One of Philadelphia’s two top 40 rap stations recently changed its format. Until about a few days ago, Hot 107.9 played roughly the same stuff that Power 99 does. One might hear more local stuff or less cross-over depending on which station one was listening to, but both mostly just played DJ Mustard.
Last week, Hot 107.9 became Boom 107.9. It now rejects modern rap altogether in favor of what I am going to call “classic rap.” In the last week alone, I heard “I Need Love” by LL Cool J (one of the corniest songs every recorded), “Right Thur” by Chingy, “Check the Rhyme” by a Tribe Called Quest, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” by Jay Z and “Danger” by Mystical.
Boom 107.9 has become my favorite station for two reasons. I also hate it for two reasons.
Favorite Reason 1: The Station’s Existence Confirms The Genre’s Legitimacy as an Art Form and a Cultural Director
Let’s say, for argument sake, that rap was created in 1975, and that it didn’t gain significant popular traction with the American monoculture until about 1985 (rap did not become good until about 1995). It took about 30 years of development and progression to get to Philadelphia, 2014, when a radio programmer realized there was enough demand for a station that only played the songs from the genre’s first phases of development.
Having a classic station confirms that a genre has “classics,” loosely defined as songs with enough culture force to hold continued sway in the minds and hearts of a listener base. Boom 107.9 means that my experience of driving around in a mini-van listening to “Oh Boy” is at least as valid as my father’s experience of driving around in a mini-van listening to “Dazed and Confused.” It retroactively justifies everything, and it sticks the genre in the face of Tipper Gore and the like.
I don’t need to be reminded that rap is the dominant force in culture, but it’s nice to be able to jam this one into my uncle’s face.
Favorite Reason 2: Boom 107.9 Plays A Lot of Songs I Like
Remember again that rap didn’t start really being listenable until the mid 80s, and it didn’t get really good until sometime in the early-to-mid 90s*. This means that a lot of what Boom 107.9 is playing is the stuff I came up on. As much as I like “No Flex Zone,” I’d still rather hear “Ha” without having to dig through Spotify.
Hate Reason 1: I Will Become Old and Lame
Look, there’s no getting around becoming old and lame. Becoming old and lame is something to aspire to. That said, I’ve really tried to follow a pattern that my father has laid out, one in which a person can age but still try to find new things. My Dad is 60, and he watched Run the Jewels this past summer (he fucking hated it, but he still watched it).
It’s the act of still being open to new things that really makes a person old. I know myself, and I know that if I have the option of listening to a bunch of middling Chris Brown and French Montana in the hopes of hearing something new that makes me want to smash my head through a brick wall, or I can just turn the dial and pretty much be sure that I’m going to hear “I Got 5 On It,” the siren call of the second is going to outweigh the potential of the first.
I don’t need any more excuses to not try new things. This might be too tempting.
Hate Reason 2: Rap’s Cultural Dominance is Coming to an End
Though I know in my heart that it simply cannot be the first ever of its kind, Boom 107.9 is the first ever “classic hip-hop” station I have ever experienced. While I have extensive classic rock radio exposure (being a suburban child of the 80s and all), I never considered a similar format within hip hop. What I’m afraid this suggests is the beginning of the end of rap’s dominance as a mainstream cultural force.
Like it or not, being old enough, as a genre, to have a “throwback station,” is a sign that said genre is not only culturally saturated, but that said genre is at its peak, creatively and in terms of social impact. A “throwback station” is an admission that a specific genre’s best years are behind it, that it has no more creative climbs to reach, that whatever comes from this point forward cannot surpass what happened previous.
In a recent article from FiveThrityEight, Walt Hickey look at look at the nation’s classic rock stations. Among a million other interesting statistics, he found the 20 most-played songs in the format. 13 of those songs are from a five-year stretch running from 1973 to 1978. What this suggests is that rock music peaked, at least creatively, in the mid-70s. You can argue how long it’s cultural impact held sway (I would argue until about 1997, it was the main bellweather of when something was or was not cool), but the dudes and ladies tuning into hear “ The Joker” during their drive home would tell you, if you asked, that the genre’s best days are behind it.
I haven’t listened to Boom 107.9 that much yet. It’s only been around for a week. I’ve heard a lot of songs from the late 90s and early 2000s. I’ve liked them all, and it’s been fun to visit with people like Beanie Segel Bone Thugz, but I hate the idea that rap already has its “Stairway to Heaven.” More than anything else, this station suggests that rap’s work is finished.
*Allow me to define “good” here, lest Kool Herc fans find my house and drag me into the street: good rap is rap in which the rhyme scheme goes beyond basic nursery rhyme functions and the beat is more than a Casio keyboard held up to a microphone. If your favorite rap song is 80 BMP, in 4/4 time, and it has someone start a song by saying what there name is, ala “my name is Nate and I’m here to say / I rap the best in every way,” I do not consider it a good rap song. The first good rap song is probably “Me Myself and I” by De La Soul.