“…but it’s the other way.”
— Marlo Stanfield
This recent controversy of rap bloggers and underground/independent (whichever we are calling them these days) rappers/hip hop practitioners vs. HOT 97, its Program Director Ebro and “Real” Hip Hop advocate and on-air personality Peter Rosenberg confuses me.
I didn’t understand what that meant at the time.
On the flip side, several months later when the Getback album was finally released, Ebro was in my office for some reason or another. He saw my copies of the shrink wrapped CD on my desk and asked me, in typical condescending, accusatory and simultaneously dismissive Ebro fashion, “You like those guys?”
During my tenure at the Death Star, there were a handful of moments like that between myself and the program director of the moment, whether that was Ebro or someone else, that solidified for me the fact that I need to manage my expectations about what it was I thought was supposed to happen on commercial radio and within the world of corporate hip hop.
Whether it was getting clowned for my Annual J Dilla Memorial Page on HOT97.com in weekly Programming/Marketing meetings during the February months.
Or Ebro telling me this song was straight wack on one of his other visits to my department’s office space after hearing it playing on my office speakers while songs by Music clearly serves different purposes for different people.
Or the time the previous program director decided that Jim Jones’ “We Fly High (Ballin’)”, as an up and coming single, would be added to the station’s playlist despite HOT97.com visitors choosing Talib Kweli’s “Listen” in a head to head online poll (Angie Martinez’s Music Meeting) because Kweli’s song wasn’t ignorant enough. Kweli’s song “won” with an overwhelming 87% of the vote. I guess it wasn’t the year of the Blacksmith afterall. Reminds me of those rumours of Little Brother being “too intelligent” for BET’s audience when The Minstrel Show dropped.
“We Fly High (Ballin’)” is still a terribly shitty, shitty song.
New York Giants shooting fade aways in the end zone on the evening news be damned. #IDGAF
Last week Ebro equates receiving play on HOT 97 to the “major leagues”, whereas artists such as Flatbush Zombies, Sean Price and others as “minor league”.
My question is: “So what?”
Why you mad?
If Black Music being “major league” means its singers and fashion rappers are performing to euro trance instrumentals, I’ll take Sean Price over a 2003 era 9th Wonder beat 25/8 and twice on Saturdays. Keep the Zombies though, not my speed.
If a Black Milk or an Elzhi was in the “majors” tomorrow getting NBC’s The Voice type love, I bet half of you would turn on them and find some new underground super hero to hold up and esteem. And who’s to say that their motivations for making the music, that made you like them in the first place, wouldn’t have changed significantly. Perhaps that’s why Black Milk avoided Def Jam, despite their expressed interest. Autonomy over Robotics all day.
The revolution will not start with… commercial radio.
The dissonance for me gets thickest when people expect HOT 97 or commercial radio to do or play anything other than what will get them the highest ratings. You know, so they can charge more for their on-air advert space. So DJs you admire and friends you respect (or pretend to respect) that work at the station that you see at weekly events or club outings can put food on their plates and keep a roof over their heads.
Being mad at HOT 97 or any commercial radio station for not a playing local, just started rapping last May (and you can tell by how wack they sound), don’t know the difference between an S and a $, or a V and an A, hypebeast rapper dipped in the latest Karma Loop fashions (let me chill like I aint just make a Karma Loop purchase today. 40% off ain’t no punk) is like being mad at a dog for not shitting in a toilet like a human bean so that you don’t have to walk it and pick up it’s shit with your bare hands. Sure, you can probably teach a dog to use a toilet I guess, but HOT 97 ain’t the one to learn it.
That dog won’t hunt as the cliche goes.
The revolution will not start with blogs.
The revolution will not start with the radio station (unless it’s KCRW or BBC1extra haha). Especially not commercial radio. It won’t even start with the blogs. Rap Radar is owned or funded or whatever you want to call it by Eminem’s manager Paul Rosenberg (seen an Interscope advert over there lately?). Most of the other rap blogs that “count” are Complex Media partners or some such and are in the game of stats pumping and advert revenue generating versus purely being concerned with having a good signal to noise ratio. And most of these tumblr rappers (wide, sweeping, and perhaps inaccurate generalisation) can’t wait (in fact aspire to do so) to sell out and get signed by some label or backed by some miscellaneous brand that would rather throw money at something “cool” than figure out how to make something cool that people actually want to begin with. I say most of this without snark and as simple observation. As the tired cliche goes, it is what it is.
The revolution will not start with one DJ.
