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Ironically Weinberger had high hopes for Brooks, whom he lured away from his competitor, Slip 'N Slide Records, in April 1999. But Brooks didn't get along with other employees. He was abrasive enough that Yanet Martinez, the company's college-marketing representative, quit owing to, as she wrote in her resignation letter, "unreconcilable [sic] differences with Sterling Brooks." Brooks also had his troubles with K Ponce. He openly accused K Ponce of starting the car fire, according to Weinberger and others. Weinberger says he had to caution Brooks to stop throwing around baseless allegations.
These days Weinberger seems more bemused than anything by Brooks' lawsuit. On a recent afternoon, sporting his trademark plaid shirt and a black leather New York Yankees baseball cap, Weinberger wondered aloud what Brooks was after. Brooks received unemployment for a short period before being rehired by Slip 'N Slide, so the income lost was negligible. And his insurance covered the car. "He's trying to shake me down," Weinberger asserts.
In the rap business, he adds, people will try anything for a buck: "I saw a lot of shit when I was at Luke's, a lot of frivolous lawsuits, and Luke's position was, and I think it's the correct position, if you allow them to get away with it, a lot of people will come out of the woodwork." In other words he'd rather fight in court than look like an easy mark. For the moment Lil' Joe is making money. One person with knowledge of the company says the 2 Live Crew catalog alone generates $2 million annually. Weinberger won't provide the actual numbers but says it's more than that. The company has released about 40 albums, many of them compilations that include 2 Live Crew music, such as Booty Summer Party. But the label also is actively recording new artists, such as the yet-to-be-released rapper Verb. "I intend to grow the company at a safe rate," Weinberger explains. "I'm not going to take the risks other people took and failed. I want to be around five years from now."
Fiscal health, however, has yet to translate into admiration. Many in the industry see Lil' Joe Records as a factory churning out units, not a place that nourishes artists. And they see Weinberger as a bean counter. And of course there is his biggest and most insurmountable hurdle: his skin color.
"He doesn't get any respect around town," offers one music-industry insider. "They say he's got a Napoleon complex."
Adds Campbell: "He can't get records played on the radio and in the store, because everybody knows that's my shit."
Weinberger concurs to some extent: "I've had a lot of difficulty with blackballing, no pun intended, at the radio stations because of the stuff Luke says about me." And he acknowledges that race plays a part. "A lot of people are jealous of my position. And it's the nature of this business to sling mud."
That begs the question: With all the hassles, the backbiting, the tempers, the lawsuits, and the violence, would he ever consider backing out of the music biz? "That's not an option," Weinberger says, his voice even. "I've got the company structured where it's very profitable."
And like any true player, he's not about to walk away from that.