By Allison Babka
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By Drew Ailes
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Thanks to Clear Channeland other entertainment behemoths, the days of regional hits on commercial radio are pretty much over, except when it comes to St. Louis' two major hip-hop stations, Q.95.5 and 100.3 The Beat, which regularly put tracks by area rappers (no, Nelly doesn't count anymore) in regular rotation. The Quor, One-Dime, Abyss and Pretty Willie Suella enjoy heavy airplay on both stations and seem poised for major-label deals. But the runaway hip-hop hit of our Indian summer is, hands down, local upstarts Da Hole 9's "Lemmehollaatcha," the main hook of which has wormed its way into our collective consciousness in these past months. It's not just a hot song; it's a goddamn catchphrase.
The St. Louis American's Delores Shanté (whose "Party Line" makes for the most consistently entertaining read in a local publication) alludes to the infectious crunk anthem in her Nov. 8 column, a hilarious, ghetto-gonzo account of the big Nelly birthday bash at the Millennium Hotel. In describing the aloof, steatopygous rapper Trina and her besotted male entourage, Shanté writes, "Fellas were screaming at Trina to say something to them. It reminded me of 'come here dirty, let me holla at ya.'"
Shanté's little shout-out is just one of many signs that Da Hole 9 has made a big splash in the River City. During a break in the Nelly and the St. Lunatics concert at the Pageant a few weeks back, the DJ dropped "Lemmehollaatcha" into the mix. Instead of getting restless or pissed off (the usual state of affairs when Nelly wasn't onstage), the crowd went crazy, chanting along to every last word. And Da Hole 9's debut CD, Out Here, has appeared for weeks on the Streetside and Vintage Vinyl bestseller lists; Chuma Black, spokesman for Hellathurl (the local label that released the CD), told us that they've already sold more than 2,000 copies.
But aside from the clubs, the only place you'll hear "Lemmehollaatcha" -- or any of the other songs from Out Here -- is 100.3 The Beat. Why? Because the other hip-hop station in town, Q95.5, knows that Da Hole 9 is primarily the handiwork of 100.3 program host Big Sexy Cool DJ Kaos. (His "Keep Rollin'" segment was named Best Radio Gimmick in the RFT's Best of St. Louis issue this year.) When asked point-blank why Q95.5 won't give Da Hole 9 any airplay, assistant program director Craig Blac responds with refreshing bluntness: "We're not going to play anything that's by our direct competition." Given that The Beat won't play songs associated with Q95.5 (Blac cites as an example anything produced by turntablist/producer/Q95.5 personality Charlie Chan), he doesn't see why his station should take the high road. On the other hand, he's not dissing them for running with Da Hole 9, either. "I don't think [playing the group] is a conflict of interest," Blac says. "I think it's smart on their part. I personally think it's a hot song."
Indeed, "Lemmehollaatcha" is a bouncy, hooky, irresistible slice of St. Louis-style hip-hop. (We can tell they're homeboys because they make a point of saying "urbody" instead of "everybody," "her" instead of "here" and otherwise displaying their country grammar.) No doubt about it: The group's got talent. But does the fact that The Beat's spinning what is basically a vehicle for one of its DJs constitute plugola, an ambiguously worded FCC designation that describes the illegal plugging of events or projects in which station employees have a financial interest? (Payola, a related concept, entails the direct exchange of money for airplay; labels circumvent this by hiring independent promoters, or indies, to serve as bribe-happy middlemen.) Clearly the success of "Lemmehollaatcha" on The Beat galvanized CD sales, and a station employee presumably profited as a result. This might look a little sleazy to the untrained eye, but such occurrences are far from rare. Radio personalities/entertainers from Howard Stern to Ludacris have used on-air connections to publicize their own product, and no one seems to think twice about it.
According to The Beat's operations manager, Chuck Atkins, it's all just bidness. If "Lemmehollaatcha" hadn't taken off the way it has -- it was the No. 1 requested song during its first month of airplay -- they wouldn't give it the time of day. "We don't do any favors," Atkins explains cheerfully. "We've got to play the hits. And we're at war with 95.5. We can't take chances."
We asked entertainment lawyer Jeff Michelman (who represents Nelly, among other local acts) for a legal perspective. "Plugola is such a fine line," he sighs. "Radio stations do it all the time, and TV stations are just relentless in all the things they plug. I think someone could submit that the payment is in the form of a nonmonetary consideration. But it's not a black-and-white case, and you have very little enforcement coming from the FCC on this kind of thing."
Illegal? Probably not. Unethical? Well, let's face it: Calling a corporate radio station on its questionable ethics is a little like criticizing an ax murderer for poor grammar. Radar Station's verdict? Nice hustle, Kaos. It's a win-win situation: 100.3 gets the exclusive on a regional phenom, and Da Hole 9 sells a shitload of CDs, edging ever closer to a major-label deal. It's all good, as they say.