The revolution will not start with one DJ. Whether that’s Peter Rosenberg’s graveyard Sunday shift, or it’s Mister Cee cutting loose at noon every once in a while, or DJ Enuff getting risky during the Rush Hour. I don’t pay attention to commercial radio DJs, because I don’t pay attention to commercial radio, so forgive me for not knowing any of the DJs at Power 105 aside from DJ Envy (who was always polite to me) and DJ Clue (is he even still there?). After lobbying for and helping Rosenberg get hired at HOT 97 in the first place (over local DJs that were considered like DJ Soul, Sucio Smash, and J Period), I never once heard him play a single song I sent him. Most of those artists, who you’ve most certainly seen me post here in the 7 years Rappers I Know has been kicking, went on to do incredible things despite his lack of support, like, I don’t know—becoming Adele and also D’Angelo’s new drummer, producing for Nicki Minaj, Keyshia Cole and LL Cool J, or hell producing for swag rap poster boys Kanye West and Jay-Z, winning hella Grammys or being nominated for them; so that’s neither here nor there. Guess he didn’t see the big deal then, which speaks to Ebro’s point about acts that get played in the mix shows and graveyard shifts until they are ready for prime time. Just because something is deemed “minor league” today doesn’t mean it will be “minor league” forever. For the record and for example, PMD didn’t see the “big deal” about Jay Electronica either, comparing him to Killah Priest and DOOM (accurate), but in a matter of weeks as wondering if I could schedule [Jay] for an interview with him. Go figure.
Sometimes it takes realizing that just because you like something, and think something is worthwhile, doesn’t mean everyone else will, has to, and are a piece of shit if they don’t. When it comes to art/music as product or art/music as a vehicle to have an advertisement for a product slapped on it’s rear, if it’s not going to generate money for all parties involved supporting it, there’s probably little in it for them to give it any attention. The greatest and most skillful art is almost never the most readily accepted and respected, sometimes not until its producer is long gone. Manage your expectations, it’s not about you. Unless you can multiply yourself into hundreds of thousands of listeners.
In the case of program directors like Ebro, you have to play the music that people like so that they do not tune out and turn to another station, making their own stations less valuable in the eyes of advertisers. You know, which is what that game is all about.
As Wesley Snipes said in Mo Betta Blues, “…the people don’t come because you grandiose motherfuckers don’t play shit that they like. If you played the shit that they like, then people would come, simple as that.”
As much as you have young artists running around talking about their “brand” more than the quality of their own music, you’d think people would understand HOT 97 has an ever evolving brand of its own to upkeep and protect.
I’m not denying the power of a cornerstone like HOT 97 to “influence”; hell after all, it helped make “Chicken Noodle Soup” and “We Fly High (Ballin’)” chart topping hits, but expecting it to turn into equal opportunity, pop warner and everybody gets to play just ’cause, college radio-esque radio isn’t happening. Old heads like me aren’t going to get a Native Tongues (and all its sons) Radio out of HOT 97, and expecting that to happen is akin to being mad at HBO for not playing Perfect Strangers re-runs.
I think Chiwetel Ejiofor is a better actor than Will Smith, but that don’t mean he’s getting $20,000,000 per motion picture. Me flying a crop duster plane with a banner attached to it’s tail decrying the movie industry’s favour for Will over the Hollywood sign (essentially what tweeting Ebro about his station’s playlist is) ain’t gonna change the fact that Will has a proven track record of selling box office tickets.
Sadly, not even sadly; that’s just what it is—that is the nature of the terrestrial radio business, metrics and track record. It’s radio business, not good music business.
It’s up to you to decide whether that matters to you or not. If the music you like is “commercially viable”. As a fan of music, it shouldn’t. In fact, if you don’t work in the industry at all and are simply a consumer, it shouldn’t matter at all. The sooner people realise that, really and truly internalise it, come to terms with that fact, the less time they’ll spend being disappointed and spinning their tires in the mud. Want to make a difference, talk about and promote the art and music you really care about rather than clashing with establishments that are going to do what they do regardless of minor outcry. When’s the last time you found something beautiful in a $1 bin record that most people usually ignore?
Check your motivations for even being in this. If everyone did that, perhaps the world of music, not just the industrialised wing of it, would be far better off.
Support and share the music you like, expend no negative energy towards that which you don’t. You want a movement behind art you believe in, be the first one to make noise about it and hope it catches on. Also, pay money for an artist’s work from time to time. There’s a novel idea.
As a creator of music, if your only motivation is to end up on local commercial radio, realise the world is bigger than where you live and there are way better ways to get your music into the hands of and on the minds of people than the fickle commercial radio listener. If your only desire for making music is to be known on your block and validated because of local commercial radio airplay, may you suffer the greatest of fails. Amen.