Hyphy and its discontents - Page 3

Rumors of the hip-hop genre's death have been greatly exaggerated
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And more major-label ice has begun to thaw, as the Team member Carson reports that Capitol is leaning toward a mid-October release of his solo debut, Theatre Music.

"It's going to be real good for the Bay," Carson says of his ambitious project, originally conceived as one continuous track, à la Prince's Lovesexy (Warner Bros., 1988), though Capitol has nixed this risky idea. Yet Carson insists the album "will still be one body of music." Cobranded by the Game's Black Wall Street Records and boasting appearances by the multiputf8um rapper, Theatre Music finds Carson busting over big-time beatmakers like Scott Storch and Wyclef Jean, and it's hard to imagine Capitol squandering such resources.

SO HARD ON THE FUNKY RADIO

Another symptom of hyphy's alleged demise, offered in the Merc and elsewhere, is its lack of current radio play. Yet if there's been no recent hit on the level of Keak's "Super Hyphy," it's because KMEL and other hip-hop stations have withdrawn support for local music.

"The radio play on the hyphy movement has definitely slowed down," Traxamillion says. "They play a few Bay joints here and there, but overall I feel a lot of the radio play is coming to a halt."

Mistah FAB, for example, has a pair of new singles, "Goin' Crazy," highlighting Too $hort and D4L of "Laffy Taffy" fame, and "Race 4 Ya Pink Slips," with Keak and Spice 1. But you'll never hear these on KMEL, as the station has stopped playing FAB.

"It's the politics of radio," says FAB, who claims that since he accepted his Friday-night radio gig at KYLD, he's been subject to an unofficial ban at KMEL, courtesy of musical director Big Von Johnson — though both stations belong to Clear Channel. "As an artist, I find this hard to accept," FAB confesses. "As a businessman, I realize why." Nonetheless, FAB was surprised that ending his radio show had no effect on the ban.

"It hurts the movement," he says, and he's right. His 2005 radio hit "Super Sic Wit It" was one of the catalysts of hyphy, bringing other local music in its wake. "If we can't get the support here at home, how can we expect to break nationwide?"

FAB has a point: local rap needs radio to generate sales, which in turn generate label deals. At press time, Johnson hadn't respond to several requests seeking his side of the story, yet the Arbitron ratings speak for themselves.

In summer 2006, when it was playing hyphy, KMEL was the number two station in the market, after KGO-AM talk radio. That winter, when it began slacking off, KMEL finished at number seven, tied with KYLD. (Spring ratings aren't yet posted.) This is difficult to reconcile with the claim that hyphy's popularity has dissipated. Yet while hyphy — and by extension, Bay Area rap — may never break nationally if KMEL doesn't support it, even fewer people will tune in to KMEL if the station doesn't play it.

Nearly every Bay Area rapper I've met seeks what Messy Marv once called "that major label shine." Yet the lack of hyphy-era major-label-deal flash — or rather follow-through — thus far may stem more from the general decline of the corporate music system than from the strength or weakness of local hip-hop. Fewer major-label albums are being released now compared with earlier periods of pop, and those imprints are generally taking fewer chances and are often unable to move fast enough for rap. Radio, moreover, has lost at least a portion of its audience to Internet alternatives like MySpace and YouTube, both of which FAB credits with mitigating the impact of absent radio play.

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