The Demise of Hyphy
Thizzle, bling, and blunts may have helped bring down
the overhyped hyphy movement. But KMEL pulled the trigger.
By Eric K. Arnold
After breaking through to mainstream pop-culture awareness in 2006, the Bay Area’s youthful, party-oriented hyphy movement seemed poised to become the next big thing. Fueled by cannabis, thizz pills, and top-shelf tequila, hyphy’s uptempo, feverish sound put a psychedelic tint on turf rap. “Go dumb” became the rallying cry for an attention-deficit culture that spread like wildfire, taking over clubs and commercial radio. As silly as it seemed to outsiders, hyphy created an economy whose main selling point was regional pride, built around stunna shades, Bay Area–themed T-shirts, rims, mixtapes, and Mac Dre bobblehead dolls. Despite its ghetto origins, hyphy had surprising suburban appeal. Rebellious, rambunctious, and not a little subversive, its infectious energy was a shot in the arm to a moribund rap industry.
The Bay Area’s answer to Atlanta’s crunk, hyphy validated the efforts of the independent-label-saturated local scene, which had long struggled to gain a national toehold. Media coverage extended to such nontraditional rap outlets as NPR, Newsweek, and The New York Times. Hyphy’s potential seemed limitless; once it hit middle America, there was no telling what it might do.
Yet by last summer, it had all but disappeared from the music industry’s collective radar screens.
Many factors may have contributed to hyphy’s demise. Contractual snafus and bad business practices by some artists resulted in missed opportunities; major labels signed local artists, then delayed releasing their albums. National media made a big fuss over the controversial practice of “ghost-riding the whip” (putting a car in neutral and dancing on its hood or roof while the vehicle kept rolling). Additionally, hyphy was frequently linked to illegal sideshows, and there were reports of violence at concerts and clubs. Subsequently, overall sales figures never quite caught up with the hype.
Even so, the largest single factor in hyphy’s decline may have been the withdrawal of support for local music by KMEL 106.1FM, the Bay Area’s top urban radio station and a powerful industry tastemaker.
A year and a half ago, it wasn’t uncommon to find at least four or five songs by locally based indie rap artists in rotation at the San Francisco–based station. These days, however, you won’t find a current local rap release in KMEL’s top 50, or its top 100 for that matter. In fact, the highest-ranking recent single by a Bay Area rap artist the week of February 4 was the Federation‘s “Happy I Met You,” way back at number 187.
At present, KMEL is playing “a lot of Down South music … anything but the Bay,” according to Hannah Wagner, a publicist at SF indie digital music label INgrooves and a regular listener.
Author Jeff Chang, who has written extensively about commercial radio, feels the station has returned to standard programming: “You don’t hear a lot of [new] music breaking. You didn’t get a sense of excitement like you had a couple of years ago. It’s gone back.”
A closer look into the absence of hyphy from the airwaves found that while local artists bear a degree of responsibility for the decline of the homegrown art form, KMEL is far from blameless.
Specifically, the station
• yanked local rappers with buzzworthy records from rotation over petty personal beefs
• made it difficult, if not impossible, for artists not aligned with favored promoters to get access to station personnel
• ignored the advice of its own DJs on potential hit records by local artists
• put the kibosh on efforts to spread hyphy in other regions
• engaged in blatant favoritism toward certain artists, alongside other activities that contributed to the fragmentation of the local hip-hop community
• employed a two-tiered promotion system for major-label and independent acts
KMEL’s provincial attitude toward local rap artists is perhaps best exemplified by the station’s treatment of Mistah F.A.B., a charismatic Oaklander sometimes referred to as “hyphy’s crown prince.” According to F.A.B., a “personal situation” with current music director Big Von Johnson has existed for years. The rapper speculates that jealousy might be the cause: “Von wanted to be an artist.” Still, “It’s no bad blood, it’s no hatred from me,” he now emphasizes. (At press time, Johnson hadn’t responded to several requests for an interview.)
In 2005, the hyphy phenomenon was beginning to create a tangible buzz, and F.A.B. had the hottest song in the streets in “Super Sic wit It.” When it was initially played on KMEL, presenters announced it as a new song by E-40, one of the few major-label artists from the Bay, who appeared on the record.
Yet after E-40 invited F.A.B. onstage at the 2005 KMEL Summer Jam, the audience reaction was so overwhelming that even Johnson had to give F.A.B. his props. Soon after that, other F.A.B. songs were added to the station’s rotation. But his increased profile didn’t last long.
