Holiday weekends in Baltimore mean local rap-and-R&B station 92Q opens up a little bit and allows its DJs to go nuts. For all intents and purposes, Labor Day or Memorial Day or Fourth of July becomes the centerpiece of days-long mixes with DJs rotating in and out, chewing on the edges of what's buzzing in the streets but not in the offices of music label executives (yet), pandering (in the best sense) to the city's desire to hear hopped-up club music, and wandering down whatever nostalgia-trip rabbit hole they feel like wandering down and coming up with crowd-pleasing hits and near-hits from the past 30 years of black pop. The station-approved dozen or so songs that receive play every fucking hour get to take a rest.
Summer mixes like this are common on all "urban" stations, though 92Q does a better job than most at making them seem special and in some small way, serving the community. They're soundtracking pool parties and trips to Ikea and barbecues and smoking and drinking sessions on the porch and the drives to work for the many, many, many, many, people who don't have Labor Day off or any other day of the weekend off. On Monday, there was a moment when a DJ (maybe Jay Claxton, I can't remember) played Ma$e's 'Breath, Stretch, Shake,' an absurdly great, mumbly rap hit from 2004 pulled along by what sounds like an electronic harpsichord. There were plenty of other "hey, cool" moments like that (when club creeped into the mix or a DJ stacked regional rap hits from the year crunk broke), but that Ma$e moment felt special because well, it was such a small concession, a small diversion from what they usually play that it felt real and lived in, like the DJ just remembered how this song worked a decade ago and thought, "Fuck it" and wanted to see if it would still work. It did.
Adding to this sense the inmates had taken over the asylum was a particularly loaded "Reality Radio" PSA from Cathy Hughes, who founded Radio One, which owns 92Q and dozens of other radio stations. For those who don't know, Hughes does these spots that tend to comment on social and political issues in a clear, cogent, and no-bullshit way (one about how climate change exists was particularly memorable). So, in this particular spot, Hughes calls attention to the frequency with which teens are tried as adults in this country and how an inordinate number of teens tried as adults are black. Then, as an aside, Hughes mentions how George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin is free, while plenty of kids who committed crimes in their teens will remain in jail for the rest of their lives.
If you want to be a certain kind of dick about it and miss the point, you could observe that teens tried as adults and George Zimmerman being found not guilty in a court of law don't have much to do with one another, that they are two separate issues, and you wouldn't be entirely wrong, but you'd also be that certain kind of dick, and indeed, what was so great and weird and awesome about this PSA was how Hughes totally went out of her way just to remind us of George Zimmerman's miserable existence and Trayyon Martin's murder. Like, hey, it's a holiday weekend and I just want to hear some tunes and here you are, big bad owner of lots of things, a suit for sure, though a black female suit which makes you more important, reminding me of how fucked everything is. Thanks Cathy Hughes. I needed that. I don't ever not need that.
Last weekend, 92Q offered a glimpse of what could be, but won't ever be for long. A few fleeting days a year though, there's hope for radio that cares about its community and ignores the demands of the douches in charge and their bosses and their bosses' boss and plays an old fucking Ma$e song and it feels really good and special and like, kind of political? Because look, 92Q is, for the most part, an awful, evil mainstream radio station. They are slowly crawling away from being "urban"-skewing like all the other rap and R&B stations, which is scary because right now, black people making black music are getting Elvis'd again and again and again thanks to full-stop synergistic support for Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke and Iggy Azalea's minstrelsy, and so these moments where something real—a choice pick from a DJ on the radio, a crowbarred-in piece of pop punditry from a millionaire, something, anything—slips through are not insignificant. It seems like that's all you're gonna get.
And finally, what I was listening to in August:
- Kix, 'Inside Outside Inn' (listen)
- Lil Boosie, 'Crazy' (listen)
- Lor Scoota 'Bird Flu (DJ Dizzy Baltimore Club Remix)' (listen)
- Pallbearer, 'Ashes' (listen)
- Schwarz, 'Hands Up Don't Shoot' (listen)