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Hip-Hop Fridays: A Star. Bigger Than ‘Nigger Nonsense.’ More Than A Sound Bite.


"Cedric, I have been through this four or five times before. This is the reality of the business we are in and this is the state that the country is in right now, in terms of the influence of pressure groups. Before I signed with Clear Channel I knew the landscape was shaky. But everything I have said about my grind on that microphone is true. Unlike others, I own the rights to my show. I have control and an arsenal of material. Now, this is a time when I get to dig down deep inside of myself and see what I am made of."

The voice – strong and crisp - on the other end of the telephone yesterday was that of Star, host of the popular Star and Buc Wild Morning Show. He was speaking to me less than 24 hours after his employment status as part of multi-million dollar, multi-year contract with Clear Channel was ended by the San Antonio, Texas-based company. Or, as Rob Williams, marketing manager, for the conglomerate said, "Power 105 finds recent remarks broadcast by Troi Torain of the Star & Buc Wild Morning Show to be wholly unacceptable, As of late this afternoon, he is no longer with Power 105.1 or Clear Channel Radio. We sincerely apologize to those who may have been offended by his remarks."

I have been listening to Star’s show over the last five years, been writing about it for three years, met him in person one year ago, and have appeared on his program eight times since. I find the program to be one of a kind in its ability to appeal to multiple mindsets simultaneously. It is the most conscious and graphic show I have ever heard on radio. Inevitably every listener to the program that I know, including myself, at one point or another, has been either morally or otherwise offended yet intellectually challenged and motivated by it. And that seems to be the point of the program and much of what drives Star. He is looking to get into your head and heart, and he uses a wide range of methods to achieve his goal. What works for some listeners will not work for others. But regular and dedicated listeners to the program understand that there is indeed a method and even a noble objective to what some others would only call ‘madness.’ The result – Star has over 5,000,000 listeners, the number one rated show in New York City and other markets (in various ratings categories,) and is quite possibly the only person who can speak as a ‘peer’ so bluntly, with credibility, to the entire Hip-Hop generation (artists, purists, professionals and consumers) of those 18 to age 45 about their best and worst desires, thoughts and behaviors.

Along the way to achieving his objective, Star inevitably and aggressively confronts the fallacious thinking of many within the Hip-Hop culture, generation and industry and many of its damaging customs, attitudes, pathologies and contradictions. Among his favorite targets are those individuals whom he believes are seeking to project a tough guy image – using either recorded music or the airwaves to act like something they are not or say things they would normally never back up with action. From listening to his program, it is apparent that Star might have believed that DJ Envy of Hot 97 is such an individual.

In addition to yesterday’s 25-minute conversation, I spoke to Star on Tuesday of this week, a full day before the controversy erupted. We spoke a few hours after his show ended, and discussed the recent evolution of his show in general terms, spoke about the excellent interview he recently conducted of Wynton Marsalis (and some of the fascinating behind-the-scenes details associated with it,) as well as Star’s intention to interview a special guest on his program Thursday. Unfortunately due to the controversial events of this week, that special guest’s appearance was not possible. That interview, if it had occurred, I believe would have provided more evidence of the power of this show and the immense gifts of its host. Perhaps one day that event can take place.

In that conversation on Tuesday, Star made a passing reference to the on-air situation with Envy, he described it to me (as he has on-air) as ‘nigger nonsense.’ I agreed. Juxtaposed to the other topics of discussion – Wynton Marsalis and the guest scheduled to appear on Thursday - the mere mention of the ‘nigger nonsense’ was enough to change the spirit of our dialogue. It was almost as if the whole matter was an unwanted distraction to the man known as ‘The Hater.’ It was unspoken but clear from the quick exchange that I knew and he knew he had bigger fish to fry. ‘Nigger nonsense,’ was, well just that, but maybe a cost of doing business at this point in the journey - perhaps something that comes with the territory of being a morning show personality in a competitive Hip-Hop radio environment.

At a certain point in the conversation, I told Star how much I appreciated what he was doing and that I hoped others would see as deeply into it, as I thought I had. And then, I punctuated my point by saying, ‘but your career will probably last longer the more you are misunderstood.’ There was silence. I did not ask what he was thinking nor did I elaborate. I just felt as if I had said something that he understood implicitly and was weighing.

****

"What is being misconstrued right now in the mainstream media is being done so by people who have never listened to my show and what I have said, or who have dismissed what I have said in the past. When my words are presented like that it may lead someone to believe something I said is other than what it really is - in a sensationalist way.”

When asked why he has not commented on the matter thus far Star told me, “I have not gone into the details because I have not felt the need to respond to Clear Channel’s termination or what was misconstrued in the mainstream media. I don’t feel that the appropriate time has presented itself.”

But anyone familiar with Star’s personality knows that his unwillingness to immediately respond to the uproar has as much to do with how he views himself as it does any legal advice he may have received.

“I totally believe in myself. Not to say that the comments of others aren’t taken into consideration or that I am so callous or rogue that I don’t care, but just because people respond in masses to what I do does not mean that I have to react to that, change what I do or who I am. Those people didn’t get me here. And there is nobody that can sidetrack me from what I believe is true and potent.”

