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Hip-Hop Fridays: An Appreciation For The Genius Of Star and Buc Wild


Appreciation:

[n] an increase in price or value over time; "an appreciation of 30% in the value of real estate"
[n] a favorable judgment; "a small token in admiration of your works"
[n] delicate discrimination (especially of aesthetic values); "arrogance and lack of taste contributed to his rapid success"; "to ask at that particular time was the ultimate in bad taste"
[n] understanding of the nature or meaning or quality or magnitude of something; "he has a good grasp of accounting practices"
[n] an expression of gratitude; "he expressed his appreciation in a short note"


Genius:

[n] unusual mental ability
[n] a natural talent; "he has a flair for mathematics"; "he has a genius for interior decorating"
[n] exceptional creative ability
[n] someone who is dazzlingly skilled in any field
[n] someone who has exceptional intellectual ability and originality



About ten years ago, after Wendy Day of Rap Coalition recommended me to Source magazine founder Dave Mays as a writing candidate for the Hip-Hop publication, I received a call from The Source (I believe it was Dave Mays) pitching me on the idea of writing a story on a magazine that was creating a buzz in the streets. The magazine was called, “Around The Way Connections”. I was given a description of it and have to admit that I was not interested at all. I vaguely remember thinking that the magazine was a bit too racy for me, as I was striving to establish myself as a pro-Black conscious writer (smile). So, I declined the offer from The Source. Little did I know that this little magazine was the brainchild of a person who I believe today is poised to nationally revolutionize the Hip-Hop morning show format, and maybe, down the road, comedic social commentary.

My decision, 10 years ago, just came back to my mind only weeks ago, triggered while listening to The Star and Buc Wild morning show, which I usually tune into whenever I am in the Philadelphia area. I do have an eclectic intake of morning listening, switching back and forth between Black talk-radio, financial news and sports talk, but I am sure that I am not the only one, who, for the past few months, like the numerous face-less Howard Stern morning fans, found his or her way to Power 99FM in Philadelphia; Power 104.1 in Hartford; and Power 107 in Augusta, Georgia to listen to the most unique morning show that Hip-Hop culture and its industry has ever offered. Before then, beginning in 2000 we were all listening to Star on WQHT Hot 97 FM in New York City, before he was suspended and eventually, after settlement, prevented from broadcasting in that market for 18 months.

That will all change this Monday, January 17, 2004 when he and his show triumphantly return to New York, this time on Clear Channel's Power 105.

While it is easy to be scared away after a first listening to the morning host and his on-air “staff” of Black Conservative, “Crossover Negro Reese” and the White progressive-liberal, “White Trash Helene”, repeat listening can reveal that beneath the shock effect of the language and skits, there is an impressive sensitivity for the relationship between the condition of Black America and Hip-Hop culture; as well as considerable attention given to the relationship between history, current events and political ideology. For some of us, some of the undeniably offensive material is an acceptable trade-off in order to listen to a Hip-Hop oriented program that challenges the tired, non-threatening, patronizing and often mentally numb format of today’s “Hip-Hop and R&B” and “Classic Soul” morning drive shows. Despite the various opinions he expresses and the way in which he does so, which I do not always agree with, there are redeeming qualities to the Star and Buc Wild show and what it represents.

While Star and Buc Wild certainly not for everyone, an excessively negative reaction to their style should be tempered by the recent history of Black comedy. I wonder about the thinking of those people who enjoy and honor Dave Chappelle, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, and Chris Rock but who reject a censored radio show of Hip-Hop commentary and comedy out-of-hand on the grounds that it is too raunchy, tasteless, harsh or nasty. Not to mention that many of these same minded individuals listen, without criticism, to R&B and Hip-Hop lyrics that allude to sex, murder and drugs; and without protest, watch the videos of said songs on MTV and BET.

As Star returns to New York City, here is one listener’s estimation of what makes him, and his program more than “entertaining and somewhat enlightening”, (as Star mentions when he signs off everyday) and important to consider when thinking about Hip-Hop and its cultural, political and economic impact.

