The muzzles have been off for a few weeks, but now the real Doggfight over gangsta rap can begin. Sources say that on Aug. 29 rap producer Dr. Dre delivered his highly anticipated Tha Dogg Pound album to Death Row Records, an action that sets the clock ticking toward a showdown between rap distributor Interscope Records and its corporate partner, Time Warner, which reportedly must issue without alteration whatever music Interscope might submit.
Death Row's production schedule would put the album, Dogg Food, on the street in four weeks. ''Whether or not Time Warner honors the agreement to put it out, we'll have to see,'' says David Kenner, the lawyer representing Death Row. ''While it's the first [album] to come out during this controversy, it won't be the last, and we need a permanent resolution.''
That means Time Warner has until Sept. 26 to bite the bullet and release the album or find a way out of its venture with Interscope, which has been an embarrassment to the conglomerate since National Political Congress of Black Women chair C. DeLores Tucker and former secretary of education Will iam J. Bennett launched an anti-gangsta lobbying effort at a Time Warner shareholders' meeting on May 18.
Sources at Time Warner and Interscope describe negotiations to sever distribution ties as ''stalled.'' That seems like an understatement, given the Aug. 18 suit filed by Death Row (which supplies Interscope's top-selling acts) against Time Warner, Warner Music Group chairman Michael Fuchs, and Tucker, among others, charging a conspiracy to wrest control of Death Row from Interscope.
A WMG spokesman, who said Fuchs was on vacation and unavailable for comment, expressed surprise at news the album was finished but added grimly, ''We certainly knew that one of these days it would be ready.''
Could Dogg's bark be worse than its bite? Few outside Death Row have heard it. One who has is Happy Walters, manager of Cypress Hill and House of Pain. ''It's routine [gangsta],'' Walters says, ''the same stuff Time Warner is continually having problems with.'' He says the album fails to reach the inflammatory levels of, say, the Geto Boys, estimating that ''on a scale of 1 to 10,'' 10 being most offensive, Dogg Food rates a mere 7.
Chris Willman, with additional reporting by Heidi Siegmund Cuda