Out of hand: a radio station’s attack on a community leader

Okay, a bit of an intro here. I am not a fan of hip-hop (rap), I don’t follow the scene. During normal radio listening, I only have my radio tuned to 97.9 briefly while I’m switching stations from, say, 106.9 or 107.5 to something on the other side of the dial. Nevertheless, my pet peeves include community exclusion, censorship, and stupidity (particularly on the part of large corporations). This story appears to contain all three of these elements.

I apologize for any apparent misspellings, but they aren’t; this is really how those in rap/hip-hop spell their respective names.

My introduction to this squabble began when I read a posting to the Houston Press Rocks Off blog about an open letter from Matt Sonzala to radio station KBXX (97.9). This controversy centers around Trae the Truth, some derogatory comments made against him after a shooting following Trae’s community event on 2009 July 22, as covered on mtv.com. The following is a statement sent by Trae’s publicist as published in the story:

“Tragically, a community-driven event that took the collaboration of so many people, and personally cost Trae thousands of dollars to put together, was spoiled by one rotten apple,” said a statement sent to MTV News. “We are truly saddened by the fact that despite thousands of children receiving free immunizations and school supplies, and everyone from government officials to senior citizens thoroughly enjoying the day, which drew an estimated 10,000 people, what will be remembered is this one violent act. … Despite everything, we hope that Trae’s efforts to reach out to and give back to those in the community whose needs are often not addressed will continue to be recognized and supported.”

Matt’s open letter makes reference to the KBXX interview the morning after:

The next morning, KBXX conducted an interview with Trae. On air personality Nnete made some off color comments that from all accounts I have received, implied that a situation like this would of course happen at an event produced by Trae Tha Truth. Basically she said that these are the kinds of people that he and his music attract.

Bun B phoned in to the station immediately after hearing that and told them that they were wrong for what they said.

Then of course, it gets a little more out of hand (still quoting Matt’s open letter):

Trae of course took offense to the statements made against him and on his next mix CD, mentioned Nnete on two songs. The rhymes were insulting, but not threatening.

Finally, the return salvo from KBXX was to ban any mention, let alone actual airplay, of Trae from the station and its online properties (and if Trae’s Myspace blog entry is correct, this actually includes all Radio One stations, among which one-time rival Majic 102 is also included):

URGENT: – Effective Immediately: DO NOT AIR: “Trae tha Truth” on our station. No interviews, no calls, no comments, no posts on our website, no station twitter, no station facebook, no songs in mix show no verses on remixes, or songs in regular rotation. No exceptions. The current online postings will be removed shortly. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors. Thank u. Have a great weekend!

My take on this, so far, is that it’s damned hollow and quite to “wish him all the best in his future endeavors” and yet issue this kind of an edict. Especially since it appears the bad blood between Trae and the station came from Nnete’s unwarranted comments. (I’m still looking for a recording of the interview; if anyone has a copy or knows who to ask, please do let me know.)

Fast forward a bit, and we have a few incidents where KBXX suspends
or fires station personnel for associating with Trae, to wit:

  • DJ GT suspended for responding to a Twitter post questioning his involvement in the ban;
  • DJ Baby Jae of the Kracker Nuttz suspended for making a mixtape with Trae, completely outside the work environment (something that frankly is not KBXX’s concern); and
  • Three tenured DJs at KBXX (collectively known as The Kracker Nuttz) fired for playing a Chamillionaire song with a guest verse by Trae.

And that brings us to today: Tuesday, 2010 April 27, and this post to the Houston Press Rocks Off blog, which I quote in part:

Not surprisingly, [KBXX program director Terri] Thomas said that company policy prohibited her from making any comment on the situation, which flared up again late last week when former local hip-hop promoter Matt Sonzala published an open letter to the station on his Austin Surreal blog

“Company policy prohibits that,” Thomas told Rocks Off. Traditionally one of the top-rated stations in the Houston-Galveston radio market, The Box is owned by Radio One, the Lanham, Md.-based company that also owns and operates Houston radio stations Majic 102 and Praise 92.1.

(I’m not igoring the bit about Radio One owning both major urban-format stations; I’ll likely cover this in a future entry, as this is a bit disturbing in and of itself.)

And again:

Rocks Off: Are you familiar with the letter that Matt…

Terri Thomas: Like I said, I’m not at liberty to comment.

This already doesn’t look too good for KBXX. You’d think as much attention as this is going to get, that someone in the position of program director at a radio station would keep up to date on what is being said. The “not at liberty to comment” is an ostrich move; stick one’s head in the sand, and hope it all blows over.

The management of KBXX has done a lot to divide and destroy community here. Maybe they think they can get away with it because one of their on-air personalities said something questionable and Trae decided not to just sit there and take it. But the ramifications go far beyond just one hip-hop personality not being played or even mentioned on the flagship station of the format in his hometown. Consider the following (quoting from Matt Sonsala’s open letter/blog post):

… In the days following the tragic earthquake in Haiti, Bun B put together a benefit concert with a lot of Houston hip-hop artists to raise money for the impoverished nation. Trae, being a popular artist and a man of the community was of course invited to be a part of it.

The event organizers were informed that KBXX would not support it at all, if Trae was a part of it. Trae decided to back out of the show so that it could be advertised and promoted on Houston’s main urban radio outlet – but still showed up in support of the cause.

This, in my opinion, is way out of bounds. Are there people out there in the Houston community (particularly the arts, tech, and marketing/PR crowds) that make me uncomfortable? Of course there are. I’ve been told there are people I make uncomfortable, so I guess it all works out in the end. However, I’m willing to work alongside anyone at charity fundraisers. Sometimes, that’s what building community is about: setting aside personal differences and discomfort to make a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

If there’s a personal rift between Trae and Nnete, that’s one thing. My understanding is that things like this happen in the hip-hop/urban scene from time to time. Heck, they happen everwhere. The reaction of KBXX management to what was (and arguably should have remained) a personal dispute between one of its employees and a local artist is pathetic, unkind, unfair, thoughtless, anti-social, cold, egregiously divisive, and patently devoid of good taste.

In summary, my two points are:

  1. We all can learn from this unfortunate chain of events, regardless of what community(ies) we are/will be part of.
  2. It’s never good to cut someone out of a community for reasons that amount to “because we can.” And I feel that’s what has happened here.

I may follow up on this depending on what happens.

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