In March 2006, MTV aired a segment of the show My Block that focused on the Bay Area. Though other artists were featured, F.A.B.’s charming personality nearly stole the show; he appeared to be a safe bet to be the next rapper from the region to blow up nationally. With a hot album, numerous guest appearances, and several songs on the radio, F.A.B. suddenly found himself weighing deals from major labels.
Not long after that, F.A.B. pitched Johnson with an idea for a new, locally oriented show, to be called Yellow Bus Radio. But KMEL already had a similar show in E-40’s E-Feezy Radio, so F.A.B. took the concept to Jazzy Jim Archer, the program director at KYLD-FM (94.9) — located in the same building as KMEL. Archer green-lighted the show, which aired directly opposite Johnson’s on KMEL.
That, F.A.B. says, “really made it seem I was going after [Johnson’s] timeslot. I became his archenemy.”
By all accounts, Yellow Bus Radio was a success. The program garnered high ratings on KYLD and was syndicated by other stations across California and podcast by Web sites worldwide. In addition to playing his own music alongside songs by lower-profile locals, F.A.B. used his airtime as a vehicle for community interaction, conducting interviews, and, in keeping with hyphy’s special-education theme, reading book reports.
“I don’t necessarily want to use the word ‘movement,'” F.A.B. says, “but we actually started a big deal with Yellow Bus Radio, which was to give people a chance and an opportunity.” However, he adds, “I didn’t know it would stir up that much controversy.”
The show’s run ended because of the rapper’s busy tour schedule and because, Archer says, it was “causing F.A.B. some problems in other areas of his career.”
In retaliation for F.A.B.’s perceived disloyalty, sources say, someone at KMEL apparently deleted all of his music from the playlist; in addition, his verses began to be omitted from songs by other artists he had appeared on. “Once I started noticing that, I was like, ‘Goddamn,'” the rapper says. “That’s what made it look like it was an individualized effort to stop me.”
F.A.B. loudly blamed Johnson for the deletion of his music from KMEL. “I was real bitter about it,” he says now. “There might have been some things said out of spite.”
Without hometown radio trumpeting his buzzworthiness, F.A.B. says, major labels started to get cold feet. Atlantic eventually signed him in late 2006, but being persona non grata at KMEL “affected what their whole staff would be able to do promotionally” as far as breaking him, he claims.
Being blacklisted from KMEL also affected the rapper’s other major sources of income: money for “features” (appearances on other artists’ songs) and concert revenue. When he traveled outside the Bay, F.A.B. says that he was often asked, “Why you ain’t getting play in your own town?”
KMEL program director Stacy Cunningham confirms there was an “unofficial” ban on F.A.B., but says the station stopped playing his music not out of spite, but because he was “our competition in the ratings.” She claims to have “nothing but love” for F.A.B., but advises, “Don’t play the ‘Cry me a river’ card.”
Cunningham says the station never received a copy of F.A.B.’s latest album, Da Baydestrian, adding that even after Yellow Bus Radio went off the air, “there was no real follow-up by the artist.”
However, F.A.B.’s issues with KMEL may have had a domino-like effect on the entire Bay Area rap scene. Few of the artists signed to majors in hyphy’s wake saw their records released, and those that did come out were often significantly delayed. “Once they canceled my airplay, it put a big halt to the movement,” F.A.B. says.
According to former KMEL DJ BackSide, F.A.B.’s conflict with the station was “a very big part of why the hyphy shit stopped.”
The Bay Area has long had a love/hate relationship with KMEL. At 69,000 watts, the station casts a sizable shadow over the entire region, from Santa Rosa to San Jose. For many local rap artists, the perception is that the path to commercial success goes through KMEL.
In the late 1980s and early ’90s, KMEL earned a reputation for innovative programming, creating the blueprint for the “hot urban” format, a mix of hip-hop and R&B later adopted by New York’s Hot 97 and Los Angeles’ Power 106. Its annual all-star concert, Summer Jam, was widely copied. The station was the original home of The Wake Up Show, the first hip-hop program to be syndicated nationally. To this day, fans have fond memories of Wake Up Show exclusives like the 1995 Saafir vs. Casual battle, a defining moment in Bay Area hip-hop. KMEL is often credited with being the first commercial station to play the likes of Too $hort, MC Hammer, Digital Underground, Tony! Toni! Toné!, En Vogue, Tupac Shakur, E-40, Souls of Mischief, the Luniz, Mac Mall, Goapele, and the Federation.
