By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“Check this shit out.” Leaning back into his armchair, Julio G glides over to the other side of the control panel of KKBT’s 92.3 The Beat broadcast studio. The room booms with bass lines engaged in a battle for sound space with funky synth riffs. While the familiar drawl of a famous rapper starts to command rhymes into the fold, Julio sits expressionless, oblivious to everything and everyone except the beat-driven cacophony. The track has all the fixin‘s of a chart-topper, yet Julio doesn’t move. Watching the veteran disc jockey, one has to wonder how many thousands of times he‘s unconsciously done just what he’s doing right now.
Snapping out of his trance, Julio says, “That‘s fuckin’ Scritti Politti. Can you believe that shit?” Considering Scritti Politti‘s musical past, it is unbelievable. Gone is the cotton-candy pop of the British act who’d enjoyed moderate success stateside in the early to mid-‘80s with jingly hits like “Boom! There She Was”; they’ve replaced it with hard-hittin‘ mo’-bounce-to-da-40-ounce rhythms ‘n’ raps. The group‘s about-face is just another testament to the mammoth impact of hip-hop on today’s pop-music climate.
If anyone can identify with the pervasive power of hip-hop, it‘s Julio G. Monday through Friday from 7 to 11 p.m., he and mixer Melo-D take to your FM dial and serve up an evening groove session of hourlong sets such as Top Eight at Eight, counting down the top jams of the day, followed at 9 o’clock by Menu Mix, which features hip-hop, R&B and old-school tracks. On Fridays at 9 p.m., Julio kicks off the weekend with Westside Radio, featuring live interviews with and performances by West Coast hip-hop artists.
From hardcore gangsta-rap giants like Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Ice T, Snoop Dogg and the late Tupac Shakur, to more alternative-flavored hip-hop acts like the Black Eyed Peas, Dilated Peoples, Freestyle Fellowship and Medusa, there‘s no denying that when it comes to West Coast hip-hop, L.A. takes center stage. Yet despite these artists’ musical diversity, which is as broad as the cultural and ethnic landscape of the city from which they‘ve emerged, all of them -- the internationally famed and local underground gurus alike -- got their initial exposure on the airwaves of L.A.’s hip-hop radio. Operating under its vigorously waved “No Color Lines, Hip-Hop and R&B for the Y2G” banner, The Beat, whose programming is a mixture of R&B, funk, hip-hop and smoothed-over gangsta rap, pumps the music -- and pumps it loud. Repeatedly going head to head with its main competitor, Power 106, for the coveted No. 1 slot among listeners under 35 in Los Angeles, the station pulls in strong market-share ratings, consistently hovering somewhere in the Top 10, frequently in the Top 5.
What all this points to is the reality that Angelenos take their hip-hop radio seriously. And in a town that struggles to locate not only a physical but a spiritual center, the rallying cry of hip-hop, which articulates both urban angst and urban adventure, provides some semblance of an anthem, with on-air mouthpieces like Julio G serving the pivotal and equally powerful roles of ambassador and gatekeeper to the music.
Mexican-American Julio G (the G is short for Gonzalez) was born and raised an only child in the predominantly black community of Lynwood, and grew up immersed in black music and black culture. And as some inner-city youth stories go, he too had a fling with gang activity and drug use during his teens. But while many of his friends ended up in jail or dead, Julio‘s affinity for hip-hop changed the course of his life. Back in ’86, while spinning records at a party shortly after graduating from high school, Julio was approached by Tony G, then a DJ and one of the legendary mixmasters at AM radio‘s now-defunct 1580 KDAY.
The only Latin DJ in black radio at the time, Tony liked what he heard and asked Julio to audition for KDAY. “He was like, ’Yo, I wanna get you on the radio -- we need another Latin dude,‘” says Julio. “They was just tryin’ to open up the market a little more.” Shortly afterward, KDAY, led by Julio and the rest of the mixmasters, started pumpin‘ out hip-hop on the air waves, making the previously soul- and R&B-format station the first to broadcast hip-hop on local radio.
“The whole hip-hop scene was so new,” he recalls. “But little by little we made that shit the hottest shit out. Now you listen to radio, 10 years later -- The Beat, Power 106, they haven’t even got to the point we were at in ‘86 and ’87.”
But if Julio credits any single factor for his being where he is today, it‘s his friendship with N.W.A’s Eazy E, whom Julio met while doing a live-broadcast show for KDAY from Bell High School. It was after Eazy badgered Julio to play his first solo effort, the now-classic “Boyz in the Hood,” that the two developed a friendship, culminating with Eazy persuading Julio in the summer of 1994 to co-host the Ruthless Radio show with him at The Beat. Six months later, at the age of 31, Eazy E was dead of AIDS.