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Do Louisville Hip-Hop Artists Need Radio Play to Make It?


On most days, the strip of Fourth Street between Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Chestnut Street is bustling with people walking to work, looking for lunch or bumming a smoke. On some days, however, the sidewalk outside of the Marmaduke Building is crowded with local hip hop artists, demanding the radio station on the second floor play their music.The artists and their supporters gather to wave signs, shout chants and pass out CDs with hopes of sparking the interest of B96.5 station managers. One of the artists, who goes by Young Diesel, said the station doesn’t support local artists, but he is aiming to change that. He, along with other artists, has created an online petition to persuade the city’s premiere hip-hop station to incorporate local music into the regular rotation. To date, nearly 200 people have signed. The artists say their group features some of the top talent in the business and they expect a positive reaction from radio executives. Other local artists question the integrity of the protests. They say the music industry has evolved beyond radio and the artists should focus on other mediums to gain notoriety. CJ Prof, a Louisvillian and member of the group Actual People, said he got a lot of influence from the radio, but the days of getting air time by dropping a demo tape to the local DJ are gone. “I think it’s kind of silly to scream at a radio station,” he said. “You can exist and do things independently without the radio. Now you’ve got all this Internet capability, radio doesn’t have as much.” Artists are beginning to see music radio as a one dimensional connection reaching limited demographics, while Soundcloud, ReverbNation and other networks allow artists to reach fans directly. John’s Doe Main, a Louisville based hip-hop documentarian, said the protests are absurd because the reach of the radio has been trumped by the evolution of the Internet. “I don’t get why you would protest the radio station in 2013 with all the music being sold and made accessible on the Internet,” he said. “It’s a lost cause.” Some of Louisville’s most prominent hip-hop artists have recognized the demographic they aim to reach may not always be tuned in to the radio. Chuck Deuce, a producer for the group Skyscraper Stereo, said that most radio stations aren’t set up to promote artists. “They have no control over their playlists,” he said. “It’s a medium for advertising more than it is a medium for letting people know about new artists and entertainment.” Skyscraper Stereo was recently recognized by LEO Weekly as one of the top hip-hop groups in the city, and Chuck Deuce said the best way to gain notoriety in a city like Louisville is by performing in front of an audience, not on the radio. “Our strategy from the very beginning was to play as many venues as possible and as much as possible until our target audience can’t ignore us anymore," he said. Their relentless pursuit of performing for live audiences, regardless of demographic, enabled the group to reach a broader fanbase than being broadcast on one individual radio station during an ill-timed local hour, or strictly focusing on social media. Philip March is the program manager at B96.5. He said the station has developed a portal for profiling local artists on its website that will monitor how much demand they generate through social media. March said when a station like B96—one that plays a rotation of the top artists in the industry—airs a little-known local artist, they risk listeners turning the dial, rather than turning up the volume. If artists desire rotational radio play, they oftentimes need backing by a nationally recognized recording label. However, CJ Prof said a recording label will rarely approach someone who doesn’t already have a large following on social media that goes beyond a local audience. But how can an artist gain an online presence and separate themselves from the overwhelming breadth of musicians already tapped in to social media? For starters, artists must get away from the computer and find a stage. Chuck Deuce said if you expect national attention, or even radio play in a market like Louisville, you cannot hide behind social media. “The only way you are going to create more opportunities for yourself is to leave the house and go perform and keep performing as much as possible, that’s really the only way to do it,” he said. He said it is not the responsibility of a radio DJ to make an artist famous. It is the artist’s responsibility to put themselves in front of their audience, understand the business and have faith in their music. It also doesn’t hurt to have a little patience. “Don’t even worry about it, don’t sweat it,” Chuck Deuce said. “They’ll come to you when it’s their job to come to you. In the meantime, it just is what it is.”

Jacob Ryan is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.