Refined and Fly

Thursday, March 15, 2007

By Davey D

In recent days a debate has ensued on my website ..around one of HipHop's biggest myths. It started in 1991 when Newsweek Magazine did acover story on Gangsta Rap and in their article they put out anun-researched statistic that said 80% of Hip Hop's audience is whiteand that its reflected in record sales. That stat has been banteredabout ever since as an undisputable stone cold fact.

Adding to this myth was a conversation that took place at the GavinConvention in San Francisco around the same time when Ice T during apanel discussion stated that anything above his average 750 thousandrecord sales was attributed to white kids.But is this really true? Granted if one goes to a Mos Def show or evena Wu-Tang concert you will see a majority white audience in manycities, but does that translate to that 80% white audience? How doesan all white Wu-Tang show in Northern Cali compare to a sold outpredominantly Black T.I. or Yung Joc show in Atlanta or in Oakland?How does that compare to a sold out predominantly Latino Psycho Realmor Sick Symphony show in East LA?

Back in 91 when this 80% first surfaced, there was no study ormethodology that that kept track of race when it came to album sales.About the closest one could come was by estimating based upon recordstores in a particular area, but that would yield far from accurateresults. To start in many areas, folks from different ethnicbackgrounds would frequent stores that were in sections of a citydominated by one race. For example, if you came to Berkeley inNorthern Cali, you found three main record stores up near the UCcampus in an area that was statistically majority white. Folks fromall over including predominantly Black South Berkeley and majorityBlack Oakland shopped at those stores. How were statistics based onpurchases by race kept?

The truth of the matter is that this 80% white Hip Hop fan myth haslong been a nice marketing tool used by media corporations to justifyad revenues for Top 40 radio stations. Here's a little background onthis.Back in the late 80s and early 90s, many rap artists complained howthe urban (Black) radio stations did not play rap except on theweekends and even then it was only in the mix late at night. Chuck Dhighlighted this concern in his song 'Don't Believe the Hype'. He goesinto further detail about this lack of support by Black urbanprogrammers in a song called 'How to Kill a Radio Consultant'.

According to Black radio programmers they avoided playing rap, becauseit was affecting their advertising. In spite of Hip Hop's cross oversuccess with groups like Run DMC and the 'positive, vibe that existedwithin rap at that time-(it was the Golden Era), many companiesassociated Hip Hop with violence done by Black people. Hence a Blackradio station playing Hip Hop was likely to have difficult timegetting money.Around this time several prominent Top 40 radio stations were startingto aggressively play Hip Hop. Most notably was KMEL in San Franciscowhich became very successful and quickly moved into the number onespot over its urban competition KSOL which had been number one foryears.

This sparked a lot of controversy and resulted in a big face off in1992 at the Gavin Convention in San Francisco between Black urbanprogrammers and white Top 40 stations that were starting to play HipHop. The packed panel discussion was hosted by Lee Michaels an AfricanAmerican editor at Gavin who interestingly had laid down thegroundwork and started Top 40 giant KMEL which went on to win Best RapStation in the country 5 years in a row. He posed the question as toweather or not Top 40 stations should be playing Rap or were theyexploiting it?The argument put forth by Black programmers was that they were playingthe music but not getting both the ad dollars and promotions benefitsfrom record companies. They talked about how the industry had a dirtysecret which two sets of rules and budgets, one for Black urbanstations which were small and one for Top 40 stations which in somecases were 3 to 4 times bigger. These budget disparities were alsoreflected in the Black music departments of and the Crossover and Popmusic departments of the record labels

They went on to talk about how major labels would come to town andshow support to these urban stations by giving them a bunch of tapesand later CDs for giveaway to the audience while across town these newpop stations playing rap were given huge prizes like tickets and allexpense paid flyaways to music awards and album release parties.Black programmers contended that they were responsible for breaking alot of the urban music into the market place only to see their crosstown Top 40 rivals reap the benefits.The biggest point of contention was that these Top 40 stations werebeing allowed to keep their Top40/ CHR classification in popularindustry trades like Gavin, Billboard and R&R which kept them in ahigher budget class.