“Objective Hate” as Edutainment. There are few things that are more attractive to the masses of human beings that an apparently cogent worldview that partially explains reality. It is one of the factors that has made Don Imus, Howard Stern, and Rush Limbaugh so popular among Whites. Few may notice it overtly, but the popularity of these three men rests in part on their ability to interpret any event of significance according to their publicly presented belief system and offer consistent authoritative-sounding opinions and judgments with a sense of humor. Rivaling Rush Limbaugh’s carefully crafted brand of braggadocio conservatism is Star’s self-developed philosophy of “objective hate”. Star clearly understands what I wrote about in my E - Letter To Joe Watkins and 1210-AM WPHT, "The Big Talker" Re: The Cultural Challenge of The Black Conservative:

...the ideological political spectrum is only a reflection of the entire range of human nature. A spectrum is a band of colors produced when sunlight is passed through a prism. Politics is not sunlight to me, but rather a prism through which the sunlight or life force is maintained and governed. We have an essence in us that seeks order, change, growth, security, freedom, justice and equality, and if one carefully examines their fundamental basis, the conservative, liberal, libertarian, progressive, socialist, even fascist, anarchist and totalitarian political schools of thought reflect aspects of human nature and the capacity even for imbalance and extremism in the human being and society.

Part of Star’s genius and discipline is that he isolates one element of human nature and when confronted by Hip-Hop culture or current events analyzes and opines with that element - as an ideology - styling it, with humor, as the last stage of human enlightenment. The true search for Star, the philosopher, is for reason and logic rather than right or wrong. As a result, he simultaneously frustrates those who hang on the extreme literal and metaphysical meaning of things or who judge Hip-Hop exclusively in a moral context, or who excuse its obvious immoral aspects altogether.

Like Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, and numerous others, Star is an openly acknowledged student of the teachings of Ayn Rand, and he incorporates them with his understandings of the impulse to hate in human nature. He merges that insight with a critique of Hip-Hop culture that is disarming for most, applying the lens of “objective hate” to every subject: male-female relationships, rap lyrics, elections and religion. What makes the concoction intriguing, beyond the fact that it is novel, is that it is very basic and most importantly, consistent. Star almost invariably rests his case regarding his view of any subject on his twin pillars of rational thought and ‘hate’. It is a formidable and irresistible challenge to an audience that has been immersed in myth and emotional outbursts and guided to “drop it like its hot” and “pour 100 clips into a nigga'” just because. In the process Star presents an interesting and hilarious version of Hip-Hop critical thinking which turns some of the twisted logic of the culture (much of which is embodied by rap lyrics) on its head.

But the most redeeming quality of the show’s format is its relentless attention to current events and the news. Gathering his news from a variety of sources, every week day morning ‘White Trash Helene’ and ‘Crossover Negro Reese’ have a spirited discussion with their boss, Star, regarding what is happening in societies around the world. Star referees the usually race-centered progressive-liberal vs. conservative-libertarian debate that ensues, and judges the merit and shortcomings of each position, ultimately in favor of the insights that the philosophy of objective hate renders. Sometimes you will agree and sometimes you will disagree with all three, but you will usually be educated and entertained.

Where else can a Hip-Hop fan of today's music hear someone crack jokes and talk about racial issues while seriously learning about the details of a recording contract that financially rapes an artist?

Quality Control And A Challenge To A Self-Righteous And Hyper-Sensitive Industry (And Its Artists) One of the facets to the “Star and Buc Wild” program that made and makes it most unique is that in a radio industry and profession that will bend over backwards to lie to its audience about the quality and real popularity of the music it plays; and which has no shame in seeking to ingratiate itself to artists; Star will tell you in a minute that a certain Hip-Hop or R&B record is trash. Although one can tell that among his new employers there is probably still resistance to Star’s music-less format (he only plays a handful of songs each hour), Star is so far successfully carrying the torch for those of us who are tired of hearing bad music that we know is only being played because of payola – a record label is paying a corporate executive, program director and D.J. to play a certain record, over-and-over again.

In addition to judging wack R&B and Hip-Hop for what it is, Star, as the self styled, “friend to none of ya’” goes out of his way to criticize the biggest selling and most popular artists. Interviews and rap lyrics are dissected in order to expose the silliness, stupidity, ignorance and general incoherence of a supposed celebrity.

It is this area where Star gets into the most trouble, alienating himself from not only platinum-selling artists but record label executives. But what he exposes in the process are the contradictions in the image and the reality of major rap stars who (along with their record labels and handlers) style themselves as street hard-rocks, mob bosses, and billionaires who are never scared, never broke, and built for any battle or beef anywhere on earth, 24-7. If nothing else, Star deserves his place in Hip-Hop immortality for exposing the lie in rap celebrity. A lie that many young people swallow uncritically.

[Related to this is Star's unique ability to expose young Black Hip-Hop generation personalities and professionals and others who unnecessarily posture (or allow themselves to be positioned) as non-threatening to the White establishment. His critique of those who are "cooning and buffooning" is legendary and all too true.]

