Instead of deejays on air being conversational they shout. The art of one to one conversation style radio is lost in hip hop. Maybe station managers think that blacks and Latinos dont want to be talked to intelligently. Or does keeping it real mean that you have to sound like you perceive your audience to be? For instance, take a station like KMEL, the on-air deejays recently, not only sound like theyre from the street but also like they are broadcasting live from a street corner.
Now, there is nothing wrong with being from the street, however, in our culture Im talking about African-American culture, historically, when a person is given the opportunity to communicate with our people, weve always strived to present a positive image. But for some reason, when people think of hip hop they automatically lower the standards of excellence.
Black people are not monolithic beings. We dont speak with one voice and one mind. Neither are all hip hoppers monolithic beings. We range in age and taste. Some of us prefer Mos Def and Talib Kweli, while others prefer Lil Flip. With preferences in tastes so vast youd think that the people who market music to us would realize that and would have more than one kind of on air personality talking to us.
When I was coming up, deejays like Frankie Crocker, Nick Harper, Greg Mack, Jeff Fox and many others sounded like intelligent people. They might not have been rocket scientists but never the less, these men sounded intelligent enough to communicate ideas to a mass audience without dumbing down to them. For some reason, people think that being a part of the hip hop culture or even black culture for that matter, means that you have to dumb things down to relate to people.
For instance, on the 70s sitcom Sanford and Son, whenever the Sanfords came in contact with the police it was always Officer Smitty (a brother) and some white cop, the white cop would speak in cop talk meaning he would say things like Hello Mr. Sanford we received a call about a domestic disturbance somewhere on these premises, and we came to ascertain the facts.
It is at that point that Fred and Lamont would look at each other bewildered, as if they couldnt understand what the white cop had said. They would then look at Officer Smitty for his interpretation Fred we got a call about a fight around here, do you know anything about it?
Like they were too dumb to understand what the white guy was saying, as if the words were too big for them to know. Now this kind of white-speak-black man-dont understand kinda thing exists today but on different levels.
What else do I mean by talking down? Well, when a grown man, is talking to teen-agers instead of raising the bar for what and whom they should strive to be like, he communicates with them on their level. Hearing thirty and forty year olds saying What’s crackalatin 20 times a day is embarrassing. Its the equivalent of that 50 year- old uncle, at the barbecue, trying to talk the latest slang and worse, trying to do the latest dance. Thats what’s happening on radio now.
One night I was listening to KMEL and I happened to turn it on in the middle of an interview, now this interview went on for like 10-15 minutes, and in all that time, never once did this guy say who he was, or who the artist was he was interviewing. However, what he did get across was that this artist had a fat platinum chain on and how much he wanted to have one as well. And also this guy enjoys hanging out with him poppin collars at the Beehive and checkin out breezies. Now what the hell does all that mean to a listener?
After 15 minutes of this crap when this artist was walking out the door I finally figured out he was talking to none other than Kanye West. Oh snap! I thought, damn I can think of a bunch of questions Id like to ask Kanye my damn self like; What was the Chi-town hip hop scene like when you were coming up? What influence did house music have on your style? The Nation of Islam is real strong out there, what influence did they have on you if any? The gang scene out there, how did you avoid that trap, when gang culture goes back 40 years plus out there? Did you start off rapping over house records? What Chi-town radio did you listen to, that influenced you to go the soulful hip hop route?
The art of the interview, the art of conversation, all of that is lost in current hip hop radio. Why is that? It’s because we’ve lost our culture to a bunch of groupies. Not just here in the Bay Area, but all over the country. Radio stations like record companies have people working there who are just happy to be down. They are content with the status quo, if you tell them that there is something wrong with hip hop radio, they look at you like your crazy. As far theyre concerned everything is all good and then some, because theyre going to concerts and theyre chilling backstage with their favorite rap stars.
