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The Story of Lyor Cohen: Little Lan$ky and the Big Check

Page 4 of 6

At the hotel after lunch, Cohen sits in his suite with several Def Jam employees, looking over photos of Shorty 101, a suburban girl group from the Valley. Hundreds of photos show the four girls in their late teens in different clothes, in different locales – rec room, bowling alley. 'N Sync are mentioned. "Each of the girls has her own style," says Julie. "So we don't want them all dressed alike, we don't want them corny." Someone says a video for the band will feature mannequins coming to life. Julie shudders. "Well, OK, dude, but let's not get cheese-ball," she says.

For Cohen, packaging groups like Shorty 101 is part of the challenge he now faces as a label head. "This stuff will be easy for him," Luke Lewis tells me later. Lewis, with Cohen, has recently started Lost Highway Records, an alt-country label that's home to Lucinda Williams and Whiskeytown's Ryan Adams. "Remember, in the beginning, rap was underground, and so Cohen had to teach himself to sell records without radio play. If he can do that, he can do anything."

Simmons comes in wearing a sweat suit and unlaced Adidas – in hip-hop, such shoes are standard issue, like moccasins on a movie Indian. His face is boyish, and he looks happy. Wherever he goes, a cell phone headset is plugged into his ear, connecting him with that great everywhere where he made his fortune. He now spends most of his energy on the clothing lines he's started, Phat Farm and Baby Phat. He says, at forty-four, he has grown too peaceful for hip-hop. "I go to yoga every day. I sit still. I can't take the yelling. I've gotten old."

Simmons has therefore left much of the music business in the hands of Cohen. "When I go into his office, he wants to know what I'm doing there," says Simmons. "He calls me only when he needs me to negotiate or to calm someone down." In fact, Simmons has come to Cohen's suite only to participate in a conference call with Foxy Brown, a Def Jam rapper whose dis of Lil' Kim was thought to have sparked a shootout in Greenwich Village a few days earlier. Though more than twenty shell casings were found on Hudson Street, only one person was wounded. And he took a cab to the hospital.

In the minutes before the call, Simmons looks over the photos of Shorty 101. "Who are they?" he asks. "What is their style?"

Before Julie can answer, the phone rings and Simmons and Cohen run into the next room. Foxy Brown, her lawyer and her agent are talking over the speakerphone. Foxy Brown's voice is a scratchy staccato. It sits above the mild, professionally reassuring voices of her representatives like a crab claw served on a bed of mixed greens. Simmons is like Kissinger trying to negotiate a ceasefire between the Egyptians and the Israelis: cool and measured, the velvet glove, the steel fist. He uses words from gangster movies. "We need to have a sit-down," he says. "A sit-down can put this all behind us." He wants Brown to issue a press release disavowing violence. Brown is furious. She had nothing to do with this shootout, she says. Why should she issue a statement? Simmons says he wants no trouble – the Soul Train Music Awards are in just a few hours. A statement can save lives. "We don't want people to get hurt," he explains. In the end, Brown agrees to a press release. However, she will also be allowed to go on Kiss FM, in New York, and dissociate herself from the entire incident.

"So that's it?" asks Cohen.

"No," says Brown. She also wants to answer a year-old gossip item from the New York Post, which said her affair with DMX resulted in a man's murder.

"Forget it," says Simmons. "You do yourself more damage by bringing it up again."

"No! shouts Brown. "In a newspaper, it said that I am responsible for a murder. A murder, Russell! A murder! I need to respond to that."

"Easy," says Cohen. "Just let it go away."

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Song Stories

“Money For Nothing”

Dire Straits | 1984

Mark Knopfler wrote this song with Sting, and it wasn’t without controversy. The Dire Straits frontman's original lyric used the word “faggot” to describe a singer who got their “money for nothing and their chicks for free.” Even though the slur was edited out in many versions, the band, and Knopfler, still took plenty of criticism for the term. “I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London--he actually said it was below the belt,” Knopfler told Rolling Stone. Still, "Money For Nothing," undoubtedly augmented by its innovative early computer-animated video, stayed at Number One for three weeks.

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