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Rap crackdown in Las Vegas is sour note for singers

By The Associated Press
04.03.06

Among the many revelers who showed up at a recent private party held by Molson Coors Brewing Co. at Las Vegas's Rio hotel, one person was notably absent: rapper Snoop Dogg, who had been billed as the evening's main entertainment.

The reason: The Rio's parent company, Harrah's Entertainment Inc., asked Coors to cancel Snoop because of pressure from local law enforcement authorities and Nevada's Gaming Control Board, according to several people close to the situation.

Snoop Dogg, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, isn't the only rapper feeling unwelcome in Vegas these days. After a spate of shootings involving local rappers, acts here are finding their gigs canceled, often at the last minute. Some clubs that promote rap music say they are being subjected to frequent police visits and inspections.

Moose's Beach House Bar & Grill is one of them. After being contacted by the police, it recently ended a weekly hip-hop party and stopped advertising on a prominent local rap radio station.

"They said it could be a problem, the music we're playing," says Moose's general manager Johnny Young. Now, he says, "we play rock, we play Madonna."

The crackdown is putting rap in the spotlight in a gambling mecca that was built by gangsters and frequently plays up its live-and-let-live ethos. It started last June, after four local rappers were shot and killed in Clark County, Nev., in a span of a few months. Sheriff Bill Young of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department sent a letter to state gambling regulators urging them to discourage casinos from booking rappers.

"I don't know if we can influence the gaming industry to not book gangster rap acts here in Las Vegas," he wrote. "However, to my way of thinking, it is a legitimate crime-prevention strategy." Sheriff Young refused to comment for this article.

After the recent murder of a local police officer by an aspiring rapper named Amir Crump, Nevada's State Gaming Control Board took action. In a Feb. 7 letter to casino operators, the board, which controls casino-gambling licenses, expressed particular concern about "gangster rap." The term, used mainly in the early 1990s, describes music that features raw lyrics about violent gang activities.

Citing the earlier request from Sheriff Young, the letter called the shootings and other violent incidents surrounding rap concerts "serious threats to the community." The missive ended with a demand that casino operators perform "due diligence in determining suitability of entertainment," and threatened to "hold the licensee accountable" for any violent incidents.

Not all casinos feel pressure to scale back rap acts. Alan Feldman, chief spokesman for MGM Mirage, said his company viewed the Feb. 7 memo from the gambling authority as simply a reminder of casinos' responsibility for events that occur on their properties. Rapper Ice Cube is scheduled to perform May 27 at the House of Blues club at MGM Mirage's Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.

Stavros Anthony, a Metropolitan Police captain who is also a regent at the University of Nevada, wanted to take the anti-rap campaign further. He recently pushed a proposal to ban all rap concerts from the school's facilities, which include the 18,000-seat Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. On March 17, the board of regents rejected the measure as unconstitutional.

The controversy in Las Vegas is the latest in a long-running debate about the alleged connection between rap music and violence. In 1995, activists led by a dissident Time Warner Inc. shareholder pressured the company to sell off its 50% stake in the Interscope Records label because of its roster of gangster-rap artists. Their chief objection: the often-violent imagery in rap music, which they said was "poisoning the minds of our children and destroying our moral sense."

Then, in the late 1990s, two high-profile rap artists — Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. — were slain in still-unsolved cases. Shakur's murder, committed in Las Vegas, helped to fuel the impression that violent lyrics are linked to actual violence.

Meanwhile, rap and its biggest stars have also become deeply woven into popular culture — from movies and ads to reality shows. Snoop Dogg, for instance, appeared alongside Lee Iacocca last summer in television commercials for Chrysler cars. Jason Miller, a senior executive at concert-promotion giant Live Nation Inc., who has worked with the rapper on numerous occasions, says: "Snoop Dogg is a mainstream artist with mainstream appeal, and to pigeonhole him as a 'gangster-rap' artist is unfair."

Dennis Neilander, chairman of the Gaming Control Board, says his agency isn't "singling out gangster rap." He added: "The industry letter we sent was simply an attempt on our part to be proactive and let everyone know it's an area of concern."

Less than two weeks after Harrah's received the letter, the world's largest casino company asked Coors executives to remove Snoop from the bill. The rapper was to have been paid about $150,000, according to people involved. The rapper refused to comment.

Coors and House of Blues Entertainment Inc., which booked the rapper for the party, offered him a makeup gig this summer, for slightly more money, in Los Angeles.

Others have received even shorter notice. Just a week before a scheduled Feb. 20 appearance at a club called OPM, inside the tony Forum Shops mall at Caesars Palace, hip-hop DJ Kid Capri was notified that the event was canceled. Kid Capri's manager, Kristi Clifford, says she was told the party was called off because it was to have been "hosted" by a rapper named Styles P.

Clifford said promoters at the club were apologetic and blamed the cancellation on the law-enforcement climate and their landlords. "It was like, 'Right now we can't afford to be exposed,' " Clifford recalled. The two performers lost a combined $20,000, plus expenses, because of the cancellation, she said. A spokesman for the mall's owner, Simon Property Group, didn't respond to calls and an e-mail seeking comment.

Styles P., whose real name is David Styles, calls the crackdown unreasonable, noting that although the police officer was killed by Crump, a rapper, it was not at a rap concert. "If a construction worker had killed a cop would they have banned all construction workers from Vegas?" he asked.

In some corners of Las Vegas, the industry is still finding ways to celebrate rappers. At Las Vegas Sands Corp.'s Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, Tupac Shakur will be memorialized next month with a new life-size wax figure at Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas.


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