Greg Mack, the pioneering LA dee-jay that was on KDAY back in the 80s and 90s, the man that any-artist-that-wanted-his-record broken in LA had to see. When he interviewed an artist, like, Big Daddy Kane, for instance, he asked Kane questions like; So Big Daddy, where did you first start performing? What year was it? Who were some of the people that you looked up to while you were coming up? What’s this whole thing with the Juice Crew and BDP, the reason I ask is because you seem to be respected by both sides so, what’s your take on things? How do you think it can be resolved?
See, now that was from a KDAY interview I heard in 1988. Never once did Greg Mack ask him how many hoes did he have waiting for him back at the hotel or in the limousine like you hear so often today in hip hop radio.
The groupie culture is one that loves to be seen in the places to be seen and to give the impression that they are down. But really ask yourself, do you care if some idiot on the radio was chillin in the club with some football or basketball player? What does the stations event that they are constantly promoting every 15 minutes have to do with your school closing down because the state has no money for teachers salaries and books for students?
Lets really go back, to WBLS and Mr. Magic, the man who was the first person to play rap records on the radio. I used to think that Mr. Magic was a big fan of the Force MCs, because they were on his show a lot, but to his credit he wasnt riding their dicks, he asked them good questions like; So fellas, you just won the battle out in New Jersey, how much rehearsal time did you put in for it? Ok, name some of your favorite doo-wop groups.
In defense of the deejays, I have to say, that they are only carrying out orders from up top. If station management didnt want that style of presentation they wouldve long since gotten rid of them. These are young brothers and sisters trying to make it, trying to find their way in a very competitive field. Managers are the ones that set the tone, so ultimately they are responsible. You’d think someone older with more experience would want to lead them better but not so. Dont get me wrong, there are some talented brothers and sisters on the radio today, and quite a few of them have real potential in the years to come.
So whats changed? What has changed in urban radio from the Frankie Crocker, Greg Mack era to now? Yes, hip hop music is more dominant today, but what about the quality of talent? Does a hip hop deejay have to sound like he just rolled out of the gutter? To a certain degree I can understand why urban radio programmers want their deejays to sound street, it makes them more relatable to a ghetto audience. But arent they doing the audience they serve a dis-service by going that route? Do the station managers know that they are reinforcing negative racial stereotypes of the inner-city audiences that they are catering to?
Yes, hip hop culture is far more influential today than it was when Frankie Crocker and Mr. Magic ruled the airwaves, but does that mean that radio has to appeal to the lowest common denominator? No.
Black people have always talked slang. As far back as the 50s, the first black radio jocks were rappers – people like Jocko Henderson and many others. Within that style they entertained and informed the community, later, people like Frankie Crocker took to the airwaves and just talked to people in a conversational style. There was no need to talk jive on air anymore.
Do station managers know that by reinforcing these stereotypes that they are helping to keep black and Latino youth forever ignorant?
Why is it I can turn on a rock station, and hear guys on there with a sense of humor and who aren’t talking down to their audience? But mostly I dont hear anyone yelling on rock radio. Except on the records. Is hip hop that low of a culture that standards have to be lower for us than anybody else?
Hip hop radio is now notorious for being shout out and request radio, instead of being informative as well as entertaining.
Now, the whole shout out style comes from the mix tape scene, which works really well in clubs and car systems, but radio should have a different standard. Dont get it twisted, I like the mix tape dee-jays, but there needs to be a balance between that and regular radio. I dont need to hear DJ Clue or Whoo Kidd, or even Kid Capri reading liners and doing interviews let them rock the party
Because I’m down for positive changes in our culture, heres what I think station owners can do to help change this situationStation managers talk with your dee-jays, talk to them about being conversational, talk to them about them being role models in our communities, talk to them about preparing for an interview, you know, stuff like researching the artist, so that you can ask different kinds of questions so that fans and non-fans can walk away with more thanDamn look at all that ice in that medallion!
And remember mediocrity is only realized in the presence of excellence.