Dawg Eat Dawg

Q-95.5 and the Beat duke it out -- and the St. Louis hip-hop scene flourishes

Jay Nicks is a little guy, stands maybe five-seven. Scraggly-ass goatee hanging from the bottom of his chin -- he probably couldn't grow a full beard if he wanted to, but then again, why would he want to? That would only hide his pretty face, the one the girls love to love. You can tell they have a crush on him by the way they talk when he takes their calls on the radio. They're all flirty, and he dishes it right back. And when he's hosting the Saturday night teen party at the Limelight in north county, he walks through the thousand-plus crowd like a sexy black pope, except with a cockeyed Cardinals cap instead of the clown hat.

He is J-Nicks, the Young One in Charge. He runs on Nicks time, which is an hour later than Central Standard, but you'll forgive this and any other indiscretion when he smiles. A carny would lose a stuffed animal trying to guess his age. He could be fifteen or he could be twenty-three. And that's fine with Nicks. He doesn't like talking about his age, other than to say he's "young." Teenagers are the target demographic in the evenings on WFUN-FM, a.k.a. Q-95.5, and they like listening to one of their own. His age, though, is one of few closed topics, a truth he'll admit when he stops himself midsentence while discussing his upbringing as the elder son of two engineers (one electrical, one chemical) to say, "I can talk forever."

Then he continues on. He got a 30 on his ACT. He was going to be an engineer too, until U. City High kicked him out during his junior year. His mom drives a Q45. He's always had strong opinions, and he was the pied piper at school. "My mom always used to tell me -- my parents are Baptists -- that I'd either lead people to great things or I'll lead them to Hell. As a young guy growing up, I used to always get in trouble, because if I did something, the rest of the kids are going to do it, and I put a lot of stuff in people's heads. That was always my thing. I was always a leader -- hold on a sec...."

Jennifer Silverberg
Q-95.5's J-Nicks (left) and DJ Kristyle at the Limelight in north county, where they host a weekly party for teens
Jennifer Silverberg
Q-95.5's J-Nicks (left) and DJ Kristyle at the Limelight in north county, where they host a weekly party for teens

Time to go back on the air: He swings around on his stool, grabs the headphones and drops them over his ears and, bam! lets loose a barrage of stream-of-consciousness poetry. "Black people can't go to haunted houses. Some dude pop out of a dark corner and scare you, black people will fight you back -- boom! -- swingin'." J-Nicks is fluent in three English dialects: the King's, the pimp's and the clown's, and on the air he flip-flops between them. At his most frantic, he sounds like he's hanging upside down on a jungle gym speaking in tongues while juggling dictionaries. His favorite non-word is "Yo-day!" He uses it all the time as a verbal exclamation point, and when he's not saying it, he's dropping in a sample of a darling little girl saying it: "J-Nicks yo-day!"

Big Sexy Kooool DJ Kaos, who competes with Nicks for the ears of a generation on rival hip-hop station 100.3 the Beat (KATZ-FM), won't tell you his age, either, other than to acknowledge that he's older than Nicks. Kaos, too, is extroverted, cherubic, ageless. But where Nicks seems perpetually to exude coolness, Kaos is just, well, (assume falsetto) Cooool! He drives a pimped-out royal-blue mid-'70s Chevy Caprice. The ride's so slick that strobes pump out of the front grille even when it sits parked while its jockey is inside the Beat's headquarters on North Lindbergh. Kaos is cool because he's so genuinely friendly. He won't forget you when his hip-hop act Da Hol' 9 finally lands a spot on the Billboard charts. He'll still greet you with a combo handshake/half-hug, a warm smile covering his round face. He's got a beard, which he keeps neatly trimmed, and he wears his hair braided under a baby blue do-rag. The braids are much easier to manage than his alternate hairdo, a monster Afro. In the Da Hol' 9 poster that hangs in the Beat's air studio, he's wearing a baseball cap pulled low over his brow, with the 'fro exploding from the sides like a capped Roman candle.

Born and reared in St. Louis, Kaos (given name: Kriss Kringle) is a DJ in the purest sense of the word. He got his start watching his uncle, the father figure in his life, spin basement and backyard parties. The young Big Sexy stood in the back sipping orange drink. "I just thought it was so cool. They were playing Parliament, and everybody was there kicking it, girls coming up there giving me kisses on the cheek," he recalls. "I fell in love with it." A few years later he was doing mixes during Dr. Jockenstein's legendary shows on the Beat's predecessor, Z-100.

That was back in the day, when hip-hop was rap and relegated to the ghetto hours. Back when DJs were disc jockeys and they spun records on turntables. Back when the idea of eight of the Top 10 records in the nation being rap songs was as foreign as the idea that none of them would be by Bon Jovi. Back when Nelly was a name for a horse and Chingy was the sound nickels and dimes made rattling in the pockets of your parachute pants. Back when a hit record coming out of St. Louis was about as likely as one coming out of France.

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