Same Ol' Song: What Happened to Hip-Hop Radio?
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"All around the world/ same song..." -"Same Song", Digital Underground
When invaders take over a country, the first thing that they do is seize the radio station. So, when a group of terrorists tried to take over the ‘hood, of course, their first target was 99.9FM The Heat. As soon as they bum-rushed the lobby, they tied up the news director. Next they destroyed all the old school Hip-Hop to leave no trace of a once great culture. And finally, as a form of torture, they played the same wack rap song over and over again for 24 hours straight. Unfortunately for them, their hostile takeover was an epic fail because the loyal listeners of The Heat couldn’t tell the difference...Rap music has always had a strange relationship with commercial radio. During the early years, besides the short version of "Rapper's Delight", outside of NYC, you only heard real Hip-Hop on some college radio station at 2 0’clock in the morning. Not really a good time to blast your boom box.
Although Hip-Hop gradually made it into regular rotation thanks to more pop-friendly songs like MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” or Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby", some radio stations bragged about the fact that they didn’t play rap. Well into the '90s. By the time that Hip-Hop fully infiltrated commercial radio during the mid '90s, the Golden Era of Hip-Hop was over, and the airwaves were filled with either gangsta rap or Pop Hop that made you wanna “get jiggy wit' it.”
What made matters worse was the loosening of FCC rules that made it possible for a couple of media corporations to own virtually every radio station in every city, as well as the fact that media companies were no longer required to do much in the way of public service programming.
Today, listeners are bombarded with the same five songs, and a radio programmer's idea of diversity is which member of Young Money they'll play next - Lil Wayne or Drake.
So, maybe, the question should not be what happened to Hip-Hop Radio, but whether it really existed in the first place on a commercial level.
Historically, Black radio has played a major part in the African American community. During the Civil Rights Era, it was the disc jockey who kept the people hip to where the next protest was going down. Also, Black radio has always been seen as the “voice of the community,” and all roads to reach the masses went thru the local radio station.
Herein lies the problem.
Whether Black owned or not, any station that plays Hip-Hop music is usually viewed as an advocate for the best interests of the boys and girls in the 'hood, and they play on that empty symbolism to silence dissent, making them the media equivalent of “The Untouchables.”
This is why, regardless of how many people whine about the state of Hip-Hop, radio stations have gone virtually unchallenged. Nobody wants to get on the bad side of the person who reaches thousands of people every morning. So, it becomes a matter of 'if you can’t beat 'em join 'em.'
Since every aspiring young rapper has a dream of one day having his girl hear his song played on the radio, even the most conscious artist isn’t going to diss the local radio station.
Also, many youth advocacy groups who should be on the front line fighting against the minstrel, murda music heard on the radio depend on their support. What community organization is gonna risk having the local radio station stop giving out Waka Flocka Flame CDs at their annual “Stay in School” rally?
They even have the main critics of destructive messages - Black leaders and churches - on lock as civil rights leader Rev. Jones ain’t giving up his Sunday morning show for none of y'all. And although Sista Smith and Mother Jackson hate rap music, they would enter the “twerk team “ contest in a minute if 99.9 FM was giving the winner free tickets to the latest Tyler Perry play.
It's past time that we make those who control the airwaves responsible to the community. and not just their corporate sponsors.
This is especially critical during a political season as the same mega company that owns the right wing talk radio station that demonizes people in the 'hood as “welfare cheats, no good parents and useless thugs” is the same company that owns the Hip-Hop station that promotes these very same stereotypes.
Some people have raged against the machine. Media activists such as Davey D, Paul Porter, Lisa Fager Bediako, and Kwabena Rasuli have been constant thorns in the side of the industry. Also, Paul Billings of 103.7 The Beat in Muskegon, Michigan has used his station to educate as well as entertain. And, Silky Slim of Baton Rouge, Lousiana has used his radio show to stop Black-on-Black violence. North Carolina's Scotty Reid has even created his own Internet based, Black Talk Radio News Network.
For the last few years, The Militant Mind Militia has launched a radio rebellion campaign the last week of August. Since radio personalities claim that they only play the songs that “we” want to hear we kick off a national campaign to e-mail, tweet, and jam station request lines with songs from conscious Hip-Hop artists, old and new, that should get airplay.
And, we ask them to have more programs dealing with issues facing their listeners, and not just every blue moon at 5AM on Sunday morning when the kids are asleep and the young adults are just getting home from the club with a hangover. Also, Labor Day Weekend is “Conscious Throwback” weekend when we use social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and convert our iPads, iPhones, etc. into our own radio networks by posting old school conscious Hip-Hop.
It is time that we demand change, and if the radio stations won’t get down with the program - thanks to the Internet - we, the people, have the power to tell the radio stations “either get down, or lay down.”
Like Lupe Fiasco said on "State Run Radio":
“Make ‘em hear the records we play/ Build your own station/ Become your own DJ"
TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is This Ain’t Hip Hop, a column for intelligent Hip-Hop headz. For more information, contact email@example.com or visit NoWarningShotsfired.com. Follow on Twitter (@truthminista).