Old rap enemies got together yesterday afternoon, and it nearly turned into violence.
During a rehearsal for a tribute to the late rappers Tupac Shakur and Christopher "Biggie" Smalls, Sean "Puffy" Combs nearly came to blows with a member of Shakur's followers.
According to those who witnessed the scuffle, the Tupac rapper grabbed a microphone out of Combs's hand while he was performing. According to onlookers Combs immediately demonstrated his infamous temper. Suddenly everyone from both sides — Combs representing Smalls — crowded the center of the stage.
"It got very tense," one witness told me. "There was a real fear that something bad was going to happen."
Other rap acts on stage when this happened were Run D.M.C., Naughty by Nature, and Ja Rule.
Combs was ultimately calmed down, but I'm told he was already unhappy before he arrived at rehearsals. Apparently MTV denied him the number of passes he needed for his large posse, and the grousing had already begun by the time he was in rehearsal.
The tension between the two rap factions dates back to the mid '90s when Shakur and Smalls were each murdered. Shakur was killed in September 1996 in Las Vegas when he was in a car driven by Death Row Records founder Marion Suge Knight. When he'd been shot two years earlier, Shakur held Combs and Smalls responsible. Smalls was killed in March 1997 while he was sitting in a car in Los Angeles. The Bad Boy-Death Row/East Coast-West Coast feud became inflamed and has never been resolved. Knight has been in prison since 1997 because of a parole violation. He is scheduled for release one week from today.
Puffy, by the way, may be feeling the heat. His new album, P Diddy and the Bad Boy Family…The Saga Continues is not exactly tearing up the charts. As of yesterday sales were at 407,000 copies. That's not good considering the high cost of being Puffy: Last week press reports had Combs lavishing $70,000 worth of champagne on partygoers in St. Tropez. Add to that the probability that Saga had a high budget. The album contains at least 15 major samples from other records, all of which Combs had to pay for.
Puffy notwithstanding, MTV's 20th Anniversary was abuzz last night, with stars and former Veejays comprising most of the audience in the ballroom. To make matters more exciting, both Kid Rock and Tommy Lee were on hand only days after the latter gentleman attacked the former on his Web site for dating his ex-wife, Miss Pamela Anderson.
In the lower floor party room, which was ostensibly closed off to VIP's, the two rockers just barely missed each other. Tommy Lee, who is painfully thin in person, said, "Kid who?" when asked about the contretemps. He also said, "I've been writing stuff on that site for a long time."
Kid Rock, wearing his trademark hat, simply said,"I've been avoiding this stuff all day. I can't even go there!"
Also spotted downstairs were Sopranos' star Steven van Zandt, who's busy working on his music while the show's creator, David Chase, writes the fourth season. "We won't be back on the air before June," he advised me. "We don't start filming until October, and it takes seven months to do the show."
Upstairs in another VIP section, Ric Ocasek and Paulina Porizkova stopped for pictures. Ocasek — founder and leader of the great band the Cars, if you didn't know — told me that the death last year of Cars bassist/vocalist Benjamin Orr was a surprise when it happened. "It was just instant," he said. Ocasek also told me he will release an album of his own before the end of the year.
Also upstairs: Janeane Garofalo, most of the original MTV veejays — J.J. Jackson, Nina Blackwood, Alan Hunter, and Martha Quinn — as well as singer Tyrese, Jon Bon Jovi, Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, and assorted record company executives.
At one point I did overhear and see Downtown Julie Brown — famous for her colorful vocabulary — pick up a hair brush from the floor and announce to former MTV personality Ken Ober — that it was for her "pubes." Now, that's the MTV I miss!
Nevertheless, the atmosphere at the Hammerstein Ballroom was pretty convivial. The network did not overbook the auditorium although if you were watching at home clever direction made the room seem packed. In fact, it was a very civilized celebration, with little in the way of surprises. But there was a great feeling of reunion in the room — Alan Hunter, for example, showing off kids to old friends who knew him 20 years ago. J.J. Jackson recalling the time Mick Jagger mistook him for the soul singer J.J. Jackson, who did the classic But It's Alright.
A cool evening with just enough frisson to make it never ready for broadcast TV. Now, onto the MTV Music Awards — to air live on September 6 — which should have even more sizzle and pop!
Here's a true "only in New York" moment. On Tuesday night, cops directed traffic around a crime scene at Sixth Avenue and Bleecker St. Apparently a dead woman's body was spotted in a parked car — highly unusual for this neighborhood. While cars are going this way and that, and cops are trying to wave them in the right direction, a man pulls up in a cab and starts asking a cop for directions to Fourth Avenue. All traffic behind the cab came to a halt. The cop didn't recognize the cab passenger, but I can tell you it was Gary Busey, who was oblivious to the unfolding drama around him.
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