Unfortunately, the station hasn’t always supported local artists. Following a backstage altercation at the 1995 Summer Jam, Too $hort was temporarily banned from the airwaves, as was Tupac just before his death in 1996 (“At least I’m in good company,” F.A.B. jokes).
In 1996, KMEL’s parent company, Evergreen, was purchased by Chancellor Media. In 1999, amid an industrywide consolidation trend, Chancellor’s Bay Area stations were bought by Texas-based media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications, becoming part of a national chain which at its peak had more than 1,200 stations, including several in the Bay Area. Even before the Clear Channel takeover, KMEL’s programming had become more mainstream. As former KMEL air personality Davey D recalls, “The playlist suddenly shrunk. We had to follow dictates. That was a rude awakening with respect to the local stuff.”
In 2000, Michael Martin, KYLD’s program director, became the overseer of both KMEL and KYLD, its sister station and onetime rival. Over the next year, Martin methodically cleaned house at KMEL, slowly but surely replacing the station’s core staff, who had forged key relationships with the local hip-hop community.
In 1998, Oakland’s Delinquents sold 30,000 copies of their album, Bosses Will Be Bosses. The group felt its single, “That Man,” had the potential to be a big commercial hit on KMEL. “We had a current record with a current single,” rapper G-Stack recalls. “We had a street buzz.” The Delinquents also had decent sales figures, moving 2,000 copies a week. Despite sending their music to the station, “they still wasn’t playing our stuff,” he says.
Out of frustration, the Delinquents and a large number of thuggy street dudes confronted former KMEL DJs Trace and Franzen at a club one night, demanding that they receive airplay; rumor has it that someone in the group’s entourage pulled a gun on one of the DJs. Urban legend or not, this incident led to a meeting at the station with the DJs and then-program director Joey Arbagey.
G-Stack remembers the meeting well: “We got up in there. They weren’t trying to let us in. We told them, ‘It ain’t gon’ be okay to ride your vans through the ‘hood.'”
Faced with the threat of retaliation against its marketing street team, KMEL grudgingly conceded a modicum of airplay to the Delinquents. But by then, their album had been out for six months, and the group’s momentum fizzled. “We never really had that radio support again,” G-Stack says.
The Delinquents’ experience wasn’t uncommon. In a 2001 interview, E-40 wondered aloud about KMEL, “If you’re ‘the people’s station,’ why aren’t you playing the people’s music?” And in 2003, producer EA-Ski complained that other regional scenes benefited from radio play: “Everybody else is supporting their music, but KMEL isn’t doing it.”
Rappers haven’t been the only ones upset with KMEL. Over the years, community activists have frequently targeted the station. One flashpoint came when Davey D, host of the popular public affairs show Street Knowledge, was fired three weeks after the 9/11 attacks when he hosted interviews with Rep. Barbara Lee and Boots Riley of the Coup that ran afoul of Clear Channel’s pro-Bush agenda.
In 2002, Malkia Cyril, executive director of Youth Media Council, formed the Community Coalition for Media Accountability, which studied KMEL’s social impact on young people in the Bay Area. Cyril says the station allowed local artists little airtime, and promoted music that tended to criminalize its primary listeners: young people of color.
In January 2003, the coalition met with Johnson, then-community affairs director Cunningham, and a Clear Channel executive who flew in from Texas, to discuss their concerns. Cyril says KMEL didn’t share the view that the station should be a public resource: “Big Von’s stance was — I’ll never forget him saying this — ‘This is my radio station.'”
Possibly as a result of the public pressure, KMEL added “Closer,” a jazz-tinged R&B single by then-unsigned Oakland singer Goapele, to its playlist. The song ended up being the most-played song on KMEL that year.
“Closer” may well have opened the station’s eyes to the fact that there were local records out there that could compete with national hits. Still, KMEL resisted opening up its playlist – until its hand was forced by the emergence of an unlikely rival that threatened its market dominance.
In April 2004, Power 92 (92.7 FM), an upstart station that branded itself “The Beat of the Bay,” began its existence by playing 48 straight hours of Tupac Shakur. Its playlist quickly evolved into a locally oriented version of the “hot urban” format. For perhaps the first time, KMEL was suddenly faced with real competition.
The battle for supremacy of the airwaves and the loyalty of the 18–34 urban listening bloc set the stage for what became known as the hyphy movement. Practically overnight, the radio was flooded with local rap music. If, prior to Power 92’s arrival, one or two Bay Area rap groups at a time broke through to KMEL’s or KYLD’s rotation, listeners now had a choice of hearing their music on three stations.
