Remembering WKDU DJ Duprex Snape: A musical mentor, a community leader, and a friend
Ask anyone in the Philadelphia reggae community about the late Duprex Snape and they will tell you that he was an icon, a singular voice on the airwaves for more than two decades with WKDU 91.7FM, the Drexel University station. That much was made clear by his son Terrence during a memorial show for him last week: “That wasn’t just our dad,” he told the listening audience. “That was the city’s guy.”
Duprex Snape passed away from COVID-19 at the end of February. Born in Jamaica in 1954, Snape moved to the States in 1979, settling in Philadelphia. He had seven children, six of whom were also born in Jamaica, and his family was very important to him. He held various jobs over the years – he did everything, from being a property manager to running his own shop up on Lancaster Avenue in the 90s specializing in Caribbean and African goods, to managing a FedEx store and lots more – but his true love was music. He started collecting records as a teenager, amassing an absolutely crucial collection of early reggae, rocksteady, and ska. He also dabbled in production and was a regular promoter of bands and concerts.
In the late 90s he decided to go back to school to get his bachelor’s, and Drexel was the easy choice, both for the quality of education and because it would let him join the reggae ranks at WKDU. There is a long history of Caribbean music at the station stretching back decades and Duprex had definitely guest DJ’d on other shows in the past. Just like that, Jamcity Rock was born. The show’s most recent slot was Thursday nights from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m.
Snape was a favorite at WKDU among listeners and and fellow DJs like myself — and not just for his music tastes, which by all accounts were impeccable, but also for his presence both on and off the mic. He saw his role as being a community leader, something touched on often during the memorial show and in the many messages posted to social media following his death.
Being on the radio allowed Snape to reach people all around the Philadelphia area – at 800 watts, the WKDU signal stretches from Germantown to South Jersey – and also back home in Jamaica, via the online feed. According to his son, he was a big believer in the power of radio and especially college and community stations like KDU. “My dad really loved this place,” Terrence Snape said during the memorial show. “He really fought for it. He really believed in it.” The younger Snape is also a DJ at the station, having joined just a few years after his dad.
WKDU General Manager Bart Jaskulski said that Duprex Snape meant a lot to the station and to him personally. “Although my time with Duprex was only a few short years, I was quick to see the impact and importance that he brought to WKDU,” he told The Key. “He was meaningful in his talks with me, especially as I was becoming general manager, and I greatly appreciate what he saw in me.”
The memorial featured more than four hours of music selected by Terrence and Mikey, Duprex’s co-host of the last decade. They started off the night with “Nothing Takes the Place of You” by Prince Buster, a total heartbreaker of a track. Some of the other songs they played included “Treat the Youths Right” and “You Can Get It If You Really Want” by Jimmy Cliff, “One Man Against the World” by Gregory Isaacs, “Leaving to Zion” by Black Uhuru, “Lord Give Me Strength” by Luciano, and many more. They also played two by Sevan Campball that were produced by Duprex Snape back in the 90s. You can listen to the whole thing on the WKDU MixCloud.
Throughout the show, Terrence provided a running commentary about why he chose the songs and what they meant to him and his father. After playing “Promised Land” and “Revolution” by reggae great Dennis Brown, he talked about how “We’d argue about who’s best, Dennis or Gregory [Isaacs]. My dad is a Dennis guy.” In a nod to that conversation continuing eternally, the very next track was “One Man Against the World” by Isaacs.
The mood was certainly melancholic but as Duprex’s co-host Mikey said: “Tonight’s been joyful, it’s been a celebration.” That seemed fitting for someone who brought so much joy to others. Two other WKDU DJs who spoke during the broadcast were Peter Liu and Allison Durham, who despite being decades younger than Duprex considered him a friend and mentor as well as a colleague.
Liu talked about a trip he took to Jamaica with Duprex and another KDU DJ in 2016 and how much it meant to him. Durham said she appreciated how he was always interested and excited for everything she did. “Whenever he could, he always wanted to make you feel really good about yourself when you were doing something that was maybe out of your comfort zone or felt like an accomplishment,” she added. They both brought up the WKDU Reggae Fish Fry they helped put together a few years ago, something that involved Duprex teaching the younger DJs how to scale fish, a very messy and potentially gross process. “It was a proud moment for me,” she said.
Terrence Snape had not heard that story before and found it hilarious. “He made you scale fish?!” he exclaimed. “Why did you do that? They’ll scale them at the place where you buy them!” He was very familiar with the procedure, he explained, because his dad used to have him clean and scale “boxes of fish” when he was a kid.
Towards the end of the show they played “Rock Away” and “Warriors Don’t Cry” by Beres Hammond, favorites of Duprex and songs that Terrence said had been helping him deal with this loss, as well as the death of his uncle Lloyd Snape, who passed around the same time. He said that while his dad raised him and his siblings to be strong, “as much as I want to be brave right now, this is not easy. It’s tough for me every day. People call me and talk to me and all that, but the minute you’re by yourself this is when these tears come down and you start to feel it.”
Mikey told the story about how he would always get down to the station before Duprex and open up Jamcity Rock – “set the foundation” is how he put it – while waiting for his inevitably late co-host to arrive. “Every time I would speak out on the mic I’d make excuses for where Duprex was,” he said with a laugh. “I used to say stuff like, ‘He’ll be right down after he finishes choking out the Parking Authority [and] chasing them up Chestnut!’”
“The weird thing is tonight’s gonna be the first night I don’t say that cause he ain’t walking through the door,” he added. “That’s not necessarily a sad thing because the truth is that means from this point on he’s always here. He permeates the place. … He was a spiritual man and I’m the firmest believer that his soul didn’t go nowhere.”
The last few songs of the night were all classics: “Sweat (A La La La La Long)” by Inner Circle, “Kingston Town” by Lord Creator, “I’m Hurting Inside” by Bob Marley, and “My Roots” by Burning Spear. “My dad never forgot his roots,” Terrence Snape said, referencing the lyrics to the iconic reggae track.
Being able to memorialize his dad on the radio “was really great, it was really therapeutic,” Terrence said. This was echoed by his sister Roselee who called in earlier and proclaimed that Duprex would have been proud by the “exceptional job” Terrence and Mikey did at putting together the show.
“Just know that the spirit lives from my father through all his children,” Terrence said at the end of the show. “We’re all like him in some way or another.” The last thing played was a song he described as “one of [Duprex’s] premier favorite recordings,” a live version of Marley’s “Redemption Song” recorded at Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre in September of 1980, the final concert before he died.
Mikey, Duprex Snape’s co-host on Jamcity Rock, has announced that he will be continuing the show starting next term. You can follow his Twitter for updates.