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Up in Here

DMX gets a wake-up call at an airport, and the Pussycat Dolls are more pre-fab than you think. Plus: the debut of St. Louis scene trading cards!

Unless you're a headline junkie or celebrity news fiend, you probably missed the item about DMX's May 13 arrest at London's Heathrow Airport. After all, the only crime the bald, gruff rapper born Earl Simmons committed was being obnoxious during the flight — not the most gangsta thing to get busted for. He spent a few hours in the clink and was let off with a caution. But that's only half the story, says an American Airlines flight attendant who spoke with B-Sides about the incident (and wishes to remain anonymous). What the wire reports glossed over was the thing that prompted DMX's outburst in the first place — a beef. Sure, hip-hop feuds are a dime a dozen, as are sky-rage incidents. But this is no mere battle of rap star egos, our flight attendant friend assures us.

"There was a patient involved in a medical emergency — a woman in her late 60s who had low blood pressure," the attendant says. "We moved her up front, on the aisle across from DMX. He was being loud and using profanity, complaining that he paid $5,000 for a seat. The woman said, 'Why don't you grow up and let the flight attendant do his job?' DMX said, 'Shut up and mind your fucking business.' So I jumped in and told him, if he doesn't shut his mouth, I'll have the captain get the police. He said, 'Get the motherfucking police, I don't give a damn.' So I told the captain. When the cops came to get him, he started acting like a badass, saying, 'I didn't do nothing.'"

Apparently, DMX, whose career has been less than stellar as of late, was already in rare form before the flight began. "When he boarded at JFK, he was on his cell phone being loud, like he was mad at whoever he was talking to," the attendant says. "I told him to keep his voice down and not use profanity. While waiting to take off, he started air-boxing." And the fun continued. "He was saying, 'Motherfuck this, motherfuck that.' He was mad because he couldn't find his headset. Then he started complaining about paying $5,000 for a seat. Everyone looked at him like, 'Yeah, so did we — so what?'"

That's good stuff, right? Why didn't the news reports mention any of this? "I talked to an AP reporter," the flight attendant says. "He said they were trying to avoid making more of it because sometimes [rap/rock stars] try to do these things for attention."

Ah, so maybe that's what this fiasco is all about: lagging album sales. — Jason Budjinski



What's New, Pussycat?
They may seem simply entertaining or innocuous when prancing around the TV screen, but behind the scenes the Pussycat Dolls are ushering in an unsavory new era in the business of music. Ostensibly a vocal and dance ensemble, the unapologetically manufactured group is seemingly everywhere now, as the Pussycat Dolls brand has been franchised into a lounge, clothing line and cultural punch line. The constant exposure and subsequent mainstream success is no accident; a team of record company lawyers, promoters and hucksters has conspired to squeeze every last T-shirt, ringtone and dance-step out of the lucrative group before the public finally reaches the point of over-saturation. It's no surprise — given that the record label literally owns the Pussycat Dolls.

Darryl Franklin, a lawyer who became familiar with the Dolls' contract during his tenure at Interscope Records, admitted during a panel discussion at this year's SXSW that the group is unique in that its members are actually salaried employees of the record label and, by design, completely interchangeable. He points out that this is far more corporate than other built-to-order bands like the Sex Pistols, New Kids on the Block and even the Monkees, and that the tradeoffs required for the quick, overwhelming success are creating a trickle-down effect that's already being felt throughout the music industry.

Kenneth Abdo, an entertainment lawyer who represents Anna Nalick, Vienna Teng and other up-and-coming musicians, doesn't think it bodes well. "Frankly, bands now have fewer options, and I don't know if it's going to get better," he says. "All these artists that want to be big stars don't really have any other choice. If you ever want to sell gold or platinum, you're going to have to go with a major label." He explains that while a successful artist may have a lot more leverage, a new artist most likely will need to hand over control of merchandise sales, Web sites and potentially song ownership in addition to the traditional right to sell physical CDs. This restriction of creative freedom and ability to act independently is the price new artists are paying in exchange for access to the unrivaled power of a record label to force success.

Abdo acknowledges that the Pussycat Dolls are at the extreme end of the spectrum, adding, "You cannot fabricate art — it has to be real, and it's what will ultimately drive the business. There's always been room for manufactured groups, but it's a small corner of the whole music business." He also points out, "Someone's writing those songs, and someone's performing those songs. Those are both creative endeavors, and there are artists and audiences benefiting from that work." True, but never before has the separation between artist and promoter been so blurred and so ominously successful. — Sander Wol

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