Talkin' hip hop: Local radio show pushes hip hop's envelope

Thirty years ago in New York City an upstart, street wise, and infectiously fun art form gelled in the Bronx at the hands of a conglomeration of disc jockeys, street poets, graffiti artists and self-taught dancers. What was once known as the big street beat in some Big Apple circles eventually morphed into the world-wide phenomenon called hip hop. Seattle has been embracing the culture for decades, especially in the South End where the urban environment and diverse mix of people facing varying degrees of economic and social hardships mirrors the Bronx in many ways.

From its mid-1970s birth until its early 1990s popularity explosion, hip hop, much like punk rock during the same time period, was an underground movement largely ignored by mainstream radio and defined by its do-it-yourself ethic. Glitzy, empty-headed commercialism permeates many of the top-40 hip hop acts today, but the scene is still infused with a strong DIY, socially conscious spirit. A strong example of this is beamed over the South End's morning airwaves from a signal rippling from Mercer Island High School's 30 watt radio station, KMIH X104.5 FM.

Mighty mite

Tuning your radio into the X104 signal during a weekday from 6 until 9 a.m. will plunge you into intellectually savvy and street smart world of chatter and music hosted by Drazee Maraires and J-Styles. Both of these Franklin High School graduates grew up in the Rainier Valley hip hop culture and feel that it has been underserved for years, until now.

In terms of the music, Program Director Patrick Lagreid, instigated the station's switch to its current format in 2002 to fill what he felt was a sizable hole in the nation's number 14, according to the fall 2004 report by the independent rating company Arbitron, radio market.

"Seattle has never had a 24-hour hip hop and R&B station that dove beyond the top few songs. Pretty much every market in the top 40 has two 'rhythmic' stations, yet Seattle has one, KUBE FM," said Lagreid of the Clear Channel Corporation's domination of the Puget Sound area. "The resentment towards KUBE is very high among people in the area, and it was apparent that no other company would take on the format, so we grabbed it and ran with it."

While playing a deeper variety of hip hop music is crucial to reaching out to their target demographic of teenage to mid-30s males, the station's morning show is where the non-profit station rises above the overly polished and sanitized programming featured on the 100,000 watt KUBE. It's during this morning slot where the station's DIY ethos shines while Drazee and J-Styles actively seek to interact and encourage positive connections within the Emerald City's hip hop community.

"For a large part, the African American community in Seattle has been deprived of a genuine African American experience," noted Drazee. "It's not that people didn't want it, but there's never been a vehicle in this city that was willing to push African American culture. I hate to say it, but what KUBE 93 does manipulates our culture."

Smooth operators

To fight back, Drazee and J-Styles have, for the past three months since the show has been on the air, been engaging in what comes naturally to them, the gift of gab, a thirst for knowledge and a desire to knock around topics relevant to Seattle's urban youth. At 27 and 26-years-old, respectively, both Drazee, an energetic talker, and J-Styles, a more laid back speaker, are family men with a passion to debate that traces back to their home life and school days.

J-Styles is the owner and operator of a Rainier Avenue barbershop bearing his name, and it was here that their passion to kick around pertinent social and political topics in their community transformed into the notion of getting a local talk radio show together. They knew Lagreid after running into him at an area freestyle rapping event and pitched the idea of the morning program. A subsequent thumbs-up was granted to give the station's core listeners in the University District, South Seattle, West Seattle and Renton a morning talk show.

"If you don't know about our community and what we're doing, we're going to tell you," asserted Drazee, who noted every Wednesday their show is dedicated to relationship issues, and every Thursday they kick around political topics. "Make no mistake. We have an agenda. Everything from the way young, black men dress to the way they talk, we want it to be respectful."

So far, in their short-lived time on the air, the duo has been a success, and plans are in the works to add a female co-host along with working to boost the station's power. Both moves promise to bring the show to an even broader market.

"My favorite thing about the show is to give the people a reflection of themselves on the radio while giving the listeners a sense of hope," said J-Styles. "Everything about the show is positive, and we make people think."[[In-content Ad]]