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What's Going On?

After last weekend's record-smashing telethon to benefit victims of Sept. 11's tragedy, it was only a matter of time before the music community rallied to the fundraising cause with a hitlist tribute collaboration, and the smorgasboard product has arrived.

"What's Going On," an update of Marvin Gaye's Motown classic, features over two dozen of today's hottest artists, each of whom lends a distinctive feel to the multi-genre remake. From Backstreet to Britney to Lil' Kim, the TRL gang's all here, with a few old-school additions (Bono and Michael Stipe). But for a Sept. 11 memorial message, some of the lyrics don't add up: "What's going on Ocross seas/ Every minute a child dies by this disease/ In record numbers indeed." What's going on?

It turns out St. Louis wordsmith and country grammarian Nelly isn't singing about falling towers or crashing planes. His lyric homage benefits another worthy cause, Africa's AIDS epidemic. In fact, the rapper and his Billboard hombres are "Artists Against AIDS Worldwide," and they recorded their all-star effort Sept. 5 and 7.

When disaster struck the next week, the musical collaboration for Africa's sufferers became a ready-made tribute for the stateside tragedy, and the focus soon shifted. While proceeds from the expansive effort were originally earmarked for Africa (where 5,000 die of AIDS each day), "What's Going On" quickly morphed into an Americentric rallying anthem. Now, revenues from single sales will benefit the United Way's September 11th Fund and Artists Against AIDS Worldwide.

Sound like a copout to you too? Recess gives a hearty thumbs-down to the music industry's shapeshifting social conscience. Whatever happened to "We Are the World"? While a new tribute is planned, jumping the gun with a pre-packaged tune and stealing thunder from an important cause are in bad taste. Madman Marvin would be disappointed.

--By Tim Perzyk

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