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Artest hopes new rap CD softens bad-boy image

ATLANTA -- Ron Artest sat backstage with his entourage,
wondering if the audience would approve of his upcoming
performance.

He was prepared for extra scrutiny after being tarnished by his
unpredictable, out-of-control behavior over the past few years in
the NBA. And he knows that many already have stereotyped him as
another athlete-turned-rapper such as Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant, who didn't excel in the music industry.

Still, Artest believes he can prove the doubters wrong.

"I've got music to be heard," he said. "Obviously, some
people will judge me from my past. But I can make music. I want
everyone to know about my life and relate to me, and see that I'm
very approachable and easygoing."

Artest is striving to gain more respect in hip-hop and give many
a better understanding of himself on his new album, "My World,"
which will be released Oct. 31. He raps about his personal
experiences, world issues and partying in clubs, while also
expressing his thoughts about participating in one of the worst
brawls in U.S. sports history.

"When people actually listen to the album, they'll say to
themselves, 'Wow, I didn't know that he felt this way,"' Artest
said. "It's like I'm a totally different person on this album."

Character issues have hurt Artest's image around the NBA, but
his bad-boy image might help in an industry that thrives on
thuggish demeanor, a la 50 Cent and other roguish rappers. Growing
up in a broken home and dealing drugs at a young age in New York
City's Queensbridge section, a neighborhood where drugs and gun
violence are common, also might help him gain acceptance in the
studio.

"People don't understand that my street credibility is a whole
lot bigger than most in the industry today," Artest said. "If I
had more push, then everyone will see the results."

His recent tours may help. This year, he performed during the
popular Hot 97 Summer Jam festival in New York, opened for rapper
Fat Joe on a European tour, and was the beginning act for
platinum-plus selling artists Ludacris and Young Jeezy.

"Ron's a hustling-type guy," Jeezy said. "He jumped on the
road with me and went after his dreams. I've seen him go out on
numerous shows and do his thing. When his album drops, I'm going to
pick it up."

While Artest is trying to find his way as a rapper, others have
given him moral support.

"This is what he is supposed to do," said producer Rodney
Jerkins. "It's all about the hustle and the grind. I don't believe
in letting things drop in your lap. You've got to make it happen
and artists like him need to hit it hard."

DJ Drama said the athlete-turned-rapper deserves a chance. He
expects Artest to receive some negative feedback, but pointed out
that Shaquille O'Neal had a short but successful tenure as an
artist in spite of negative reviews. Even though Drama has never
heard a single track from Artest, the disk jockey said he should
still get a chance.

"If he puts his mind to it, he could do it well," Drama said.
"He just has to study the game. The same way he learn how to play
basketball, he can do the same way with rap. I know Ron Artest and
he's a passionate dude. I know he has something to say."

Artest does have a riveting tale. In 2004, he was benched two
games after asking Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle for a month
off to rest from a busy schedule, which included promotional
appearances for his R&B group Allure, a trio signed under his label
Tru Warier Records.

Two weeks later, after being benched, Artest charged into the
stands toward a Detroit fan, claiming he was hit in the face with a
cup of ice, and exchanged punches with other fans. He was suspended
for 73 regular-season games and the playoffs.

During his time off, Artest continued to work out while
promoting Allure's album. But last year, he was traded from Indiana
to the Sacramento Kings, the group's album "Chapter III" was a
failure and major record labels weren't showing any interest in
him.

"It was tough," he said. "No one wanted to give me or my
group a chance. When I wrote my rhymes, people dissed me. They
still do it to me 'til this day."

Artest said his competitive nature won't let him quit -- on the
court or off.

"Right now, I'm playing hard but not smart," he said. "At
times, the industry hasn't embraced me for who I am in a business
sense. But I'm just going to keep going. If I lose, then I lose.
But I'm trying to win."