The People's Radio

The Positive Side of Hip Hop

C. Matthew Hamby

"The girls don't seem to care what's on/As long as it plays till dawn ..."

— Steely Dan, "FM"

I haven't been sleeping well lately.

For the last few weeks, I've had this recurring dream during which I stumble upon a huge sum of money and decide to purchase a high-powered FM radio station.

However, instead of allowing large media conglomerates to dictate what music my program director (who also happens to be me) plays, I decide to take a risk and play positive, uplifting music that nourishes the mind and the spirit.

Taking a page from Boston's Radio Log 540 AM, where the girls-only staff refuses to play music containing disrespectful lyrics, my dream station's slogan would be "Less Hustle and More Flow."

Advertisers would line up to be a part of this new radio revolution; however, we'd decline offers from fast food chains. Remember, I said this was a dream.

Reminiscent of Samuel L. Jackson's rendition of Mister Senor Love Daddy from Do the Right Thing, my on-air talent would sit comfortably in a modest but well-equipped storefront studio physically located in the heart of The City. Community members would stop by with ear-to-the-street-updates as the DJ spins the latest "soulful, organic and alternative" Hip Hop singles.

Refusing to bow under the pressure from industry-types who offer pro-bono appearances by nationally recognized artists in exchange for spins (because we know money never changes hands, right?), my station would prominently feature local and regional talent representing the voice of the surrounding community.

My airwaves would belong to The People.

As neighboring urban-formatted stations pump our children's minds full of whispering invitations to early sexual activity and testosterone-induced challenges to gunplay, my station — which I would have named WRBG (as in Red-Black-Green), if the call letters weren't already taken — would serve as the flagship for a nationally syndicated show hosted by Air America's underutilized Chuck D. I might even let Flav (sans Bridgitte Nielson) drop in from time to time.

We would proudly play Style's "I'm Black." Make us mad, we might even play it two or three times consecutively.

While the other stations make sure that singles with such thought-provoking titles as "Grind With Me," "Just a Lil Bit" and "Pimpin' All Over the World" are kept at the top of their playlists, we'd host regular "Fight Nites" where local and regional artists would spit freestyle ciphers and battle rhymes. Finalists would be eligible for inclusion on a mix-CD compiled by an independent record label. The mix-CD would not include appearances by anyone from G-Unit.

Forget about Lil' Kim's sentencing date. Our "Ladies' Nite" would feature old-school and current tracks by some of the best voices in Hip Hop, including Jean Grae, MC Lyte, Bahamadia, Roxanne Shante, Ladybug Mecca, Mystic and Lauren Hill, as well as music by other artists celebrating the strength and beauty of womanhood. Local advertisers would underwrite the show and a portion of the revenue would go toward local women's health initiatives.

Each weekend, we'd broadcast live from local coffee shops where my Street Team Deejays would spin a collage of old-school Hip Hop classics (does Run DMC's "Sucker MC's" ever get old?). Local artists and entrepreneurs would each have 60 seconds to promote their businesses, and my station would co-sponsor an annual Hip Hop Entrepreneurship Seminar.

We would regularly feature segments guest-hosted by Hip Hop icons like KRS-One, Kool G. Rap, Crazy Legs, Pete Rock, Jazzy Jeff, DJ Premier and others who would share their perspectives on preserving the legacy of the art.

Oh, yeah. About once every few months, some knucklehead competitor up the dial would try to have us shut down for violating FCC Regulation No. 1619: Unauthorized Attempts to Free the Minds of Our Youths.

But in this dream, The People always win.

By now, radio professionals reading this are likely snickering at the many uninformed business decisions I make in my dream. After all, the broadcasting industry is all about ratings, market share and revenue. In the desert of the real, if the market demands Slim Thug, and I encourage my on-air talent to spin singles by Hezekiah or the Crown City Rockers, then the market would most likely win.

But something tells me that if the listening public is offered a professional, high-quality alternative to the ear-Ritalin dominating the airwaves today, then creativity, purpose and soul would win every time. Unfortunately, few commercial media outlets seem willing to place faith in the hands and hearts of the people.

At some point in my dream, I am abruptly awakened by the sound of someone shouting his home phone number over a mind-numbing, loud and lackluster beat. Wait — it's Mike Jones, and the noise blaring from my clock radio is proof, once again, that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

KEVIN BRITTON writes about Hip Hop music and its impact on popular culture. His column appears monthly in CityBeat.

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