Lastly, Star always finds a way to champion lost causes playing the music of lesser-known or forgotten Hip-Hop artists (He is warning listeners that when he returns to New York City he will be looking to elevate the music of relatively unknown artists in Augusta, Philadelphia, Hartford etc..on par with the Big Apple’s favorites).

A Definitive Reference For The Hip-Hop Generation. At 40-years of age, Star is an authentic voice for legions who grew up and lived in the 70s, 80s, and 90s witnessing the entire birth of Hip-Hop culture, and its evolution. People who have outgrown much of today’s Hip-Hop music but not Hip-Hop culture. He represents an untold number of similar people who grew up listening to the radio when there was no “Hip-Hop”, "Today’s R&B", or “Classic Soul” formats and barely the presence of “Urban Contemporary” stations. Thus, every Friday, and just about whenever he feels like it, Star will decide to mix in along with today’s best-selling records a blend of the 70s’ era Ohio Players, Led Zeppelin, Chic, KISS, and Sly and The Family Stone; the 80s' - Prince, Culture Club, Rush, S.O.S. Band, and Stevie Wonder; and the 90s’ - H-Town, Rage Against The Machine, Keith Sweat and Jodeci. In the process of playing these records and spouting encyclopedic knowledge about band members and music industry history, Star reminisces – like we all do or would – about child hood memories and relationships. He also weaves in a bit of social commentary regarding the times in which the music he was playing was made. How many 30 and 40-something old Hip-Hop fans feel this comfortable admitting the fact that along with getting a whiff of the Treachorous Three, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Kurtis Blow and Run D.M.C., they were listening to Iron Maiden, Hall and Oates and Pink Floyd and wearing tight jeans, leather jackets and patent leather sneakers?

I discussed this factor a few weeks ago with DJ Kam "The Ghetto Celeb # 1" and we both agreed that what is missing in radio today is a format that captures the crowd of listeners who grew up on Hip-Hop who are as comfortable hearing some of the latest Hip-Hop as they are listening to Stephanie Mills, Stacy Lattisaw, and Rakim. Some have tried but fail to be faithful to such a format by programming the music properly and surrounding it with radio personalities that can credibly speak to this special era. Star represents someone who can speak with candor and humor from experience but who knows the language of the youth of today. He's built to merge the age gap in the Hip-Hop generation.

In being 40 and not ashamed of it, Star adds context for his perspective, emboldens and appeals to many of his listeners who remember when Carter and Reagan were in office, and in the process enlightens many of today’s Hip-Hop fans who barely remember the Million Man March, much less the life and times in which Hip-Hop emerged.

The Impact On Wall Street. Last year I wrote about the unprecedented influence (for a Hip-Hop program) that Star and Bucwild were having on financial markets. Interestingly, despite Davey D’s publishing what I wrote (originally I wrote what I did privately for my clients) about this on his website, and although my comments were circulated among Wall St. analysts and I had discussions about the importance of this story with Dave Mays while serving as a strategic consultant to him, no one to my knowledge has followed-up on this story and its implications :

Is The Status Of A Hip-Hop D.J. Affecting Wall St.?

About a month ago, while watching CNBC in the morning, I was impressed to hear the network’s top reporter, Mario Bartiromo, the so-called “money honey” of the network, speak of earnings expectations for Emmis Communications Corp. – a radio, television and magazine company that owns arguably the most influential Hip-Hop-oriented radio station in the United States – “Hot 97”, WQHT-FM in New York City. Hot 97 is home to the shock-morning team of Star and Bucwild, a controversial, but highly-rated tandem that for the past few years has consistently been second only to shock-jock Howard Stern in morning ratings in several categories.

The star of the show, Star, has been suspended several times for off-color remarks and skits that have offended celebrities, media watchdog groups, advertisers and ethnic groups. The most recent suspension took place in May and reportedly revolved around 2 disputed $30,000 checks supposedly owed to Star by Hot 97. The suspension occurred during contract negotiations between the two parties that were said to be hovering around $2.7 million per annum for the popular talent. But here was Mario Bartiromo openly referring to the dispute between the “popular DJ”, Star, and the radio station and how the resolution of the suspension and contract negotiation were an important factor being monitored by investors and analysts covering the stock.

Now technically the importance of Star and Buc Wild to Emmis’ stock price should be of little surprise when one figures in the fact that Hip-Hop and R&B together are the most popular genres for radio play in America this year. But the high-stakes monetary value of the anti-establishment Star, on Wall St., makes for quite a juxtaposition. One of the reasons why Star is so potentially important to Emmis is because of the risks associated with the company's concentrated exposure to the New York and Los Angeles economic environments and markets. Both cities represent 12% and 11% of Emmis' total revenue, respectively, and an even greater percent of broadcast cash flow (35% cumulatively). With Star as the biggest advertising revenue draw on Emmis' New York City flagship station, Hot 97; he could affect the bottom line disporportionately.

