Uncle O: I've Got the Power

It doesn’t take long to figure out that Philadelphia based on air personality, Tracy "Uncle O" Jackson (pictured with Juvenile) was a born hustler. Parlaying his talent for comedic commentary on everything from music to sports into a full time spot wasn’t the initial plan; it became clear the boost in ratings he brought to the show couldn’t be ignored. Six months after the former computer programmer stormed onto the airwaves, Uncle O became the third man for the original Hot Boyz show with Mikey Dredd and Pooch Man. . After Pooch’s departure in 2003, the Power 99 trio became a two man show in 2003. Weeknights you’ll find Uncle O and his “main man” Mikey Dredd doing above and beyond the station motto of bangin’ Hip-Hop and R&B hits. Devotees of the show depend on The Hot Boyz to feed them with multiple plays of the music they love combined with in studio artist’s appearances, conversations about issues concerning the community and straight clownin’. Always looking for ways to increase his bottom line, the radio personality combined his ear for hits with connections to some of Hip-Hop’s brightest MC’s into his debut disc Uncle O All Stars.  Featuring heavyweights like Method Man, N.O.R.E., and Rampage, along with Philly favorites Young Chris, Gillie Da Kid, Making the Band alum Eness, the disc has already received enough sales to generate an upcoming sequel. In between using his sense of humor to make frequent plugs for his disc, Uncle O sat down with AllHipHop.com to touch on putting together his disc, radio programming, and maintaining balance over the airwaves. Radio Hustle 101 is now is session.AllHipHop.com: How did you attract such a diverse roster of artists for the Uncle O All Star disc? Uncle O: When people come in to the studio you build relationships with them. For me, I try to build a rapport with people. I’ve been in the business for over seven years so you see the same people and build the rapport to where you can pick up the phone and call them. I can pick up the phone and call Method Man. He’s on my album. I can pick up the phone and call N.O.R.E. He’s on my album. I got the locals Young Chris and Peedi. I’m really cool with Bow Wow too. But I didn’t get him because I knew it would be tough to get Sony to release him. AllHipHop.com: Would you say being one of Hot Boyz helped you accomplish some of your money making goals?Uncle O: For sure—it spawned my album. I rapped before but I really rapped for a hobby. It wasn’t something I was trying to get paid for. But eventually I said, “Everyone else is doing it why cant I?” I’m always hustling and looking for ways to make money. Forget going to a record company because that’s going to be hard. I pushed for a distribution deal. So I figured why not grab some friends I had in the business and do a DJ Khaled type album. So that’s what I did. AllHipHop.com: DJ’s like Khaled and mixtape king DJ Drama have proven getting MCs to get with the program is a win win situation. What does it take to put one together? Uncle O: You gotta get releases. If the record company owns the track [that] means they paid for it to be done. If they haven’t paid a producer, they don’t own the track, and you go to the artist. Once you get their permission, they sign a release form. They can have the publishing. I just want to make money on the sales. I have a partner who has an 80/20 deal with Red Eye [distribution]. So with the 80 percent, I split that 50/50 with my partner.AllHipHop.com: How did you learn the steps it takes to make deals happen? Uncle O: I don’t know how I know. I guess calling and trying to get clearances taught me that. I knew you just couldn’t [just] put an artist on your album. I have business relationships with people that come through for me. I’ve known someone at Def Jam for years. I can call and ask, “Who do I call for clearances?” He’ll pass me through to the person I need to speak to. AllHipHop.com: Since you grew up in the era when classic Hip-Hop was being made, do you miss the way you remember it?Uncle O: Definitely. It’s horrible right now. I definitely don’t love what going on now. But you have to change with the times. If you don’t, you become stuck in your time. This is just that time of music right now. The problem with the industry and the labels is record companies think they know what a hit is. Just because it’s been on the radio forever does not mean it’s a hit. If you sell millions of copies, that makes it a hit. There is no balance. AllHipHop.com: And what do you mean when you say balance?Uncle O: Right now it's all South. Balance should mean East, some West, Midwest, and Dirty South. Whatever.AllHipHop.com: Isn’t that what radio does? They play what’s hot regionally.Uncle O: Well whatever is hot gets played in this region.AllHipHop.com: Do you ever want to be the DJ to kick off that balance?Uncle O: I don’t have the power to do that. If I had my own radio show it would be balanced. There should be more Common on the radio. People want