WB board put Ice-T out in cold

Pressure from the Time Warner board of directors led to Ice-T’s release Tuesday night by Sire/Warner Bros. Records, according to sources.

As a result of that decision, the controversial rapper, whose Sire/Warner Bros. album “Home Invasion” was set for release next month, may be headed to the independently distributed New York label Scarface Records with his latest project.

Ice-T previously had been embroiled in a controversy over his song “Cop Killer,” contained on a Warner Bros.-released album by his band, Body Count. Opponents of the song included President George Bush, members of Congress and police groups.

Although supported by Time Warner in his fight against opponents of the song, Ice-T eventually pulled the cut from new pressings of the album.

Reports surfaced in the wake of that decision that Time Warner board members were pressuring the company’s record labels for sterner controls on album content and artwork.

Ice-T had been battling Warner Bros. executives for months over the content of several tracks planned for “Home Invasion,” and some sources said as many as six cuts were pulled from the album with Ice-T’s reluctant agreement. It’s not clear if the cuts were pulled at the request of label exex or Time Warner officers.

According to a Warner Bros. promotion sheet touting the album to retail, “Home Invasion” represented Ice-T’s “most assured work to date. It’s a stinging critique of life in these United States that manages to be grim, funny and totally on the mark.”

However, the final blow to the album’s chances of coming out through a Time Warner company came when the two sides went to war over the artwork for the album, with the final decision to reject the album being made above the rank of Warner Bros. Records chairman Mo Ostin, according to several sources. WB exex allegedly approved the cartoonish cover for the album, but unnamed Time Warner corporate officials rejected it, leading to a parting between Ice-T and Sire/Warner Bros.

Rapper and Scarface Records founder Paris, whose “Sleeping With the Enemy” album was also rejected by the Warner Bros. subsidiary Tommy Boy Records because of content and cover artwork, established his label in the wake of his own release.

Chris George, VP for business affairs at INDI, the exclusive national distributor for Scarface, confirmed yesterday that the company had spoken to several Ice-T representatives earlier this month about distributing “Home Invasion” should Warner Bros. reject the project. Talks heated up in the last three says, he said. Scarface representatives are expected to hold a press conference today in New York to discuss the situation.

Industry sources yesterday either shied from the controversy or took a fence-straddling position.

The Recording Industry Assn. of America, which had supported Ice-T and Warner Bros. in the “Cop Killer” controversy, said that it supported “the right of artists and record companies to make these creative decisions.”

Likewise, the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers said that it allows its member companies to make their own business decisions. Mike Greene, the president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, was traveling and could not be reached for comment.

Ultimately, Ice-T may look back on the decision by Time Warner as the best thing that could have happened to him.

In a similar incident, controversial rap act the Geto Boys cost distributor Def American Records its distribution deal with Geffen Records, which refused to distribute the album because of lyrics Geffen characterized as “violent, racist and sexist.” (Daily Variety, Sept. 18, 1990).

Since then, the Geto Boys — whose Houston-based Rap-a-Lot label is now distributed by Los Angeles-based Priority Records — has seen its “We Can’t Be Stopped” album go gold, with its single “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” a hit that received significant MTV attention.

“Body Count” has sold 480,000 since its release June 30. It sells a little over 10,000 units per month.

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