this rate.

HEMMER: Well, it's not going to make it anymore for here, because we're on to our next topic. TOURE: Do you think...

HEMMER: Go ahead.

TOURE: Do you think the Brigitte Nielsen's show will get better ratings than Sly's show? That would be embarrassing.

BARRETT: I think Jackie Stallone versus Brigitte Nielsen. There we go.

HEMMER: I like it. Let's talk about 50 Cent and The Game. F-I- D-D-Y.

BOROWITZ: You get (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for pronouncing that properly.

HEMMER: Thank you very much. He's worth more than 50 Cent now. You've got this rap war under way essentially. And Al Sharpton was just talking about it a few moments ago here about what he would like to see imposed if you're involved in violence, about cracking down on record sales, et cetera. Where is this argument going?

BARRETT: I just don't think that you can really say to urban radio stations that they need to ban the violent rappers. I mean, I'm not saying that violence, we should be proponents of urban violence. At the same time, beef between rappers is a big part of what you urban culture is about. You know, you had the sort of biggie Tupac beef. You had Nas and Jay-Z. I mean, I just don't know if this is going to go anywhere.

Plus, I hear there's going to be a little bit of a (UNINTELLIGIBLE), if you will.


BARRETT: And I think that's the word that was used by G-Unit to describe, you know, what's going on today. I think that The Game and 50 are meeting up somewhere, you know, Harlem Prior (ph) and working it out.

TOURE: I mean, you can't say because you're a recording artist you can't protect yourself. Right? If somebody attacks you, you can't do anything because you're on the air. So that's kind of ridiculous.

But the 50/Game thing is now over. I think what was at the heart of it is that 50 was jealous that he didn't get to use Dr. Dre as much as he wanted on his albums, because Dre was working with The Game last year getting his album together. Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, the head of Interscope, and Eminem called 50 Cent and they said enough. You are embarrassing the label. Stop. So, 50 Cent said OK.

HEMMER: Meanwhile...

BOROWITZ: If there's a slot open in the G-Unit, I am available. I don't work Jewish holidays. Other than that I'm available. TOURE: But, see, 50 needs to worry less about The Game...

HEMMER: Fiddy (ph).

BOROWITZ: Fiddy (ph).

TOURE: ... and more about the studio, because the album sucks, Bill.

BARRETT: It doesn't matter. It's going to sell.

HEMMER: It sold very well.

BOROWITZ: There goes your slot in the G-Unit, man.

HEMMER: Let's get to the a-unit over here. Russell Crowe apparently did this interview with "GQ" magazine. Apparently he says the FBI approached him and said, you, my friend, are a target of international terrorism.


HEMMER: What's the story?

BOROWITZ: I should preface this by saying I am not making this up. But in the current issue of "GQ," Russell Crowe said that he was a target of al Qaeda. The reason being that because he is an icon, if you take out Russell Crowe, you will destabilize the United States. I just want to say this: Russell Crowe is out of his beautiful mind. He really is. I mean...

TOURE: This is my point. Like, actors are our royalty. I mean, if they took out Tom Hanks, that would be way worse than if they took out, like, Dick Cheney.

BOROWITZ: "Gladiator" was pretty good. He is not the Brooklyn Bridge, right?

BARRETT: He's Australian. He's not even American.

HEMMER: That's right. Give al Qaeda a map.

BARRETT: Plus, I think he's making worse enemies now than al Qaeda, honestly. I mean, have you heard that he's been criticizing Harrison Ford and...


TOURE: That's worse than al Qaeda?

BARRETT: Well, you know, wait, wait, wait, wait.

BOROWITZ: Well, you know, that al Qaeda...

BARRETT: He criticized Robert De Niro -- hold on a second -- and George Clooney for doing advertisements in foreign countries and selling out.


BARRETT: I think that he's making -- it's not like he's criticizing, you know, David Spade, carrot top and...

BOROWITZ: I'm not scared of George Clooney.

HEMMER: Maybe his own black list. Thanks. Good to have you guys here, Toure, Amy and Andy. It's like our gang, Amy and Andy. See you later, OK?

Here's Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, Bill Clinton prepares for another surgery just six months after his quadruple bypass. Dr. Gupta is back with details of this rare procedure. He tells us about the recovery ahead. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


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