Revenge -- huhIm mad . . . Git down, with my girlfriend -- huhThat aint right!Hollerin, cussin, you wanna fight . . . Looka here -- huhDont do me no darn favorI dont know karate, but I know KA-RAZY!
Garth Trinidad jackknifes The Payback into the airwaves. The smell of Schlitz malt liquor and fried catfish smothered in hot sauce and greasy sauteed onions puffs from the radio almost as fast as James Brown can manhandle another grunt. Childhood recollections collide at breakneck speed. The minds eye polishes the memory of smiling young soul sistas haloed in symmetrically perfect Afros and matching Afro-pick earrings, rocking and swaying their majestic brown bodies in a swirl of orange, green and yellow halter tops, hot pants with white daisies, and knee-high boots; Momma and her two baby sisters and the hi-fi blaring on a Saturday night, gettin their boogie on in a Sly Stone type of family affair; the men stand semicircle in the room, their eyes keeping time with the dancing womens behinds, all the while debating vehemently the merits of Cassius Clay and Joe Frazier. Maybe therell be a boxing match at this party, maybe there wont. Depends on how much Uncle Baby Brotha and Aunt Ida drink, or whether this sensory-induced imagery becomes an entirely different scenario. Either way, it all hinges on what Trinidad plays next.
Sitting opposite Trinidad in Studio B at KCRW late one Friday night, one cant help but marvel at the public radio stations casting genius: the young, no-pork-eatin, Mumia-supportin, black-consciousness-livin, corporate-loathin, intellectual-talkin, angry urban-soldier brotha whose on-air harvests manifest as hand-picked, syrupy fruits of the black muse. But to blithely plop Trinidad into one of the handful of narrow character slots allotted to the black man would go far and beyond a short sell.
In truth, Trinidad is a politician, and his platform is his music. Monday through Friday from 10 p.m. to midnight at 89.9 FM, the 26-year-old music programmer has for the past four years played host and mediator to an aural town-hall meeting of the ignored, discarded and underexposed voices of blues, reggae, soul, jazz, spoken word, house, electronic and hip-hop; some old, some young, many forgotten, some never before heard of. Trinidads show, Chocolate City, is the home of the B-side -- the tracks that dont make it to the Top 40. Its also the home of the soon-to-be-discovered soul visionaries like the Macy Grays, the Black Eyed Peas and the MeShell Ndegeocellos for whom commercial radio just didnt have room -- until after the fact. Indeed, right after recording her debut album, Gray visited KCRW one night during a Chocolate City broadcast and introduced herself to Trinidad, telling him she was a fan of his show and giving him two tracks from the unreleased disc to play on-air.
Grays admiration for Chocolate City is similar to Trinidads own initial attraction to KCRW. While a student at Otis College of Art and Design majoring in illustration, Trinidad often tuned in to the station while working on class assignments late at night. Jazzed up from listening to Jason Bentleys electronica show Metropolis and the French dance-music program Radio Nova, Trinidad volunteered at the station, assisting Liza Richardson, who at the time hosted a country & western show called Rancho Loco.
God bless him, because the music was pretty far from what hes into, Richardson recalls with a laugh. But he was such a great sport about it. I nicknamed him Gartho Loco. Aware that KCRW was looking to fill programming voids, Richardson, who felt that the station needed a show with a black perspective, encouraged Trinidad to make a demo, which ultimately resulted in his getting a time slot for Chocolate City.
Now a progressive soul and underground hip-hop institution where the likes of Blackalicious, Afrobeat legend Tony Allen, vocalist Amel Larrieux, Les Nubians, King Britt and R&B act Lucy Pearl have swapped words with Trinidad and occasionally performed live, Chocolate City has emerged as a powerful antidote to mainstream urban radios repetitive rotation practices and hit-driven programming.
Trinidad does little to hide his disgust with commercial radio. Its mediocrity at its finest -- its like a record thats skipping, he says. The formulas the programming directors and jocks use get repetitive as hell. Over and over they say the same silly things -- theres no consciousness going on. For KCRW, and specifically Trinidad, whose play list might consist of records in his personal collection (including vinyl hes purchased from one of the various mom-and-pop record stores he frequents), or from KCRWs 50,000-title library, theres gold in unheralded artists. Because Garth has the freedom to play what he wants, his show is a magnet for getting cream-of-the-crop music from underground artists, says Chocolate City producer Kerri Sullivan.
Deluged with music from both signed and unsigned artists, Trinidad maintains that theres a kind of aesthetic and personal connection he looks for that has nothing to do with a songs hit-making potential. Common has a line on the first single he dropped called Doin It. He says, I dont care how many records you sell -- nigga, you wack. That might as well have come out of my mouth. The media says its how much you sell, its about how many people are listening to you, how many people are watching you, how many people are going to the movies to see you. And thats not necessarily true.
Though hes opinionated about mindfulness in music and the lack of diversity in mainstream radio, when talk turns to the artistry and history in black music, Trinidad comes off as genuinely visionary. Born in upstate New York, he spent his childhood growing up in Inglewood and listening to KDAY during hip-hops early years, when he and his school friends would have amateur MC battles with cardboard mics, create beats with their lips, and rub sandpaper against tether balls to get the shoo-shoo effect. At home hed rifle through his parents record crates, studying the likes of Grover Washington Jr., Dinah Washington and James Brown. It was this kind of foundation that shaped Trinidads take on the state of black music today, and where its headed.
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I look at black music -- soul music -- and where it came from, says Trinidad. Youre looking at African slaves who were taken from what they knew and split apart, to the point that they lost their minds; split apart so that no one understood each other, because they were from different tribes and spoke different languages. To me, soul music is all that pain, all that communication that came with the Negro spiritual, and having to hide the fact that you were communicating at times with another slave when you werent supposed to or else you were gonna get whipped, hung or killed. Soul music to me is all those issues, all that pain, all that grief and suffering and hope which make up the spirit that has over and over been so resilient -- though pop culture and the commercial market has got a lot of peoples spirits dead.
Intent on doing his share to resurrect souls, Trinidad is working on a Web-site project called 2000 Black, which he describes as a jukebox with just one long black-music mix tape; Web heads will be able to access it along with a syndicated radio program and a virtual black-history rare-facts library. The sites kickoff night on June 24 was marked with an event titled Jack, Jill and the King, featuring hip-hop band Jack Herrara, soul singer Jill Scott and DJ King Britt.
George Clinton talks wicked madness about P-Funk while somewhere in Parliaments hazy orchestra of horns and percussion a jazzy R&B groove raises its doped-up head and Clintons Parliament adjourns for the big sax sound of the Average White Bands Cut the Cake. Ah, that set was exhausting, breathes a mellowed-out Trinidad after the tracks finish. Im serious -- I think all the funk is gone for the night.
But no sooner than the words leave his mouth, Philip Bailey screeches out of nowhere, and EWFs Fantasy rises into the sky. The scent of barbecue ribs, the sound of laughter and the slap of dominoes on a card table curl from the radio. Garth Trinidads soul healing is at work again.