Letter by Billy Jam...
This letter originally appeared in Issue 2 of Strivin' magazine. This shit is classic and made a little bit of a buzz around the local music industry because it was a straight shot to KMEL's program director at the time, Michelle Santosousso. These days KMEL is playing a lot more Bay Area rap and that's great. I have no actual proof of this since I haven't turned on the radio (besides talk radio) in the past nine years, but from what people are telling me, the Bay is finally getting a little recognition from the powerhouse station. To understand this letter you have to know that around the time of its publication (1997), KMEL had all but abandoned local music. They were calling themselves the "The People's Station" and "The Station For The Hip Hop Generation," but were actually far from it.
On to the letter...
Dear Ms. Santosousso,
I am writing you this open letter since you didn't have the professional courtest to return any of my last four phone calls over the past six months for stories I was writing for numerous publications read by many of the "people" that "The People's Station" targets. Hopefully you will see this letter in Strivin'. However, based upon your format, which pretty much ignores the Bay Area's rich rap/hip hop talent, I doubt that you spend much time reading Bay Area rapzines or even listening to much music from the Bay. If you did you would no doubt realize how incredible most of it is and immediately have in heavy rotation the endless radio-worthy Bay Area artists in place of your current biased playlist.
In case you think this letter is an attack on KMEL's staff or on you as a person, it is not. Firstly, I have no beef with anyone on KMEL's staff. Many, including Davey D, Sway and Chuy Gomez are respected and valued friends. In fact, I got fired from Wild 107 a few years ago when, after calling in on KMEL to congratulate Chuy (a former Wild 107 DJ) on his new gig, my program director kicked me out of the station for going on the "competitor's" airwaves. I could have kept the job if I had apologized to him and disowned Chuy as a friend. I didn't.
Regarding you Ms. Santosousso, since I've never had the opportunity to talk to you, I don't even know you and therefore have no opinions about you as a person. However, I do have many strong opinions, many negative, about your programming decisions. The first of these was when, after a backstage problem at a KMEL Summer Jam a few years ago, you decided to ban all of Too $hort's music. Then you justified this blackball move with a statement made to the San Francisco Chronicle about how Too $hort hadn't had a hit in two years anyway! The irony of this story is that a year into the ban Too $hort blew up with the title track of his next and "final" album, Gettin' It, and you had no choice but to recant your decision and program the man's music. Of course you never admitted your mistake nor apologized to Too $hort, the godfather of Bay Area rap. And when $hort was interviewed live on KMEL he was a true gentleman and professional so he didn't bring it up. Comically though, the album that you helped him promote on your airwaves still had his side of the story including that famous and ultimately prophetic line from "That's Why," "fuck all of that blackball shit / It won't last / KMEL, y'all can kiss my ass."
Now I could go on with more examples of your questionable programming decisions, but I don't have enough space so I'll jump up to the present or rather to March 14th, 1997, the day that "The People's Station" underwent its recent image makeover. At 6:00 PM the new format was introduced by a rap freestyle that falsely promised, "Regardless of the time of day / All you're gonna hear play is hip hop," and then we were told that KMEL is "The Station For The Hip Hop Generation." This slogan, which has been driven into the ground every single mic break since then, is not only misleading and insulting to your listener's intelligence, but it is also totally disrespectful to the artform of hip hop. Having the voice of KRS-1 telling us that this is the sound of "the hip hop generation" wedged between a cheesy jingle for Levitz Furniture and a sappy Mint Condition ballad is not hip hop by any means! It seems to you that "the hip hop generation" is interchangeable with "the Pepsi generation."
But it gets worse. It appears, in light of the 2Pac and Biggie murders, you've upped your "no color lines" and "increase the peace" type slogans. Don't get me wrong, "Street Soldiers" and "Street Knowledge" are highly commendable shows. So is Sway when, on March 21st, he had former gang members and peace activist Pastor Sonny on his show dropping knowledge about putting an end to gang violence in our community. However, when the very next DJ comes on and plays (from your playlist) the gangsta athem, "Gangstas Make The World Go Round," you totally diffuse your supposed stand for peace. But then I wouldn't expect much more from a programmer who in a sampled evening hour's format (March 27th, 6:00 to 7:00 PM) of music for "the hip hop generation" plays, out of twelve songs, six R&B cuts and out of the six rap/hip hop songs only one was local and that was the multi-platinum 2Pac.
So Ms. Santosousso, how come "The People's Station" doesn't give much love to the "people" of the Bay Area? Why doesn't your "hip hop" daily playlist include such super talented hip hoppers as Saafir and the Hobo Junction family, Rasco, DJ Shadow, Lateef and Lyrics born and the SoleSides crew (and not just as background music!!!!), Homeliss Derelix, Invisibl Skratch Piklz including Mixmaster Mike or Q-Bert with Dr. Octagon, Bored Stiff, Mystik Journeymen, Hieroglyphics, etc., etc.? And since you're playing the self-described "gangsta" music of Westside Connection, why don't you play the unlimited supply of popular local reality rappers like C-Bo, B-Legit, 11/5, Mac Dre, Cougnut, The Delinquents, Andre Nickatina, GLP, RBL Posse and the classic 415, etc., etc.? And tell me, why didn't KMEL add The Conscious Daughters' killer 1996 single, "Gamers," or the Whoridas' incredible single, "Shot Callin' & Big Ballin'" which even The Beat, your sister station in LA added?
Based on your past record I don't expect you to reply this time, but if anyone reading this happens to be calling, writing or e-mailing KMEL's programming office, please join me in asking that they cease and desist pimping the words "hip hop" and that they start to act like a real "people's station" and give some love to Bay Area artists.
Strivin' & Hip Hop Slam