****

In speaking to those of my friends who listen to the program regularly there is a consensus that Star’s words look and sound worse out of context on paper and in audio bites than when delivered during the flow of his program. Furthermore, there is a majority opinion that folks who don’t listen to Star’s show simply can’t understand or maybe even accept that such comments - while offensive to some, while listened to in context and the flow of the show – are not out of the purview of what Star ‘does.’ No one that I have spoken to actually believes that Star would ever literally follow through with what he was heard describing this week. As I have written in the past, very devoted and very careful listeners know that while Star is genuine and bold, he is also a master of rhetorical devices – satire, dialectics, polemics, reverse psychology - dramatizing his points in very uncomfortable but compelling ways.

And then there are methods that Star uses which might only be understood by those familiar with the code of the streets. As one of my closest friends from Queens said, “Every cat out here knows what Star was doing. Instead of letting Envy drag him through a back-and-forth on-air beef to boost his name and ratings, Star stepped to him in a way that would show and prove whether Envy meant all the shit he was saying about Star. So, Star disses Envy and his family in public in order to call his bluff. Either Envy comes and sees him about it or the 'beef' dies out. But either way, there is no more running his (Envy) mouth. It’s a way of cutting through the noise and getting down to business so Envy can’t use him to blow his own name up. If you listen to what Star said he even explained in so many words what he was doing by coming for the child like that.”

Having made a habit of not underestimating his own listeners and dealing with controversy, Star seemed confident that his brand and philosophy ‘Objective Hate’ is powerful enough to be seen and understood by any person who isn’t phony or disingenuous and interested in critical thinking. To him, the sober, down-to-earth person is antithetical to the mainstream media and imagery of the entertainment industry - somewhat ‘in this world but not of it,’ not unlike himself, a 42-year old man who sits in the cradle of rap music but who defiantly remains critical of it. Star explained, “There are those who know my grind is a sincere one. I have never tried to fit in or socialize with the industry elite, or those who could not accept me as the rational man I am. You have to be plastic to fit in. People like that can’t take anything away from me. You can’t take something away from someone who has created their own market.”

****

“If that grenade gets ready to pop, Cedric, I want it. I want it right in front of me. I don’t want it smothered,” Star told me last summer. He was referring to those in pressure groups who were seeking to organize protests against his program. While he did not say he was asking for it, it seemed to me, he relished opposition and the motivation it could provide. Yesterday, I heard that same spirit in him. “I went through this back in 1991 in the music industry, being the object of misunderstandings, ridicule and mockery. It just makes me stronger. Anyway I wouldn’t know how to lay down if I had to,” he said.

One of my closest friends from childhood told me yesterday that he loves Star’s show but believes that Star went over the line in speaking about Envy’s daughter. “He kind of blurred the line between just playing around and reality. He just went too far.” But he lamented the firing saying, “For our generation, Star’s show is kind of important. He shows the idiocy of some of the Hip-Hop generation by putting it back in their face. He puts it out there and it makes you think. I feel what he was trying to do. He just got a little too personal. He should have learned from Jay-Z ‘s beef with Nas that you can’t go there with kids.” Another one of my friends told me that although he does not believe that Star meant in reality what he said, he thinks the visual of a four-year old in any graphic sense is just too much for people who have children.

Their comments reflect the double edge of one of Star’s greatest gifts and talents – his voice and his unique use of it. Having gotten to know him a bit I think I am able to pick up things in his voice inflection that maybe many others don’t while listening to him on radio. But there is no denying that Star’s voice is so powerful and he uses it so skillfully that it can be, at times, difficult to know how and in what way(s) he means what he is saying. I was reminded of that yesterday morning as I listened to the commentary of the controversial and popular morning show, “Opie and Anthony”, whose program is simulcast on CBS radio and XM satellite radio. As they played audio sound bites of Star’s comments it was clear that even Opie and Anthony misconstrued Star’s comments, even indicating that they weren’t sure how and what he meant. Yet still, respect for Star, even like for him, and what he does, was openly expressed.

And that seems to be the dilemma for many – so many people apparently drawn to, confused by, and even repulsed by the same person. And the mixed feelings and controversy are poised to only intensify in coming days, weeks and months, as more people weigh in on what is revealed by this most recent chain of events and as Star plans his next move. During our conversation Star made it clear that he was not withering away under the heat of the spotlight his show has attracted. It even seemed as if he had been expecting it, as a return on the investment of his years of labor, refinement, and unique impact. In his signature, carefully worded style, he said to me, “I have no biological children but the seeds that I have planted – they just came out of the womb yesterday.”

If that type of language can only be understood by a few, there was a message that should be clear to the rest, particularly those who think now is the time to pile on a man they perceive to be at less than the top of his game, “Anyone pulling a knife on me better be ready to face a cannon,” Star warned with his customary hearty laughter.

As for possible rebuttal and action regarding those most visibly opposite “The Hater” at present – namely Clear Channel, DJ Envy, and Queens Councilman John Liu – Star would not confirm or deny my inquiry saying only, “Rather than starting to point fingers, just know that the legal team is gearing up.”

The Star that suddenly fell from corporate grace, appears ready to rise again, possibly sooner than most think.


Cedric Muhammad

Friday, May 12, 2006

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