Though owned by the same company, KMEL and KYLD catered to slightly different demographics: KYLD skewed younger and more Hispanic, while KMEL’s core audience is older and more African American. By targeting the same demographic as KMEL, Power 92 represented a viable threat to the station’s hegemony. Once Power 92 emerged, artists could leverage their radio play by deciding to which station they would first take their music.
KMEL responded to Power 92 with what Davey D characterizes as a “corporate thuggin’ mentality.” He says labels, artists, and advertisers were allegedly told in no uncertain terms not to do business with Power 92. The new station’s street teams were harassed by what the East Bay Express called “Clear Channel shock troops,” who piled out of KMEL- and WYLD-branded vans and slapped bumper stickers advertising their stations on Power’s vehicles.
DJ BackSide had been a Power 92 street team member for just a week when she was offered a slot on KMEL. In July 2004, she started hosting The Hot Spot, a late-Friday, early-Saturday show. It quickly found an audience among hyphyites eager to keep their buzz going as they headed home after a night of clubbing.
BackSide rapidly became one of hyphy’s most visible proponents. In addition to her KMEL show, she hosted an online show at Warner Brothers-sponsored Web site www.hyphymovement.com; produced mixtapes hosted by such luminaries as Too $hort, San Quinn, and E-40; sold her own “Got Bay?” T-shirts; held residencies at non-KMEL-promoted clubs; and received exposure from national outlets like BET. There was a perception, she says, among longtime KMEL staffers that she was doing too much.
BackSide soon found herself an outsider among KMEL’s predominantly male DJ roster. She says she experienced some resentment because she was new and because she had come over from Power 92 (which has since changed owners and become LGBT-friendly dance station Energy 92). Cunningham says she respected BackSide’s hustle, but adds, “She was young. She didn’t know how to handle situations.”
BackSide alleges that certain individuals at the station did everything they could to get her fired or removed from the air, including accusing her of taking payola. On May 3, 2005, she remembers, she had just left the New York City offices of Bad Boy Records, where label owner P. Diddy thanked her personally for breaking one of his records on the air.
Not 20 minutes later, she says, she received an instant message from Scotty Fox, 3,000 miles away at KMEL. In a transcript of the conversation provided by BackSide, Fox takes an aggressive tone, accusing her of taking credit for breaking a record other KMEL DJs played on the air first. She denies it, but Fox berates her repeatedly. “U stay in your lane,” he warns.
Several times, Fox invokes the name of the station’s music director. “This is from Von,” he says at one point. After some more back-and-forth, he curtly states, “There’s nothing to talk about.”
A month and a half later, BackSide was told of a letter sent to the editor of RPM (an industry trade publication) accusing her of taking payola and requesting that she not attend the Mixshow Power Summit, a high-profile conference of the nation’s best radio mixers.
At first glance, the letter (which SF Weekly has reviewed, along with other documents supplied by BackSide) looks like an official document on letterhead from Clear Channel’s corporate HQ in San Antonio. It claims that the DJ was under internal investigation for accepting plane flights and other forms of payola from Universal and Bad Boy.
Curiously, though, the letter is unsigned, and has no return address. Furthermore, it seems odd that an internal investigation into illegal payola by a KMEL DJ would have originated not at the station, but at its parent company’s corporate offices.
After receiving a copy of the letter from RPM, BackSide says she met with Cunningham and Johnson. When asked who could have written it, BackSide gave a copy of her IM communications with Fox to Cunningham. She was then told she was suspended pending an investigation.
After consulting a lawyer, BackSide returned to the station the next day and handed a letter to the HR director detailing the conversation among her, Cunningham, and Johnson. A half-hour later, she says, Clear Channel honcho Michael Martin personally informed her that her show was reinstated, effective immediately.
From that time on, she says, she received a chilly reception at KMEL: “You could cut the tension with a knife.” Johnson, she says, “wouldn’t even look me in the eye.”
BackSide says there was no internal investigation into the letter’s authorship, although Cunningham told her the station had looked into her NYC trip and found she had paid for her own ticket. Cunningham says the station confirmed no one from the corporate office initiated any investigation: “Honestly, we don’t know who sent it.”
In February 2006, BackSide was fired from the station. Cunningham says the DJ didn’t help her own cause by falling asleep in her car when she was supposed to be doing her show, resulting in “dead air.” But BackSide says she played prerecorded music during that time, adding that she dozed off because her show was moved to 4 a.m. In any event, Cunningham says, “at that point, she knew she was not on the good side.”
