|"Yeah Ya'll! This is your main man COOOLLL DJ Ham-Hands reppin' on the station that brings you nothing but the flyest in Hip-Hop and R&B jams! Lukewarm 97, ya'll! Where Hip-Hop Lives!"
Just about every urban center's major radio stations make the same claim: This is where Hip-Hop lives. This is the station with the best in Hip-Hop and R&B. This is the station of all the "hottest" (it has to be "hot" in order to be good) jams. I could go on, but you get the drift. Maybe my definition of what Hip-Hop music is varies from the stations, but what I hear is a lot of croonin' and thuggin' garbage. Sometimes, it's a bad mix of both. The radio is a musical last resort, in my view. I listen to it if there is absolutely no other option. I truly believe that the only people who listen to the radio are twenty-something black women. An interesting part of this observation is that these women all seem to drive Honda Accords and work for the government. Think I'm joking here? Just peep any major city rush hour on a summer evening. If it isn't too hot, roll the windows down like everyone else and observe. Every sister in an Accord will be singing along with radio as if they're auditioning for the Apollo. Where's the Sandman when you need him?
There was a time that Hip-Hop music was getting a lot of play on the audio-idiot box. Of course, it was always the bigger hits but at least we heard some of it. In the early to mid-90's, you heard quite a bit of it on the air. Only since the mid-80's can I recall a time when Hip-Hop artists received prominent airtime. By the mid to late 90's, even the most smoothed-out-on-the-R&B-tip stations devoted an hour (or more) to Rap music. The artists didn't necessarily have a big media push behind them; it was just good. But as budgets of certain rap artists became more immense, they became all you saw and heard. Truthfully, I have no problems with the No Limits, Cash Moneys and Def Jams of the world. They obviously worked hard and cornered a market for themselves. The same goes for all the above-ground (Read: Commercial or popular) artists that broke new ground on the airwaves. We should applaud the efforts they made to get heard and supplying what the public wants. It's a business first and foremost.
But can we get a switch in the slogans? How about, "Where We Play Popular Rap Songs and Loads of Crappy, Wanna-Be Thugged Out R&B?" Or, "Bounce With The Public's Number One Station: Tepid 100! Get Your Homogenized Jam On!" There is little "underground" (Read: Artists that still live at home, ride public transit and will never sell Gold) Hip-Hop representation on the airwaves. Even former underground stalwarts such as Eminem, Royce the 5'9 and others are doing typically "easy-to-get" songs. As talented as Em and Royce are, the less talented seem to get even bigger burn on the radio. Anytime Project Pat (He of "Chickenhead" fame and other ghetto gems) gets on the air, somebody must've left his or her soul in Hades. I'm not saying we should just eradicate the format altogether, but there is a plethora of music that these programmers are missing. You can't blame the on-air personalities. They're often under pressure from station managers and ad executives to run certain songs. However, they do wield SOME power but many don't seek to exact it. It is best to not rock the boat when your job is constantly on the line. Still, there is no logical reason a DJ should play a song - the same blasted song - 10 times in a row.
As much as I love Hip-Hop, I couldn't listen to it all day and night. A break is necessary from the boom-bap at times. It just puzzles me that a former place of refuge - the radio - doesn't offer a retreat any longer. Even the so-called "hot" R&B is stale. How many "my man did me wrong so I gots to cut him" songs do we have hear per year? How many "ghetto thug-love" songs must we endure? When did black love become so tough and destructive? Where did the class and veiled sexiness (and talent) of the 60's and 70's go? Why can't current R&B artists shelve this current standard of dysfunction and hurt and make some songs to party to? Or do like Marvin Gaye did and insert a message between the hums, oohs and ahhs? Perhaps if these "hot" stations gave black, alternative artists a chance, I'd find joy (again) in the radio. Where's Tracy? Where's Lenny? Eagle-Eye?
Local artists in these large cities sometimes have their own music scene and following, yet they hardly get any local radio exposure. Earlier this summer, there was a local Metropolitan-area DJ who allegedly declared that the DC area lacks in talent. This popular evening DJ was met with threatening phone calls, hate mail and other unpleasant words. The DJ admitted to only wishing to promote his preferred style of music - Go-Go. Go-Go music is a DC-born musical genre that relies heavily on percussion and call-and-response chants. It is a wildly popular style of music in the DC area. Basically, if you handed this man some wax - and it wasn't Go-Go related - you weren't getting any light during his time slot (so it was rumored). To this DJ's credit, he does have a 30-minute showcase weekly on his radio show. He has made some efforts to break local artists. It seems that this dilemma is faced most of these struggling artists; nobody is looking out for the home team. But there is hope - somewhat.
College Radio may the last hope. Yet, there are other obstacles and factors that may deter one from going this route. The main thing is reception. Unless you set up a teepee no more than a 20 feet outside the campus antennae, you're not going to get to hear all the back-packer (Read: Indie or Underground) classics. College radio is a lively, youthful environment. There are hardly any commercial breaks and you sense a genuine love of music from the hosts. Whether the format is Hip-Hop, Blues, Reggae and even Rock, the fledgling DJ's challenge themselves to play more than just the popular releases. If an unsigned artist truly wanted exposure, he could find an outlet using the collegiate airwaves. All it takes is the drive to do so.
The main nemesis for Hip-Hop artists and mainstream radio has always been the same: Money and popularity. If the public doesn't like what you're doing, nobody's going to be listening. If nobody is listening, companies aren't buying radio ad time. If the companies aren't buying ad time, the radio station isn't profitable. True, radio exposure is a godsend for the professional recording artist; what better way to reach a large audience? Still, there are other ways to "make it". With the Internet, there exists a variety of opportunity. Digital music may just be the next wave and artists who are savvy enough know this. There are many "radio" stations online that cater to just about any taste you have. Even Chuck D of Public Enemy fame has opened his wallet by constructing a website where artists can gain exposure and perhaps gain a record deal in the process.
For now, the only thing that seems to be worth it is talk radio. No thug life lip professing there. No battered women and sordid tales of love when we have Alan Greenspan to discuss. Give me talk radio over the "hotness" anytime. I can at least say I'm learning something. But I need the tunes, too. Must I go to the start of the dial and stand in front of my radio, complete with hangar in hand, just to get a good selection of music? If not, I guess its back to the same old
"Commercial Free Heat In Da Streets" I've become (reluctantly) used to. Wake me up when it hits 3'oclock. That's when the Hip-Hop Half Hour Show comes on. Too bad that's not commercial free. As they say, "They gotta pay them bills".
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