Hence Top 40 stations could walk into an ad agency and even thoughtheir playlist was 90% identical to their urban counterparts theycould walk away with a higher ad rate even if they were not number onein the marketplace. Plus they wouldn't have any negative stigmaattached to them for playing rap. A white Top 40 station playing rapweighed differently in the minds of ad buyers compared to a Blackstation playing rap.The top 40 programmers countered by saying that many of the urbanstations were missing the boat by not playing rap. I remember it beingsaid that the urban stations were not staying close to the streets andpaying attention to what was going on with their own kids who nolonger wanted to hear slow jamz and sappy R&B songs.

They also insisted that they keep their Top 40 classification. Whatthey emphasized was that Hip Hop was the new Top 40 and that was whatwas being reflected in the playlists was what the mainstream (whiteaudience) now wanted to hear. The compromise to this particular pointwas the creation of a new classification called Churban which meantCrossover-urban. However it got applied to the Top 40 stations playingrap and not to the urban stations so in many people's mind they werestill seen as Top 40 crossover entitiesThey also pointed out that like their urban counterparts their salesdepartments had a difficult time convincing ad buyers to purchase timeon a station playing rap. One of the Top 40 programmers pointed outthat this was a competitive field no matter how you sliced it and thatit was up to the urban programmers not only to put together a strongprogramming team, but to also have a strong sales team as well thatcould successful convince skeptical advertiser to purchase air time.

What wasn't stated and this is where this 80% myth comes in, is thefact that the Top 40 stations had this Newsweek quote along with theirCHR status that they could present to ad buyers. Essentially they wereable to say, 'yes we're playing Public Enemy, NWA and 2 Live Crew'which we (KMEL) was doing at that time, 'but this is what themainstream (white audience wants). Look at this Newsweek article. It'sproof positive that 80% of the people who like this aggressive musicare the main ones purchasing it. I recall specifically seeing saleskits with that page and quote highlighted.The bottom line whether we like it or not is that many advertisershave a hierarchy of who they want as consumers. It may be as followsdepending on the product; White males between 18-34, White males25-54, White women 25-34. Women of color 25-34, white teens etc. Laston the list is often time Black males. The pervasive belief is thatwhite males have the most disposable income and can afford to purchaseexpensive appliances, cars and computers.

Women are desirable because they not only have income of their own,but usually influence the purchasing in households if they aremarried.Black men, especially young males are seen in many instances asunwelcome. We all got a glimpse of this several weeks ago with theCristal debacle where their spokesperson dissed Hip Hop artists forsupporting them. He said all the mentions by artists like Jay-Z andP-Diddy was 'unwelcome attention'. Author and former ad agencyexecutive Hadji Williams in his book 'Don't Knock the Hustle'underscores a lot of what I've written and goes into greater depth about all this in his book.So it's with all this in mind that we can better understand how andwhy this 80% myth was sold over and over again. It was if people'slives depended on it or in this case, people's livelihoods dependedupon it.

Now the real question was weather or not Top 40 stations KMEL andlater stations like Hot 97 in New York and Power 106 in Los Angeleswhich followed suit a couple of years later really had large whitelistening audiences.Well as I mentioned earlier one of the first and more successful Top40 stations to embrace rap was KMEL who's sale staff definitelyflipped that Newsweek quote their advantage. They had another thing tohelp them out, and that was Arbitron Ratings to show large whitelistener-ship.If I remember correctly we were boosting a number one rating with halfour audience being white. However, you wouldn't have known that from the large numbers of people of color who would show up at our events.You never saw like 50% of our crowds being white. It was alwaysexplained that many of our white listeners weren't our 'active' P1listeners who would enthusiastically show up at station functions. I later learned something different.

