With more ways to find new music than ever before and with everyone tuning in to his music player of choice, it's hard to believe that FM radio still has any power or influence. However, there it is and always has been, decidedly free and endlessly capricious. There are still very few social barometers as complex as a city's radio station. As I traveled from New Orleans to Philadelphia last week, I noted the differences among all the major hip-hop stations dotting the east coast, and the findings were...not as surprising as I had hoped. It went down like this:
1. Q93- New Orleans
Despite its popularity and status within the area, Q93 has never been much of an innovator. Its DJs are barely articulate, (save "the world famous" AD Berry, whose voice is so gravelly he actually sounds as if he's in pain when he speaks) and they never play anything edgy or new. For something to get on Q93--even if it's local--it has to be pretty established. And there are barely any remixes or alternate versions of the same ten songs they play over and over. The reason why I can over-analyze songs like "Lost without U" and "Buy U a Drank" is that I've heard them so many times on the radio that they've lost all meaning but the alternate ones I give them out of boredom.
Weekend spinner Uptown Angela is really dumb, but she's met Reggie Bush, which is probably better than being really smart and never having met Reggie Bush. (Also, Reggie Bush is wearing a Bill Russell jersey. He can't rise any higher in my book.)
As far as regional hits go, Cupid's "Cupid Shuffle" is still one of 93.3's most played. I've also heard Lil Boosie et al's "Wipe Me Down" more times than I've cared to, which is to say that they have played "Wipe Me Down" more than once.
Even I don't know how much I'm going to miss the south.
2. WJZD 94.5- Mississippi
Wifey and I caught this around Gulfport; like many stations, its handle is "The People's Station," and I wasn't aware of such a Communist under-current in the southern scenes. Though it was the most hip-hop station on the dial, it was still pretty pop-sounding to me. It was notable for one reason: You remember when I wrote that "Wipe Me Down" made me "wonder how close we are to a legitimate cover of 'The Hokey-Pokey'"? The shit actually happened. And, of course, DJ UNK was involved.
Wine-O feat. UNK- "Hokey-Pokey"
Apocalypse, put your left foot in, take your left foot out...
3. KBFB 97.9- Alabama
Basically, if you run a rap station, your options for a nickname are limited to The People's Station, Power-Something, or The Beat. This station chose The Beat, and for the most part, they played the same five songs as everyone else:
1. T-Pain feat. Yung Joc- "Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin')" [Don't sleep on the subtitle.]
2. R. Kelly feat. Usher- "Same Girl"
3. Da Shop Boyz- "Party Like a Rockstar"
4. Hurricane Chris- "A Bay Bay"
5. Huey- "Pop, Lock, and Drop It"
"Party Like a Rockstar" and "A Bay Bay" have particular significance to me because they're getting radioplay based solely on Internet buzz, and they seem like benchmarks in the augmentation of the gap between that kind of momentum and conventional airplay. I used to hear curious items like "A Bay Bay" on hip-hop blogs all the time and know that it would be a month before they blew up, if they did at all. All of a sudden, that delay is no longer in place. Either radio is taking cues from its less established counterpart, the Internet is more established than we thought and radio is lagging behind, or, strangely, both.
The regional hit that played in Alabama was Kinfolk Kia Shine's "So Crispy," which was kind of fresh. It's minimal, but in a more professional way than snap--more like early Neptunes in its use of modules. KKS's MyPace leaves a little more to be desired though. He seems more interested in promoting the shoe designs he wears than his music. And you have to scroll horizonally, which I haven't done since looking for Jenny McCarthy nudies in '95.
Yeah, that was my girl back in the day. Looking back on it though, her entire look-at-me-I-pick-my-nose-like-I'm-one-of-the-guys ethos was so condescending. She's like one of those broads at the bar who tries to level with you by saying that she's, like, "soooo into video games," and upon further investigation, you realize that means she played as Princess in her brother's copy of Mario 2 a few times. Just be real, ladies.
4. V103- Atlanta (The People's Station)
This is more of an R&B jump-off but they play a lot of rap too, and it was undoubtedly the best station we came across on the trip. The five o'clock drive doesn't even have a DJ: it's an upbeat mix show that blends all the top hits, and sometimes only one verse gets through before the mix flips onto the next track. The liners are all read by big stars like Jay-Z or people who used to be big stars like Chris Tucker. This works really well.
The regional hit--and I've been using that term but am not sure what it means anymore in these increasingly accessible times--was Soulja Boy's "Crank That Soulja Boy," which is pretty fucking terrabull. The refrain is "Superman that ooooh," but it was much better when I originally heard it as "Super-Soak that ho." I gave him some credit for the post-colonialism of pairing steel drums with snap music, but then Jelly pointed out that all the dude did was jack and slow down that "Inside Peanut Butter, Outside Jelly" song by Cadillac Don. That made me sad.