BackSide’s departure from KMEL deprived the hyphy movement of one of its loudest supporters. By silencing her voice, the station closed a door which had allowed the artists community access to otherwise-impenetrable airwaves.
Currently living in Los Angeles, BackSide likens working at KMEL to working at a restaurant: “On the outside, it was great,” she recalls. “You go into the back and it’s a whole different story. Behind closed doors, [there] was a lot of stuff going on.”
Much of the dissatisfaction with KMEL’s support of local rap in recent years has centered on Johnson’s perceived attitude toward the homegrown scene. As the public face of the station, he is in the difficult position of having to balance the corporate agenda with community needs, while his boss remains behind the scenes. “Von gets the blame because he has allowed himself to be the go-to person,” says Davey D, who adds, “You’re not seeing Michael Martin; you’re seeing Von.”
In a 2004 interview, Johnson argued that commercial radio can’t placate everyone. “For the records that we do play, I could name 100 people that’s still upset,” he said, adding that he looks for “good records,” not necessarily because an artist is from “this clique or that clique.”
However, more than one local artist has found out the hard way that Johnson holds grudges for perceived slights — sometimes for years. “Big Von, he’s the biggest hater there could be,” says Sean Kennedy, CEO of ILL Trendz Productions, an Oakland street promotions company.
Frank Herrera, an independent promoter for several local labels, says that Johnson has done some positive things for the Bay Area, but “always seemed like he was unhappy with [local] music.” Herrera claims Johnson has “played God” with artists’ careers and says he often ignored the advice of DJs who advocated for local records they felt were deserving — most notably in the case of the late Mac Dre, often considered hyphy’s founding father. After Herrera brought Dre’s now-classic “Thizzle Dance” to the station in 2003, “his DJs had to tell him it was a requested song. Von was holding out on the record.”
Herrera also says that Johnson was nowhere to be found the day he brought Dre to the station for a prescheduled interview on Johnson’s show. Instead, the interview was conducted by another DJ. Although Dre’s 2004 hit, “Feelin’ Myself,” is currently in rotation, Herrera says KMEL “really didn’t start playing him until after he passed away” in late 2004.
In the July 2005 issue of Ruckus magazine, Johnson appears to take credit for breaking hyphy artists: “Name someone you knew of before I played them,” he boasts.
Yet Johnson may also have held the movement back. Davey D says he was present at a meeting with prominent Los Angeles radio DJs who had been supporting Bay Area artists. During the course of the meeting, it emerged that Johnson was asked by a well-respected veteran DJ whether L.A. musicians could get some KMEL love in return. Johnson reportedly denied the request; as a result, Davey D says, L.A. stations “stopped playing a lot of that hyphy stuff, almost overnight.” Reached by phone, the L.A. DJ (who asked not to be named) confirmed Von’s refusal.
According to Herrera, KMEL’s internal power dynamic shifted in 2005, when Jazzy Jim Archer left the station and Johnson took on a greater role in programming. “Jazzy fought for Bay Area music. I know that for a fact,” Herrera says.
The week after Archer’s departure, Herrera remembers going to the station and being made to wait for an hour and a half in the lobby of Clear Channel’s Townsend Street office as major-label reps paraded past. Eventually, the receptionist told Herrera that Johnson was unable to see him. He asked to speak with Cunningham, who reportedly told him, “Right now we’re not seeing any independent people.”
“It was a new regime. Things change,” Cunningham says when asked about the incident. But Herrera says other local promoters favored by Johnson were allowed access. Cunningham says the new policy allowed indie-label reps to make monthly appointments at the station, while reps from national companies were granted weekly access. “We have major-label Mondays,” she explains.
A similar thing happened to Kennedy, who says he had a personal and business relationship with Johnson dating back to the mid-’90s. But in 2005, the two had a falling-out. “That’s when he decided to roll with Rob Reyes,” he says, referring to the San Francisco DJ whose promotional company, M1, now handles the majority of major-label accounts as well as a significant portion of indie-label accounts for the Bay Area market.
When he was tight with Johnson, Kennedy was able to come into the station and give records to DJs personally, but after their disagreement, he says he was told to drop off the records at the front desk. With his access curtailed, Kennedy says the labels hired M1 instead, “because they can get radio.”