it! People complain we play the same 10 songs every hour. But what am I to do? We are a request driven station so what am I to do if the only ones making requests are kids? That’s what they want to hear—their favorite songs ten times an hour. So what are you going to do if that’s who drives your radio station? Play what they want to hear.AllHipHop.com: That’s the business side of corporate radio.Uncle O: That’s the business side and I don’t control that side. If I were able to say, “Let me give a variety” I would make Common a part of the 10 songs that the kids want to hear. But if they don’t call and say they want to hear it, it won’t get played.AllHipHop.com: If people demanded radio change their rotations what would happen?Uncle O: That’s not what drives radio. If 200 people protest, that won’t change things. If those same 200 people don’t call and ask, it’s not going to get played. AllHipHop.com: So if people just flooded the phone lines that wouldn’t help?Uncle O: Not if it wasn’t consistent. It would have to be for longer than a week. It has to be for months. If it was done quarterly—maybe. People are “power to the people” for five days then it’s pointless. A one day protest doesn’t make a difference. No one would care any more.AllHipHop.com: The Hot Boyz do a lot of work to raise the consciousness of the community around violence, snitching, and conflict resolution. As the murder rate in Philadelphia increases, what keeps you motivated to reach out through the airwaves? Uncle O: That’s our responsibility. Period. That’s giving back. This station is driven by the community and that’s where we want to be. It puts us up close and personal with them. If we weren’t, we would be missed. AllHipHop.com: Do people still pay to play? Uncle O: I highly suspect it exists. People don’t pay me because I can’t control what’s played. A program director picks what’s played. I’ve heard of it happening in other markets. It’s illegal and it’s called payola. Payola is punishable by law and a federal offense. [Laughs] AllHipHop.com: How important is to The Hot Boyz to have artists live in the studio?Uncle O: It’s really important. It allows listeners to get personal with some of their favorite people that we play. We do our best to support the locals too. AllHipHop.com: Speaking of locals, who do you think is one of the most slept on Philly MCs?Uncle O: Young Chris. A lot of his style I hear in Jay-Z. Not taking anything away from Jay-Z, but I think a lot of his style is similar. There are tons of Philly artists being slept on. Peedi, Gillie, Mike Knox. A female MC Red Bull is very slept on. She’s on my album and she’s very good. AllHipHop.com: What’s been changing in radio from the time you got on the air in 2000?Uncle O: I love what I do and I love my job. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. Not too many people can get to go to the job they love every day. But the business has changed so much that it makes it hard to have fun on the air. When you listen to The Hot Boyz we are having a good time. But sometimes the business side can drive you nuts. Politics.AllHipHop.com: So does the business side of corporate radio tend to be in or out of touch with its listening audience? What can they do to change things?Uncle O: Out of touch. Radio has to realize that the people that work for them are their listeners. I know what people ask for and what they are saying. But they are doing what they have to do. This is business. Radio’s responsibility is to play what listeners want.AllHipHop.com: How do you respond to the negativity you get from people complaining about the content of some of the music you play?Uncle O: I say tell your kids to stop requesting it over and over again. It’s your kids calling for what they want to hear. If you want to hear more Mary J., get your friends together and have them call. Kids don’t realize how much power they have on the radio.AllHipHop.com: So are you saying kids decide what people want to hear?Uncle O: Of course. But the problem is people don’t know they are being bamboozled. [Cassidy's] “Two Step” is the same thing as [Unk's] “Walk It Out”. The ‘soldier boy’ dance is all the dances combined into one. There isn’t anyone that wants to get creative and step outside the box. They all look like slave dances to me. [Laughs]AllHipHop.com: What’s coming up for Hot Boyz? Uncle O: Our own show On Demand. That’s hot! [Laughs] I like that. It’s going to be very interactive. When we have an artist in the studio, you can On Demand us and watch them if you miss the show. You can click and watch us whenever you want. AllHipHop.com: If you could talk to your listeners right now, what would you tell them? Uncle O: Look out for big things to go on with the Hot Boyz. We’ve been on for seven years and give thanks to everyone that supports and listens to us. People listen to us when they pass through town and all over the country on the Internet. Man, I thank God. Make sure you put this in—I am blessed and highly favored.