JAMES' GANG In a recent Tony Scott-directed BMW short film, James Brown consorts with the devil, so it's fitting that the Godfather of Soul is ready to raise a little hell in 2003 to commemorate his 70th birthday, on May 3. Plans are under way for a gala concert this month, and Brown is touting his latest CD, The Next Step. ''I've got one song on there called 'Good and Natural,''' he reports. ''It's speaking about the basic things, like collard greens and black-eyed peas and lima beans and America's apple pie. Then I've got another one called 'Killing Is Out, School Is In.' We're right on top of all the current issues.'' Brown is also working on an album of collaborations. ''I have an arrangement of 'It's a Man's World' I've done with Mr. Pavarotti,'' he says. ''I think Sting and I are going to do something together, and I don't think it'll be too hard to get Elton John and Paul McCartney. They're my friends. As great as they are, they're like my little fans who've been dreaming of cutting a record with me.'' No release date has been set, but Brown is aiming for '03. ''I'm on my way,'' he says, ''and I want to do something.'' Tom Sinclair
TECH AND GO While major labels scramble to keep fans from downloading music for free, at least one indie, MSC, is encouraging it. Visitors to therealtechn9ne.com can get all 21 tracks of Absolute Power, the latest CD from Kansas City, Mo., rapper Tech N9ne. They are then urged to buy the disc, which includes a DVD and seven bonus cuts. Sounds radical, but Priority cofounder Mark Cerami and former Priority exec Dave Weiner, who started MSC, contend that only majors have easy access to radio and music television. ''It's a complete monopoly,'' says Weiner, who signed N.W.A and Master P. MSC has also created a campaign, ''F--- the Industry,'' with TV ads featuring Tech rapping from his single ''Industry Is Punks'' and directing viewers to the site. But the jury's still out on the Power play. In the two weeks after its Nov. 26 release, the album was downloaded 70,000 times, but only 3,469 people went on to buy it. Tech is unfazed. ''If it's truly meant for this s--- to blow up, it will.''