No support for Detroit artists on local radio
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
2013 was the first time in the 58-year history of Billboard Top 100 song chart-rankings that an African American artist did not reach the number one position — all year long.
Among the chart-topping songs for 2013, two white rappers had number one songs, R&B inspired artist Robin Thicke ripped off Marvin Gaye for a 12-week run, and Miley Cyrus reinvented herself — “twerking” her way up the charts in a semblance of Black culture.
Within Detroit Chocolate City, mainstream, urban and pop radio stations have fed listeners songs by these artists with devotion to their corporate backers. Clear Channel, the global mega corporation that owns hundreds of radio stations and live music venues, both owns and dictates the playlist for the popular Detroit stations: Channel 95.5, FM98 WJLB, Mix 92.3, 106.7 The D, Mix 92.3 and 100.3 WNIC. The Billboard Top 100 rankings are heavily weighted by the number of spins on commercial radio.
For all of Detroit’s talented musical artists in the city, the top complaint remains a lack of access to the local radio airwaves that people continue to tune into. Critics of these corporate playlists lament the degrading content of the songs and the hegemonic promotion of white artists as the face of music created by Black musicians.
Aaliyah was the last Detroit-born artist to have a number one Billboard song with “Try Again” in 2000. Eminem, who represents Detroit and whose song “Monster” ended 2013 as the top song, was actually born in St. Joseph, Missouri, and his family moved him to Warren, Michigan at the age of 11.
“They play what they want to play; they’re in control of their programs,” says 313phresh, who along with partner TrueSpeech just released, “Pirate Radio,” their new Detroit independent hip hop album. “It’s just the mainstream commercialized radio that we have a problem with, that everyone has a problem with actually. But it’s very few artists who speak on it.”
“Because they’re too busy trying to get on the mainstream commercial radio,” responds TrueSpeech. “And that’s what it is, it’s all politics.”
Hip hop music on WJLB is saturated with artists who portray criminal drug traffickers like Rick Ross and Young Jeezy, as well as known drug abusers Lil’ Wayne and Gucci Mane. These artists have been supported by mainstream channels as a part of their contracts with major record labels like Universal Music Group, which owns Def Jam Recordings.
“That’s the point of listening to music; you want it to take you somewhere,” says TrueSpeech. “And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t have a soul, what is it really doing for you? Nothing. You’ll forget about it in 15 minutes, as soon as the next song comes on.”
In the past two years, Detroit hip hop artist Danny Brown has become a global star through mainstream radio and media, following the release of his critically acclaimed “XXX” mixtape. For that project, his image was heavily based on drug use, and his success led to his signing a management contract with Goliath Artists Management, the same company that manages Eminem, who rapped his way to stardom with lyrics about prescription pill abuse before his near fatal overdose in 2007 and subsequent rehabilitation.
On Feb. 10, the online social media of Detroit rap star Danny Brown voiced frustration with his treatment within the music industry and their acceptance of his public drug use. He posted then deleted, on Twitter “Nobody cares if I live or die … That’s the bottom line … Y’all want me to overdose just don’t be surprised when u get what u asked for.”
Suga Rae, a former host on Detroit’s Hot 102.7, says the solution is for local audiences to show stronger support for Detroit artists, including going to live events and purchasing independent music.
“You have opening acts that people need to support,” says Suga Rae. “And you have all these record execs looking to see who is supporting this artist. If you got crickets out there, how are they gonna get a deal? We have to support our own and that’s the bottom line. If we don’t support our own nobody else will.”