Now that he has fallen from favor with Johnson, Kennedy is willing to talk about the nature of their business dealings. Kennedy says he executive-produced five volumes of Big Von’s Chop Shop mixtape series, which didn’t do as well as other mixes by the Demolition Men, DJ Juice, or DJ BackSide. Kennedy says he ended up giving most of them away, but he still paid Johnson several thousand dollars per mixtape, with the unspoken understanding that Johnson would give special consideration to the label accounts Kennedy was working.
“I was coming back and giving [Johnson] money for records he never sold,” Kennedy says. However, he adds, “I never just outright gave him dough and said, ‘Play this record.’ I should have, though.”
Kennedy’s account appears to contradict what Johnson told Ruckus: “If you’re in the house thinking I take money, I never took a dime.”
Allegations of quid pro quo and backdoor arrangements might seem titillating, but the larger point is that KMEL’s machinations effectively limited station access to hand-picked local promoters and major-label employees. The end result has been a narrowing of diversity on the airwaves due to what appears to be widespread favoritism on the part of KMEL executives. This extended not only to major-label acts, but to local indies: Artists like the Team (for whom Big Von was the DJ) received considerable airplay, as did rappers with financial ties to M1, including Keak da Sneak and Kafani.
In 2005, KMEL appeared more than happy to go along for the ghost-ride. Yet both Malkia Cyril and Davey D contend the station had ulterior motives. They believe its support of local music at that time was a way to defuse activist efforts to challenge the station’s FCC license (which is renewed every eight years) during the public comment period that ended in November 2005. According to Davey D, “The KMEL that played local music did so begrudgingly, under pressure.”
In spring 2006, E-40‘s hit “Tell Me When to Go” made hyphy a national catchphrase. Davey D says KMEL responded by doing what he calls “superserving” local stuff, to the point where he started to feel that the station might be “trying to burn the audience out on the material.” Intentional or not, that’s just what happened.
According to Johnson, local music was outperforming national hits in 2004. Cunningham says Bay Area artists tested well in KMEL’s market research as late as 2006. But by March of 2007, she claims, “they slid down.” To the station, this showed that the “local stuff was no longer as relevant,” she says. “Everything has a shelf life … there’s only so much hyphy you can take.”
Asked why listeners aren’t hearing as much local music on KMEL anymore, morning drivetime DJ Chuy Gomez remarks, “There is not a lot of hot stuff out there. … It all starts to sound the same. Everybody wanted to sound like F.A.B. or sound like Keak. It got kinda stagnant.”
Archer says KYLD began to back away from hyphy because of concerns over violence. “The culture that was developing was, unfortunately, not a healthy one,” he says. Additionally, he says, KYLD’s programming became more focused on “core” artists like Justin Timberlake, which made hyphy less than a perfect fit.
It may be closer to the truth to say that once KMEL’s license was renewed, hyphy ultimately didn’t fit Clear Channel’s agenda. It’s well known that commercial radio has longstanding arrangements with major labels, such as artists who perform for free at Summer Jam for “promotional considerations.” By killing hyphy, the station could return to business as usual: playing national hits.
According to Cunningham, localism isn’t good for commercial radio’s image: “You can be a local artist and play up to where you’re from, but if every song is about where you’re from, there’s a problem.”
Ironically, she notes, San Quinn, Big Rich, and Boo Banga‘s “Frisco Anthem” is currently being spun on mix shows (though it appears on KMEL’s playlist as “Scotty Fox’s 6 O’Clock Chop Shop Mix“). In all fairness, local artists do show up frequently in mixshow airplay — which, coincidentally, happens at peak listening hours — but the artists don’t get name recognition for it on that all-important industry barometer of hotness: the playlist.
Even if hyphy has run its course, a larger question remains of why hyphy artists were the only local rappers KMEL was playing. The Bay Area, after all, doesn’t produce just one type of rap; nationally respected hip-hop artists like Lyrics Born, Blackalicious, and Hieroglyphics make music with socially responsible lyrics, yet were ignored by the station as hyphy scraped across the intersection of pop culture, leaving behind it a trail of empty Patrón bottles, half-smoked blunts, discarded pillboxes, and reckless-driving citations.
In a 2006 appearance at the Commonwealth Club, F.A.B. — who is clean and sober — told a sold-out house that he purposely “dumbed down” the lyrical content of his music in order to fit the popular radio formula and gain airplay. To a certain extent, the same could be said of KMEL, which stupefied the creative expression of a vibrant local culture — narrowcasting it to the point of redundancy and, ultimately, irrelevance.