Another regional song they played was some piece of garbage with a chorus that said something like, "Look like money/Smell like money/Everything money, boy I'm all about that money." I didn't catch the artist's name though, and you can imagine how difficult it is searching for that on Google.
5. 95.5 The Beat- Atlanta
This is actually the more popular hip-hop station in the ATL, but the first song I heard on it was "Right Thurr," so I had to switch to my iPod.
Since I have nothing else to write here, I was thinking I might pace a few words on "Party Like a Rockstar," which I love but am puzzled by. A hallmark of performances by African-American comedians is a bit in which they ridicule young white males for trying to "act black." But in doing so, these black comedians, talking about doing some "tubular bungee jumping," reveal how little they know about white culture. They're always at least five years behind. To us, they sound so much more ridiculous than the caucasians they're lampooning.
Similarly, "Party Like a Rockstar" contains references to Ozzy Osbourne and Travis Barker and features exclamations of "cowabunga" and "totally, dude." I'm pretty sure Da Shop Boyz are in on the joke, but it's hilarious that other African-Americans aren't. They think this is cutting edge and that they're actually branching out in their taste, when the truth is, black people don't know shit about rock music. If you read any interview with a rapper, the question "What's something you listen to that would surprise your fans?" and the dude says one of two things:
a) "Man, I'm into that Nirvana right now. That 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' shit. It's got crazy energy. Kurt Cobain was such a talented cat, you know what I'm sayin'?"
b) "Man, I'm blasting that Band-with-the-Biggest-Song-on-the-Radio-at-That-Given-Point in Time. I mean, 'Lips of an Angel' is my jam."
Man, Juicy J is so suburban. I wonder what his favorite song on Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? is.
Okay, you might be saying that I can't expect a rapper to be as up on rock music as me, and that people can't be expected to be current on every aspect of pop culture. That's true for most people, but these are artists. What can you achieve if you make music for a living, and your scope of experience in listenning only extends to Creed or whatever? It bothers me.
6. WPEG Power 98- North Carolina
Not to race-bait, but those "Nothin' but the most blazin' hip-hop and R&B" liners? Why do they always have to be shouted by white dudes? That's how it was with the station identification that Power 98 wore out.
They played this song "Can You Work wit' That" that was pretty by-the-numbers, until I realized halfway through that it was a three minute commercial for the station. I was impressed.
I have to admit I was hoping "I Tried" by Bone Thugs and Akon would get more play on this trip. That chorus is amazing.
"Same Girl" is blowing up quickly, and I noticed it was part of a trend. Back in the day, men used to sing about women to those women; recently, people like Jamie Foxx have sung about themselves to women; the new trend is to sing about women to other men. The good news is that "Same Girl" isn't the most latently homosexual song on the radio as long as The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus has something to say about it.
7. WBTJ 106.5- Virginia
People from there like to pretend that Virginia is in the south, but for my purposes, it's the Mason-Dixon Line of this column, mostly because I've never been there. This is where I started to really track differences by region. The one that jumped out at me was that the farther north I traveled, the more the new T.I. single played, which seemed weird. I didn't hear it once in Atlanta, but it got a lot of play during the northeastern part of the trip. Another thing worth mentioning is that--and you may not believe this--I didn't hear a single one of 50 Cent's new songs on the entire trip. That shocked me, especially as I headed closer to New York.
I rode this station in through Maryland and Delaware, and the best moment was when a DJ invited callers to an informal poll to decide whether 50 Cent was sexier than Cam'ron. To my surprise, about 80% of the callers chose Killa. It was definitely a "welcome to the north" moment--there may be something to be said for these Yankees. This was mostly girls calling in and saying, "I gotta vote for my man Cameron Giles," but the icing on the cake was a dude who called in and voted for Cam. The host said, "You know this is for the sexiest of the two, right?" Without skipping a beat, the guy replied, "Yeah. Cam a fly dude. No homo."
Killa with Ms. Jessica Alba at a video game competition: "I dig bitches like Simon Says/Open vagina/Put your legs behind your head."
8. Power 99- Philadelphia
Philly's main rap station is well-rounded for the most part. The insidious Wendy Williams has a show at mid-day, but I like most of the other DJs. The new Kanye West song is popping off up here too, and people in the northeast can't get enough of Swizz Beatz, whether it's on his own tracks, Eve's "Tambourine," or even that execrable "Get Me Bodied," the worst Beyonce single ever.
One last thing: I was wondering why Lil' Mama's rambunctious "Lip Gloss" wasn't getting more play up north, her being from New York and all, and then I found the answer: her remix on Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" is crossing over instead. Philadelphians love it for some reason. What can I say? Black people know their rock music.