A month after protests over “gangsta rap” label Death Row stretched from Capitol Hill to the Time Warner board room, the rappers are celebrating atop the sales charts.

Consumers have apparently ignored the concerns of Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and C. De-Lores Tucker as Tha Dogg Pound’s “Dogg Food” – the album that led to Time Warner divesting itself of the successful Interscope Records, which has a distribution relationship with Death Row – registered sales of 278,000 units for the week ended Nov. 5.

The Death Row/Interscope disc “Dogg Food” sold nearly twice as many copies as its nearest competitor, according to the latest SoundScan sales survey. It was one of three rap albums debuting in SoundScan’s top 10 this week.

Anticipation among retailers had been high, as “Dogg Food” was originally set for a July bow, but was delayed several times while execs at Interscope and Warner Music Group worked on a plan to sell back its 50% share of Interscope to owners Ted Field and Jimmy Iovine. Independent distrib Priority Records signed on to distribute the disc.

“We’re definitely pleased,” says Marion (Suge) Knight, CEO of Death Row Records. “Anytime you get a No. 1 album it’s a blessing. It shows that the public knows what’s good.” Knight says the label will keep the interest high by releasing a new video and advance the plan to air on Fox a series of commercials touting the duo.

Weaned on Snoop Doggy

Although the political hoopla resulted in Warner Music Group chairman Michael Fuchs opting to sever ties with Interscope, “Dogg Food” has always been a Death Row project, from recording to marketing. Though it’s a debut disc, Dogg Pound rappers Ricardo (Karupt) Brown and Delmar (Daz) Arnaud gained a reputation for their work with Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre, who have also felt the wrath of critics.

The duo’s album, which treads standard gangsta rap fare and sports appearances by Snoop Doggy Dogg and funkster George Clinton, benefited from the sale of nearly 4,000 copies during the week before its release date, marking one of the industry’s biggest street date violations. Though it bowed where expected, it was only a blip on the radar compared with previous eagerly awaited albums.

“We’re thrilled to be involved with the No. 1 album,” Bryan Turner, prexy of Priority, says. “The reaction from retail has been great and they say they expect it to keep selling well.” As debuts from Priority go, “Food” ranks a respectable second to rapper Ice Cube’s first post – N.W. A disc. The label continues its run as a rap powerhouse and home to top sellers Mack 10 and Tru. Priority also is credited with launching the gangsta rap genre with N.W. A over a decade ago.

Death Row Records and gangsta rap became the focus of attacks made by Senate Majority Leader Dole against the entertainment industry this summer. His concerns about rap music were echoed by former Education secretary William Bennett and C. Delores Tucker of the National Political Congress of Black Women.

Despite high expectations, the disc failed to qualify as one of the industry’s biggest bows, landing 11th on the list.

While it is the year’s fifth-biggest debut, it pales considerably beside Death Row label-mate Snoop Doggy Dogg, whose 1993 debut holds the industry’s No. 2 spot, thanks to its whopping first week sales tally of 803,000 copies.

“Dogg Food” soundly beat the No. 2 disc, Mariah Carey’s Columbia set “Daydream,” which sold 154,000, up from 149,000.

Pro-pot rappers Cypress Hill take a hit at No. 3, as their third Ruffhouse/Columbia album, “Cypress Hill III: Temples of Boom,” sold 142,000 copies in its first week. Fellow rappers Eight Ball & MJG hit No. 8 with their debut disc “On Top of the World” (Relativity). It sold 83,000 copies.

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