D.L. Chandler's frequent thoughts on the world of hip hop and beyond

Friday, June 25, 2004

Trolling Through The Late Night AM Radio Wasteland

I’m going to take a different route with my Confluence entry this week and make it a little more personal than usual. I had a severe case of writer’s block last night and I decided a highway drive would free up some thoughts. After painfully sifting through the garbage on the FM side of the station – with all the requisite slow jam/love song sets because of the late hour – I stumbled upon a goldmine of entertainment: AM Radio. I am completely hooked to that side of the dial now. The variety of programming is far more interesting in comparison to what you will witness on the FM side. Of course, you have to endure a fair share of badly produced commercials for “male enhancement," hair loss, and financial counseling but it is all worth it for the occasional gems you reap.

Last night, however, I realized that AM radio is home to a bevy of President Bush apologists and they’re heavy into their Right-leaning agenda. Thankfully, they allow countering views from those on the left but as radio host Dennis Prager said in his syndicated talk show late last night, the Left enjoys hysteria and mayhem. Prager railed off against director Michael Moore's new film, Fahrenheit 9/11, and criticized Moore for attacking Bush and painting him as an incompetent leader. Not that Bush needed much help in that arena given some of the decisions by he and his administration in the last 4 years but Prager raised some good points from the Right that I wouldn’t have been exposed to had it not been for my late night road-toiling. One thing is highly noticeable as well. These Right-leaning talk show hosts, for all their pro-American values and morals, are really behind Bush and his team – almost with an apology at the ready for being supportive.

Another show I happened across was The Mike Gallagher Show show. If I can find where his show runs on the dial, I’ll listen to it again. The host is affable, quick and isn’t afraid to let someone from the Left challenge his strong, conservative views. Although he isn’t as gung ho about all things Right as Mr. Prager, Mr. Gallagher was at the very least fair.

However, the frustrating thing about AM radio is the reception. Just as the show was getting good, I would lose range due to my driving up and down the highway. I drove around an extra hour and half in an attempt to get Gallagher’s show back on the dial when I stumbled across the evening's weirdest offering. It was a politically-themed call-in show directed towards truck drivers. Because of the reception, I kept missing the call letters but I can assure that this show (which is based in Denver, Colorado) was the strangest thing I’ve ever been privy to. The callers used their CB radio handles when calling in so that made it even more comical to hear "Big Bear" or "Heavy Foot" drop their versions of political science.

But it didn’t stop there. I happened across one station playing some pretty poorly constructed rap songs so I braced myself for it and listened. It was a song about getting registered to vote – well, it pretended to be a song anyway. I truly believe they will have this song on repeat in hell for infinity. And while I appreciate the message and the intent, the execution was laughable and amateurish. Much to my frustration, I wasn’t able to the get the "artist’s" name or else I’d be providing a sound link for the column. I can’t be alone in witnessing that horror.

Don’t be afraid to venture off into the deep darkness that is AM radio. You never know what will come to light. If you can weave around the countless gospel and religious station formats, you'll find something worthy of interest.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Music with a Message ...

Growing up and slowly becoming socially aware in 1980s, I didn’t realize how powerful music with a message could be until I reached high school in the mid 80s. I watched the news and read the paper with the requisite pre-teen and teenager’s wavering interest. News items and names stuck to you here and there, especially President Ronald Reagan . One of my boyhood heroes, Chuck D of Public Enemy, often took Reagan (and eventually the senior George Bush) to task for what he felt was a series of ploys by the government to derail the progression of his people and misinforming the public. Discovering Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane and KRS-1 at a young age really influenced a thirst for not only the music but a need to find out why the messages were so strong. Radical thoughts and politics aside, you heard their music often and the messages, when present, were branded into your mind. With Reagan’s recent passing, it made me recall how many songs in my youth attacked the man’s character, or at least his administration.

Ironically, my first Hip Hop CD purchase was Run-D.M.C.'s self-titled debut. There was nothing, as far as I can recall, socially uplifting on that release. I can admit I missed many of the messages in some of my favorite Hip Hop artist’s songs and I didn’t return to seeking them through music until the early 1990s – when Afro-centric themes were still relevant and prominent. Even then, I missed out on a lot of messages because, like most people, I was impressed more by dogmatic rhetoric than I was by action.

Go-Go, a form of percussion-heavy music that relies on chants and borrows heavily from funk, soul and, much later in its development, Hip Hop, is a Washington, D.C. musical phenomenon. It is one of the rare forms of music you have to experience live to fully understand its power. Sadly enough, success in Go-Go has been sporadic at best and it has never latched on anywhere else in the country as it does in its own backyard. In his June 8th column about Ronald Reagan’s legacy, Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher revealed a tidbit I was totally unaware of. He wrote: “In this city, Experience Unlimited, the great go-go band, sang of Reaganomics, "No matter what they cut back, we're going to say, 'Ooh la la la' to that," and a generation that saw no way out other than the foolish dreams of hustling and pro sports was lost to crack, music videos and a deepening disconnect from the ideals of work and family. This is the same Experience Unlimited (better known as E.U.) that is in sole possession of Go-Go’s biggest hit, “Da Butt."

