His name is Rodney King.
Yes, that Rodney King.
Only he's not making headlines these days because of any videotaped encounter with Los Angeles police or the prolonged legal proceedings that followed and left him a rich man.
Six years after he first made national headlines, King has decided to fulfill a long-held dream by putting his energy and his newfound wealth toward creating a hip-hop label of his own.
"I've always been into music," said King, whose videotaped 1992 beating at the hands of LAPD officers sparked the deadly racial riots that plagued Los Angeles that year. "In my earlier years I played violin and other instruments, and down the line I got into rap and writing songs with friends," he said, explaining his new venture.
In fact, the 32-year-old King said he was on his way back from a recording studio on the night of the infamous beating that left him severely injured and, according to King, temporarily scuttled his plans to start a label.
Now, though, using some of the $3.8 million civil settlement he won from a subsequent lawsuit as seed money, King has formed a label, Straight Alta-Pazz Records, which will shortly release its first record. The debut release from the rap act Stranded is the first of what King promised will be several hip-hop projects this year. He also has plans for future work in the genres of jazz, R&B and rock.
Stranded rapper Papoose, a.k.a. Ernest Mitchell, said he realizes he owes a great deal to King and, perhaps more significantly, his past.
"You wouldn't be talking to me right now if it wasn't for him [King]," said Mitchell, 27.
King co-executive produced the Stranded album; the hip-hop act is a duo, which also features 25-year-old Buzz, a.k.a. Adam Rogers. Although the full-length, self-titled debut is not yet scheduled to hit stores, the party anthem "Do It How U Wanna" (RealAudio excerpt) has already been released to radio.
"I know people will focus on Rodney at first," said Mitchell, "but it depends on the music, and if the music was no good, no matter who put it out, it won't go nowhere. I think we made a good album."
Based on the single, a bouncy, West Coast-style party jam with the kind of g-funk bottom and good-time party lyrics former N.W.A. rapper/producer Dr. Dre perfected on his 1993 album The Chronic, Mitchell may have a point. "Shake it how you want to/ Shake it like you mean it/ Do it how u wanna/ C'mon let me get between it," the duo raps over tinkling bells and rumbling Dr. Funkenstein keyboards.
Buzz, who said the pair approached King at an "industry party" last year and slipped him their demo tape, added that he was originally inspired to rap by hearing early N.W.A. recordings. "I heard that [N.W.A.] stuff and it was something I could relate to," he said. "I was like, 'Damn, why can't I just say what I feel?' "
That's exactly how Buzz and his partner went about creating tracks such as "4-2-92," in which the pair graphically depicts its take on the L.A. riots, "Another Brother Gone," an anti-gang track that Mitchell said was inspired by his former membership in an L.A. gang, and the Kool and the Gang-style, R&B jam "Stay Tru," a tale from the hood that features a breathy chorus from backup singer Diane Gordon.
"We use things we've been through in our rhymes," Mitchell said. "We didn't think about what Rodney would think, or how he would look at it. It's like the name -- Stranded -- it's a state of mind that a lot of people can relate to."
As for King, who said he once turned down a chance to re-cut N.W.A.'s "F**k Tha Police" with the group's late member Eazy E, he said he's been working on his "personal development" since the police beating. "I've been blessed by God to be here and go on with one of my dreams," he said. "I'm doing this part-time. I've been learning how to surf. I play tennis real well now. I went snow-skiing, water-skiing. I've done lots of reading, and I've been working on some inventions."
But it is Straight Alta-Pazz that King said he's most excited about. "Music has a big impact on youth today," King said. "So we want to contribute a positive approach to the youth now. I think music is a form of personal development, like a therapy for the mind."
As for whether there will be a Rodney King project in the future, the new label head has apparently been all over that idea from the get-go. The album is planned for early next year, he said.
And King already has a perfect title for it: Can't We All Just Get Along?. [Mon., March 9, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]