What wasn't really publicly known or even taken into account was howAsians were classified when it came to radio ratings. They were alwayscounted as white people. You see in the Bay Area where KMEL is basedthere is a huge Asian/Pacific Islander population. In San Franciscomore then 50% of the population is Asian with Chinese followed byFilipino being the largest ethnic groups. Outside of their respectivecountries, the largest concentration of Filipinos, Tongans andCambodians live in the Bay Area. There's a sizeable Vietnamese, KoreanSamoan and Laotian populations. Many of the people within these Asiangroups have grown up and listen primarily to urban music. Many of theyounger people went from listening to Latin Freestyle to Hip Hop asstations like KMEL evolved.

I recall when the Arbitron people came to our station to talk aboutratings and this fact about Asians being counted as whites was madeclear one of our Asian deejays damn near hit the roof and went off.She wanted to know why Asians did not have their own category and shesaid she found it offensive that they would put an entire populationdown as whites. She noted that it played into the model minority myththat was impacting a lot of Asian communities and it also added tothis pervasive perception of them being an invisible group of people.The Arbitron rep said he understood the concerns and acknowledged thatalthough the Asian population was growing, it would be a while beforethey would count Asians as a separate group away from whites.Nevertheless the large amount of 'white listeners' enjoyed by Top 40urban leaning stations in California was touted to advertisers andhelped rake in a substantial amount of ad dollars. It was laterestimated that the actual percentage of white listeners was more like20% when we subtracted the Asian count, but we never really knew for certain.

But lets suppose for the moment many of these Top 40 Hip Hop radiostations have large white audiences as asserted with the 80% myth, whyis that we rarely hear many of the artists being played in regularrotation that we know for fact have a large white audience?When was the last time we heard Living Legends, Del, Sage Francis,Atmosphere etc etc? We might hear an Eminem song, but hardly a MosDef, Public Enemy or even Talib Kweli. The aforementioned artists seemto always have packed houses at their shows. Some of those groups dopretty well in record sales as independent artists, but dont hear themnow and we didnt in the past-why is that? Shouldnt they be gettingairplay to satisfy the tastes of this 80% white audience?

So now that we understand how and why the 80% myth came about letslook at the results of an actual study that was done.In January 2003Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Push organization held their 6th AnnualWall Street project conference. In the past Jackson had not puttogether panels focusing on the entertainment industry and its impacton Wall Street, but that year he did. He put together is memorablestanding room only panel which included some very distinguished guests including; former Vibe Magazine CEO Keith Clinkscales of VanguardeMedia, Carol H Williams of Carol H Williams Advertising, ThomasBurrell of Burrell Communications, Samuel Chisholm of the ChisholmGroup, James L Winston of the National Association of Black OwnedBroadcasters and Daisy Exposito-Ulla of the Bravo GroupThe Bravo Group is part of the powerful Young and Rubicam company isconsidered the third largest multicultural agency in the US. The paneldiscussion talked about market share and leveraging dollars. Duringthe discussion Daisy Exposito Ulla was making her remarks and while itwasn't the main focus she mentioned that her company had done a studyand come to find that the Latinos are the biggest purchasers of Rapmusic. They buy more rap music than both African Americans and whites.

Because this wasn't a Hip Hop specific panel her remarks were made inthe context of talking about some other issues, what she was not metwith any big gasp from the audience or anything like that. But for meI took special note as she continued her presentation, because itbasically coincided with the push in broadcast media to target Latinosas a primary audience., Hip Hop is large and everybody enjoys it. And yes, a large partof that audience are white folks. But 80%? No way. Unfortunately whiteHip Hop fans were used to validate to skittish advertisers and evenvenue owners that Hip Hop is safe and non threatening. To me its nodifferent and just as bad as those programmers and industry expertswho hawk Black gangsterism and stereotypes and make it appear as ifits a vital part of Black culture and a true representation of HipHop.


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