Upon hearing the CNBC report I called Emmis broadcasting investor relations and was told by shareholder relations that the matter of Star’s employment status was a private matter but that the D.J. had not been fired and was officially considered to be “suspended”. Now, the jury may still be out on whether or not Star’s suspension is actually hurting the company’s market valuation, or not; as there is conflicting information on that front.

Certainly a powerful case can be made that Emmis Corp’s stock has suffered since the suspension. The company’s short interest has risen to 1,943,000 from 1,758,000 just last month. The short interest shows the number of investors who expect a stock’s price to fall (but rising short interest can be “good” if seen as a predictor of increased trading, as short positions have to be covered eventually), or be “corrected”. The stock price, as of Friday, had fallen $2 to $18.91 over the last 2 weeks, which is down from a 52-week high of 24.86 (01/15/03). Moody's Investors Service revised the rating outlook for Emmis Communications Corporation (Emmis) to stable from negative on July 15, 2003. And lastly, for the quarter ended August 2003, 9 analysts have made downward revisions in their earnings estimates for Emmis. But on the other hand, WQHT was rated number 1 by Arbitron in the 18-34 range with an 11-share. In the morning, the station came in fifth. Observers say that many listeners expected Star to return last quarter and so, any real negative impact by the host’s absence cannot be proven until his contract is terminated and the public knows for sure he will not return to the morning slot or station.

Emmis Communications Corporation is a diversified media company with radio broadcasting, television broadcasting and magazine publishing operations. The 15 television stations the Company operates serve geographically diverse mid-sized markets in the United States, as well as the large markets of Portland, Oregon, and Orlando, Florida, and have a variety of television network affiliations, including five with CBS, five with FOX, three with NBC, one with ABC and one with WB. The Company is also involved in the publishing business, with specialty magazines being circulated bimonthly.


****

Although I don’t take the show literally, I, for one, think that some of its content is counterproductive, and guess that it may end up costing the hosts a lucrative paycheck or two. But perhaps, a suggestion for better judgment and stricter self-editing goes against the core tenets of the philosophy of “objective hate” and the temperament of its founder.

I do have serious doubts that Star and Buc Wild will make it through their multi-year, multi-million dollar syndication deal with Clear Channel. Already they have generated the usual protests from irate interest groups and offended listeners who feel their content crosses the line. But this time, in markets that are not as prepared for, or accustomed to, political incorrectness and stereotypical race-oriented humor like New York is. ( Read this article from a paper in India which chronicles the controversy over a skit that has reportedly resulted in Star and Bucwild being suspended for a day at Power 99 in Philly).

I was surprised that Clear Channel inked the deal with the Hip-Hop morning hosts around the same time that it was sanctimoniously dumping Howard Stern from its stations after having to pay FCC fines for his conduct determined to be “indecent”. While Star and Buc Wild are not as graphic as Howard Stern, and one can be sure that Clear Channel has carefully studied the difference between the two programs, there is no doubt that Star and Buc Wild will generate calls to the FCC, stations broadcasting its programs, as well as to the advertisers who buy time on the show. Fines will probably result, the management will ask them to tone it down, then what?

I also don’t have much confidence that the show will make it in cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C. – should the show be syndicated there, where there are entrenched sensitive, vocal and politically active interest groups waiting to be offended. Then there are difficult cultural dynamics in cities like Atlanta to deal with, should the show go there. And in cities like Philadelphia that may eventually be able to tolerate the content, you have the problem of the show appearing on a station that for years suppressed and seemingly denied its popularity among Hip-Hop fans in order to placate an older Black audience that it believed only wanted to hear R & B. The arrival of Star and Buc Wild to Philly is already revealing the effect of a divide within the Hip-Hop generation which the station itself arguably enabled by programming one way in the morning to cater to an older audience and one way at night to pay lip service to its younger listeners' craving to hear rap.

Most of us who went 18 months without hearing the hater-in-chief and his band of characters probably already know the handwriting is on the wall. If Howard Stern couldn’t survive Clear Channel why should a Black or Hip-Hop D.J. “of color”, who is less likely to change while traveling uncharted territory make it?

Perhaps, and as Howard Stern’s five-year $500 million deal with Sirius has shown, life may be better on satellite radio, for those that FM radio cannot tolerate.

Don't be surprised to one day soon see Sirius Satelite and XM Radio battling one another for the services of "hate radio".


Cedric Muhammad

Friday, January 14, 2005

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