Who knew they were paying attention to the political and social landscape?

In D.C., one of the most popular bands of the 1980s was the Southeast Washington-based Junkyard Band . Their first nationally available single through Def Jam Records, “The Word," was backed by a more popular b-side, “Sardines." I didn’t pay attention to the words back then and not until quite recently did I realize that they were railing against President Reagan in a similar fashion as E.U. did. The refrain in the song, “Reagan made the bomb, Reagan made the bomb" meant nothing to me when I was 14-15 years old – all I cared about was the beat and having a good time. How ironic is it that Marc Fisher, a man I have little in common with aside from the fact we’re both writers, has brought everything from my past full circle. Go-Go, a form of music nobody confuses with being socially conscious had folks really pushing some ideas to the youth. It’s too bad that current Go-Go bands could care less about the issues; it’s all about the honeys shaking their butts and “going hard" as the kids say.

As time goes on and they reach that age of settling down, how far are will the young people of the day be willing to reach back and recollect when the music became less about the party and more about the message? As it stands now, every current popular song on the radio in Washington, D.C. share the common theme of partying, chasing women, sexual prowess and conquest and who has the shiniest trinkets. I’m honest in saying that I enjoy a good, old-fashioned song that may display a little ignorance – especially if the beat is enjoyable. But I won’t ever stop pining for the days of old when there was at least a decent amount of balance between the banal and the bold.

With Peace,
D.L. Chandler

For more information, visit the sites below:
Washington Post's MP3 Go-Go Page
Interesting piece about Public Enemy
Washingtonian Magazine's take on Go-Go music

Friday, June 04, 2004

Political Hip Hop Convention ...

In a recent editorial release from the Black staff, they raised one of the more interesting arguments concerning the surging infusion of politics and Hip Hop culture. It follows:

"The establishment of a highly organized political front by a unique and universal cultural art form gives us serious pause. You don't think it should? Such thinking threatens to create an atmosphere of expressive filtration - if the world of hip hop has a political agenda, then Artist X's lyrics are, over time, forced to ultimately conform to the evolving hip hop 'party line.' If not, Artist X may face exile from the 'hip hop community' - however that's defined. Suddenly, all the social, political and activist messages in hip hop sound the same. We'd be curious to see if 70 percent of hip hop consumers (middle class White teens, college students and graduates) are included in this political collective."

As we touched on in Confluence last week, there are so many vague intentions for this supposed Hip Hop political movement that many are still in the dark on just what they intend to do. How inclusive is it when a majority of the speakers and acts featured in the panel discussions and entertainment portions for the upcoming Political Hip Hop Convention are mostly Black? How can you have so many of the usual set of suspects talking the same thing with what will be an unmistakable lack of policy focus? This isn’t meant as a slight to the convention’s efforts, but there lacks a true balance in political philosophy. Many of the speakers and panelists are hard driving liberals as if to say moderates and conservatives can’t enter the “cipher," so to speak. There isn’t one speaker listed (in my view of it) that will offer countering thoughts and is that truly going to advance this progressive ideal?

Simply put, it can’t be this one-sided banner movement. When can the White b-boy or Asian b-boy and b-girl start to feel like this message speaks to them? Of course, we’re jumping the gun because the convention hasn’t started yet and it may march to a very successful drum. That is still a hope I share with everyone involved. My fear is this sort of political marginalization will invite an ultra-liberal slant and becomes a type of reverse commercialism. As if we’re packaging this Hip Hop and politics movement like it’s the next fly ride or fresh new kicks in the hood.
As the Black piece goes on to illustrate in the last paragraph in its Hip Hop Appreciation week section, the people we’re left to begin and hopefully carry on this tradition exist in these hallowed halls of the Black intelligentsia – but are they up to creating the necessary tenets of the agenda? Just because you can quote a 2pac lyric and possess a doctorate in African-American Studies does not mean I should buy into your ideal for a bold, new and politically-charged Hip Hop America. These professors, academics and supposedly well-meaning blowhards have questionable credentials in the vocation of Hip Hop. That’s where young people should question this movement. If the union between two very multi-faceted and diverse entities such as politics and Hip Hop is to work, the torch-bearers had better be prepared to offer more than what’s been given already.

Policy over politics; I like the sound of that.

Check out these two sites:

Both sites are owned and operated by Cedric Muhammad and Yvonne Bynoe repectively. They'll both be panelists and moderators for this year's Political Hip Hop Convention.