Is Radio Milwaukee afraid of Jay-Z?
The station called out local venues last week for not booking enough hip-hop. But 88Nine hardly, if ever, plays some of music's most prominent rappers
Online discourse about Milwaukee music was a lot more interesting this week thanks to Tarik Moody of Radio Milwaukee, whose blog post last Friday about the state of hip-hop in Milwaukee has provoked responses both thoughtful and bombastic from area bloggers. Criticism for Milwaukee’s dearth of quality hip-hop shows has fallen largely on venues for not booking enough rappers and local media for not covering rappers enough. And a lot of that is valid, though as Evan Rytlewski of the Shepherd Express points out, many venues in town will gladly welcome rap shows so long as there’s promoters in town willing and able to bring them here.
The “Is Milwaukee afraid of hip-hop?” debate thus far has been predicated on a rather narrow definition of hip-hop centered on the mellow, backpacker-friendly wing of the genre favored by Radio Milwaukee, which, according to its online playlist, spun at least one track by A Tribe Called Quest on 27 out of 31 days in January.
To be fair, Radio Milwaukee does also play a fair share of hip-hop artists that have made great records after the mid-’90s, including Lupe Fiasco, Brother Ali, and K’Naan, as well as locals like Prophetic and Lab Partners. But there’s also a sizable list of popular and critically acclaimed rappers that Radio Milwaukee hardly, if ever, plays. Of the artists mentioned specifically in Moody’s blog, Mos Def and Talib Kweli get played on a regular basis; otherwise Wale (played seven times in 2009, and not at all since Dec. 24), Zion I (played once on Oct. 31), and DOOM (not played since Dec. 3) are hardly staples of the station.
Many of the biggest names in hip-hop have also been missing from Radio Milwaukee lately, including Jay-Z, who hasn’t been played once since Feb. 27, 2009 (except as a guest on the Coldplay song “Lost”), and Kanye West, who hasn’t gotten any plays since Oct. 17. Lil Wayne gets played regularly, but it's been the same song—"Tie My Hands," with Robin Thicke—since August 2008. Chart toppers Ludacris, Timbaland, and 50 Cent haven't lodged a single spin on Radio Milwaukee in the station’s history, nor have cult favorites like Ghostface Killah, Clipse, Raekwon, and Devin The Dude.
If Radio Milwaukee thinks the city needs more of a hip-hop presence, is the station playing a wide enough variety of hip-hop songs to help foster a larger local audience? “It’s important to remember that we’re not a hip-hop station any more than we are an alternative rock or Americana station,” said Moody and music director/interim program director Scott Mullins in a joint email to The A.V. Club. “We are trying to make several different genres work together and some songs lend themselves to that better than others.
“For three years 88Nine Radio Milwaukee has brought to the city a rock/urban mix that can be found nowhere else in the country. One of the things that we’re very proud of is that we have exposed some great hip hop to a lot of people who otherwise never would have heard it.”
Moody and Mullins' assertion that Milwaukee's airwaves would have less hip-hop without Radio Milwaukee is undeniably true, but perhaps the station's selection of "diverse music for a diverse city" could stand to be a little more, well, diverse.