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It's obviously frustrating for the musicians as they struggle with club owners who are not intimately familiar with the music and have bought into the media's depiction of the musical form as a powder keg, ready to explode into violence at any moment. Says DJ B-Money, "When they had that situation in the early '90s, when they were having problems with insurance and violence was popping off at a lot of shows, that can kill your hip-hop night in a minute now. And most club owners don't want to touch it with a 10-foot pole."
Because of this, one essential part of the performing in a live setting, is almost nonexistent. "The successful rock bands," says B.J. Martin of Bulletproof Records, perhaps the most successful, longest running rap label in town, "the Urge and Gravity Kills, they can play different nightclubs and get a following. And there's not that many outlets for us in St. Louis. We get most of our shows at Utopia or J's on the Landing and pray that nothing bad happens so that we can come back."
Unfortunately, incidents have occurred at performances and parties that shed a poor light on the music; there is an element within the hip-hop community that is prone to violence. Cicero's on Delmar hosted a successful weekly hip-hop night beginning in 1997 but was forced to end it. Things went extremely well for a while, but each week the crowds got bigger and rival groups started airing their beefs within the confines of the club. Police were called a few times, the DJs started catering to the crowd -- which is what DJs are supposed to do -- and a general bad vibe took over the night. Cicero's was forced to cancel its best night because of the recklessness of one element in the crowd.
These sorts of problems are inevitable when so few venues cater to a single, broad-based genre. Imagine if the rock community had one token evening at one club dedicated to playing the music: bikers, punks, heavy-metal-heads and indie rockers cohabiting in the same space every week. To blame violence on hip-hop in toto is like blaming Alanis Morissette's followers for the violence committed by skinhead punks.
It's nearly impossible to make an impact on the general hip-hop consumer in St. Louis without radio play on the sole commercial station in St. Louis that plays the music, Majic 105 (104.9 FM). Without Majic, you have to search the record stores, tune in to the few hip-hop shows on KDHX (88.1 FM) or simply stumble across a song.
"We got a radio station that says, 'Where Hip-hop Lives,' says Mack Dennis. "Where's it living at? It ain't living here -- they're killing it. Anytime that they play your music on the air a couple times and you get a heated response, all of a sudden they just stop. (The station) knows it's hot, but they'll sit on it because you don't have financial ties with them."
"Radio today is corporate America," echoes Ron Butts. "Record companies today are corporate America. They're both riding the same train. You have to talk on their terms. If you can make them money, they can make you some. People say, 'You have to spend money to get your record played.' You have to buy them this and that. That's against the law. It's not against the law to go in there and buy 15 commercials at $350 apiece and come back and say, 'Can you play my record?'"
Majic says such a quid pro quo arrangement doesn't exist, despite the widespread belief in the hip-hop community. "That's not true," says Majic's music director, Eric Mychaels, to the charge that the only way to gain airplay as a local artist is to purchase advertising time. "In fact, the two (artists) that we are playing, neither one of them have bought any advertising in the form of a time buy. None of them have done that. So, no, that's not true at all. Never once have we required anyone to spend any money to get a record played. That's illegal, and we all know that.
"I think part of it that (local hip-hoppers) don't understand is a lot of times they're not ready. What they do is they come to us with poor quality and poor production. They just have something that they're listening to on their own somewhere, and then all their friends are telling them how great it is, and then they want us to play it on the radio every day. And it's just not that way. Now, we've had two really good ones that have broke through. The St. Lunatics is one, and we're on their second single that we're playing for them. And then Da Gatekeepaz, which has a pretty good song, too." Mychaels says that even when Majic does play a cut, often the artists don't have copies in the store to sell, so any momentum gained by airplay is lost for lack of follow-through.
B.J. Martin's Bulletproof Records was started in 1993 and had trouble getting on Majic because their music was considered too gangsta-oriented. Martin, who says their collection Ghetto Insanity has sold between 15,000 and 20,000 copies in St. Louis alone, says the problem runs deeper: "One thing we don't have that every other city that people make it from has: The radio and the DJs are young and they support (their city). There's a few over there that support St. Louis, but the higher structure at Majic is an older clientele. Older people are running the station, but the majority of the listeners are young. So there's a gap. It's all about the ratings, I know, but you have to support St. Louis. The people in St. Louis, the young kids in St. Louis, want to hear St. Louis artists."
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