Make Room for Boom? Reflections on Boom 107.9’s first week on the air
Last Friday, November 7th, my Twitter feed was abuzz with news of Philly’s latest radio station: Hot 107.9 changed formats and is now Boom 107.9, a “throwback hip-hop” station. This in itself is not too surprising to me. Over the summer, rap icon and political activist Chuck D was very vocal on Twitter and in interviews that stations such as Radio One’s Hot 107.9 and Emmis Communications’ Hot 97 (out of New York) were “disrespectful” to the tradition of hip-hop in that there was not enough diversity in the music. Also, he stated the lyrics of the songs most prominent on their playlists were negative and derogatory. While Hot 97 continues to be a juggernaut, 107.9 apparently was struggling.
Chuck D’s campaign aside, the station played very few songs and they were played ad nauseam. Anecdotally, when I would tune into the Philly Morning Show to hear my pal Laiya St. Clair and her co-host Shamara, I could swear Rihanna was played at least three times an hour, sometimes the same song. Yup, lack of variety was definitely a problem. On the positive side, the station did open discussion to listeners about current events and did spice up their playlist occasionally with local music from Chill Moody, Meek Mill, The Roots and Eve, among others.
I’ve been listening to Boom 107.9 for the past couple of days and I have enjoyed reminiscing about the late 90’s and early ’00s sounds of Puff Daddy, Mase, Jay-Z and Foxy Brown and gasped an excited gasp when Eric B and Rakim’s 1987 hit “Paid in Full” started up. In looking over their playlist, the station has so far covered the years 1979 to 2011 with the 1990’s and early 2000’s being the main focus. They’ve played over 300 unique songs by over 200 unique artists in only a week. Looking at Power 99’s current playlist in comparison, there’s 477 songs total listed on their website – and Power 99 has been on the air for over 30 years.
Boom’s playlist is impressive to me and surely enjoyable to those listening. Almost 40 years into its existence, hip-hop is at the point where it’s a heritage genre, and you can hear that reflected in its focus on “the classics,” which totally sound great. But I can’t help but be disappointed with Radio One’s decision to go retro.
It’s as though they rolled over and said “you all hate the new stuff, fine, here’s your college soundtrack, have fun.” Instead of expanding the playlist and taking chances, the powers that be agreed with the pervasive thought that the old is better (and more lucrative) than the new. It’s this thinking that pushes younger listeners to YouTube, Spotify, and mixtape sites and away from radio.
Many artists popular today such as Drake, Kanye West, Azealia Banks, and even Beyonce are experimenting with the genre and pushing listeners’ expectations. Perhaps because hip-hop is going back to being more album-oriented, mainstream stations are less inclined to take a chance on, say, Kendrick Lamar’s collaboration with Flying Lotus because they are afraid listeners will change the dial. Even Beyonce commented on the limitations of popular radio on her song “Partition”: “Radio says speed it up, I just go slower.” If Beyonce is having issues, then there is something amiss in hip-hop radio.
The fact that a radio station in Philadelphia fails its city by not offering a versatile and current hip-hop playlist – instead giving up and sticking with a safe, sure thing – is disappointing. You may not know it, but this is an exciting time for hip-hop. Not only are the major players challenging us with interesting collaborations and sonic ideas but there are a lot of up and comers like singers Kelela and Frank Ocean and rap supergroup Run the Jewels that are reinvigorating the genre.
Another reason I’m bummed out about the loss of a current hip-hop station is that there’s one less platform for local MC’s like Chill Moody, Kuf Knotz, The Wrecking Crew, Tiani Victoria and Verbatum Jones to promote their art. Ideally the future of hip-hop radio should be one that includes all eras and all subgenres and listeners will not have to choose which kind they prefer. I think it’s about time hip-hop is treated like rock, jazz, classical, and r&b as a music with a rich history and thriving contemporary landscape. To only have one major voice participating in Philly’s current hip-hop radio scene is unfair to both listeners and to the genre.