Hip Hop Commentary

Hot 97 Has Got to Go
by April Silver

There's an old African proverb/tale that speaks of knowing your enemy. It's about a scorpion and a turtle trying to cross a river (the animals have varied in the retelling of this ancient tale):

The scorpion wants to ride the turtle's back to get across the river but the turtle hesitates. He (the turtle) knows that he would get stung if he agrees to this. The scorpion, however, promises that he will not sting the turtle and earnestly tries to convince him of this. The turtle is still hesitant, but after much going back and forth, he gives in.

All is well until about halfway across the river. The scorpion suddenly stings the turtle. In agonizing pain and total SHOCK, he yells, "Why did you do that? You promised you wouldn't sting me!!" The scorpion replies, "I know, but I couldn't help it. I'm a scorpion, it's in my nature to sting. You should have known better than to trust me!"


There's a serious power surge in the community right now in reaction to the Hot 97 on-air personality Star and his heartless mockery of Aaliyah's tragic death earlier this week. There is an uproar calling for either the suspension or permanent removal of The Morning Show from the airwaves.

If you haven't heard yet: Monday morning (August 27), when the popular "shock jock" of the "Star and Buc Wild Show Featuring Miss Jones" (on Emmis Broadcasting's WQHT Hot 97, the top urban/hip hop/R&B station in New York) informed his listeners of Aaliyah's death, he then, in an attempt to be funny, played an audio clip/sound effect of a plane crashing - - complete with a woman screaming right before the "crash and burn" explosion. Co-Host Miss Jones, totally fed up, goes off on him, curses at him (live/on-air) and storms out. For the remainder of the show, Star not only reminds the audience that he is "The Hater" and that this is "his" show, but he also proceeds to play the sound effect at least four more times -- in adamant, shameless defiance to anyone who couldn't appreciate his so-called humor.

Since this crew came to Hot 97 about a year and a half ago, concerned people have been waging their own (albeit disconnected) protest of the show for its "non-stop chaos, cheap shots, tasteless insults, and reality-based humor." Some simply switched to another radio station in pure disgust while others wrote protest letters or made calls to the station's management. Whatever manner, the people's protest had little affect. Apparently, not enough (or not the right) people were outraged. Hot 97 became the number one radio station in the market, and it did so parading under the banner of hate.

Major artists continued to do interviews, sponsors kept advertising, and most notably, people kept listening. Those who were initially outraged when the show first hit the air, later became comfortable with the format. Being the "new thing" in town, the show's popularity and profitability was obviously too intoxicating and ratings soared.

So on any given morning, from 6 to 10 am, a listener could wake up to obnoxious skits ranging from "coochie tightening cream" commercials, to crude jokes about "erect cocks" and anal sex, to the constant degrading and humiliation of women. The wholesale prejudice and the unrelenting insults on virtually EVERYBODY (Star even pokes fun at himself and calls his mother a bitch on the air) was like overkill. It soon become obvious that the more people complained, the more fuel was pumped into the engine. As a matter of fact, Star wore his suspensions from the job like badges of honor, delighting in the attacks on him. The ratings continued to climb.

But the mockery of Aaliyah's death, despite Star's apology the next day, has proven too much (judging from reports to this office from across the country, millions of teenagers and peers have responded with Goddess-like reverence for Aaliyah, a person that many people knew as grounded and gracious). Over the Internet alone, there is mass outrage regarding this incident. People have been venting their disgust, calling for more sustained protests, and starting petitions. One report has one person having already collected 5,000 signatures. People have also forwarded the talents' personal email addresses and pager numbers (as well as those of top management and executives) - - all in an attempt to put the consenting parties on full blast.

It's also been going around that top hip hop executives and artists, such as Kamal (formerly known as Q-Tip) and Roca-Fella's Damon Dash (who was Aaliyah's boyfriend), are contemplating an artist boycott of Hot 97 until Star is removed from the airwaves. One well-known artist actually told me Monday that people need to protest the station by blocking the morning crew from even getting into the building.

