Turn Off the Radio

A billboard for HOT 92.5 FM, lies in the shadow of the Tower of the Americas. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)
Turn Off the Radio

By M. Solis

San Antonio's hip-hop programming sends mixed signals

"When asked whether he saw an end to rapping, Afrika Bambataa said he expected that MC-ing would be around as long people were still talking. By this logic, the future of hip-hop lies in the first cry of the next newborn soul, man or woman. If you want to know the future of hip-hop, get thee to a maternity ward."
— Greg Tate

Epiphanies sometimes arrive in strange places. For me, hip-hop most recently flexed its muscles on a crowded bus in Philly in 1997. Although Christopher Wallace had died a few months earlier in a senseless drive-by, his presence filled the streets. One of the knuckleheads on the bus was lugging around an ancient gray boom-box, and proceeded to bump "Mo Money, Mo Problems" like he owned the masters. The elementary and grade school students who packed the seats recited Biggy's verse word for word. I turned to the sister on my right who was snuggling her daughter, a beautiful toddler. Her daughter joined the celebration with the only words she could speak: not mommy and daddy, but "Biggy, Puffy, and Mase."

Over the past few weeks, Clear Channel billboards across San Antonio have been promoting Clear Channel's new radio station, Hot 92.5, with the slogan "Where hip-hop lives." At first glance, the spankin' new station is a Xerox of Univision's 98.5 The Beat, with matching playlists, and seemingly matching aspirations. Both stations are intent on targeting youth via the genre's greatest lowest-common-denominator embarrassments: Lil' Jon, Chingy, and Ludacris. Each of these artists seems intent on celebrating misogyny in its various forms. (Clear Channel representatives did not respond to interview requests.)

Last month, a Philly communications firm, the Motivational Educational Agency, released the results of a study focusing on sexuality among African-American youth ages 16-20 in families earning less than $25,000 a year. Among the study's most disturbing findings was the glaring absence of any form of feminism that was attributed to the hyper-posturing of hip-hop. In addition, the study revealed "an open disdain for black women" by both men and women, most of which was conveyed through the language of hip-hop.

For Illogic, a local activist intent on bringing conscious hip-hop to San Anto's airwaves, the negativity often hits close to home. "I actually just had my daughter. I was home on maternity leave for a very long time and I was looking to get into another career. I was doing a lot of job searching in the car and sometimes I would have her with me.

"She was really a baby, but I would be listening to the radio and thinking to myself, I can't have her listening to this because it becomes a part of your everyday lifestyle, your existence, something you hear all the time, something that you see all the time. The images become so familiar where you're desensitized by them. It's really sad."

Jason Torres, KSYM's hip-hop music director and sole b-boy presence on college radio, echoes this sentiment, and combats negativity via his wax. Each Tuesday on 90.1, from 9 to 11 p.m., JT Moneez spotlights artists like Talib Kweli, KRS-ONE, and Aesop Rock. In the process, he lets San Anto heads know, especially those in lock up, where hip-hop really lives.

"I think hip-hop lives within our culture, within urban society," he says. "Ultimately, it lives all over the place. I mean, my grandma loves Tupac." Torres also cites Dead Prez among the artists he spins who target corporate radio through their lyrics.

"What's on the radio, propaganda, mind control
And turning it on is like putting on a blindfold
Cuz when you bringing the real you don't get rotation
Unless you take over the station
And yeah I know it's a part of their plans
To make us think it's all about party & dancing
yo it might sound good when you're spitting your rap
but it reality don't nobody live like that
you wanna know about the nigga I am?
well let me tell about the nigga I'm not
I don't fuck wit tha cops!
Platinum don't mean that it gotta be hot
I ain't gotta love it even if they play it a lot
you can hear it when you walk the streets
how many people they reach
how they use music to teach
the radio program ain't a figure of speech
don't sleep - cuz you could be a radio freak."

Through activism, Illogic counters the billboards' message. "I think hip-hop lives wherever there's an open mind; wherever it's accepted," she explains. "I feel strongly that whether people know it or not, hip-hop is existing in everyone's lives on an everyday basis but if it's not recognized by that person it won't exist. So even in our elders, hip-hop could possibly exist in them as well if they were to acknowledge it, because hip-hop is the society that we live in today. It's a direct interpretation of our society, but it can't live unless it's acknowledged. That's why it doesn't exist very much in San Antonio except by the people that continually support it." •

By M. Solis

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