But the power of this Hot 97 incident comes not so much from listeners being subjected to Star's inhumane treatment of death, but from the larger picture. The power is in the whirlwind that has captured so many folks, both in and beyond the entertainment industry.

People of color in this country are no strangers to hate. For generations, our day-to-day lives have been a struggle against the very hate that breeds police brutality, violence against women, and other crimes against humanity. We have been a people to defy hate and anything else that destroys love.

But hate can penetrate our thoughts and actions so morbidly that some of us get real twisted when it comes to discerning what has value and meaning in our lives from what leads to our demise. Within the hip hop community, it's not new that we've come to "love" what hates us and "hate" what loves us. This warped logic has been playing itself out for years now. For example, some artists (and the professionals that surround them), are so enamored with the "holloywoodism" that now dominates the music industry that they forget (if indeed they ever knew), that they are dispensable variables in a ruthless, unpredictable corporate formula that is profit-bound. But so what? Since hip hop exploded on the scene less than thirty years ago, the relentless grovel for fame and fortune that is the American way of life has now been joined by the very folks that this country sought to keep down. At no time in history can one find so many Black and Latino/a people under fifty, with so much money - - primarily generated by this phenomena called hip hop.

But despite all that is right and uplifting and sacred about hip hop, something has been real wrong for more than a little while. We live in a society where "nothing exceeds like excess" and getting paid is always a good
thing...all day/every day. It's now as though anything can be justified for the paper chase, as long as it pays well. But in the process, we are losing our minds, to say noting of our souls.

Though this problem did not originate with hip hop, enough cannot be said about the destructive "money as God" culture that is retarding us. We have become dangerously narrow-minded. Being consumed with hate necessarily cancels out human compassion, morality, respect, and this played out thing called love. So, it's no wonder that Star would have such a blatant disregard for human suffering and for the families' grief. Star is the scorpion of the African proverb mentioned, despite his apologies.

The power of this incident is realized in what it has awakened in an otherwise silent community. Though sad, the hard fact of the matter is: it took these nine deaths to fully expose the poison that has been coming over the airwaves long before Star's insensitive remarks. As supportive as I am of an artist and listener boycott of Hot 97, I stand firm on the principle that the hate was just as "boycottable" almost two years ago as it is now. It was just as wrong when it was being played out while young people got dressed for school in the morning as it is now. But the time is always right for protests and total resistance against mass marketed prejudice, sexist taunts, and ignorance.

So spread the word or sign the petition if it comes your way. And lets stay clear headed as we move on forward. If it profits Emmis Broadcasting to keep Star and others like him on the air, they will do all they can to make that happen. And about boycotting sponsors and advertisers: while it's an important and necessary tool, sponsors are not bound by moral authority. They will, for example, pull out of Hot 97 with the right amount of pressure, but return later when the pressure simmers. But with perseverance, we can send a clear, irreversible message that no media outlet is entitled to be irresponsible to its listeners. The civil rights movement was sustained by a mere 20% of the Black people in the country at the time. Surely we can get hate radio off the air.

On resolving the other larger issues, that's a long journey with no easy answers. As Stevie Wonder said, "It's taking us so long, 'cause we've got so far to go." It's not easy...that's why it's called a struggle.

My sincerest prayers and sympathy goes out to all the family and friends
suffering through this tragic loss of life.

WQHT Hot 97 - Emmis Broadcasting
395 Hudson Street 7th Floor
New York, NY 10014

Doyle Rose, VP of Radio, Emmis Broadcasting
15821 Ventura Blvd. Suite 685
Encino, CA 94136
818.784.4714 x8522 office
818.784.4059 fax

Sponsors/Advertisers of the "Star and Buc Wild Show" on Hot 97
VoiceStream, Pepsi, McDonald's, Starburst Candy, Telecash.net
(these are just a few, there are many others)

by April R. Silver
c. 2001


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