Check this shit out. Leaning back into his armchair, Julio G glides over to the other side of the control panel of KKBTs 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 fixins of a chart-topper, yet Julio doesnt move. Watching the veteran disc jockey, one has to wonder how many thousands of times hes unconsciously done just what hes doing right now.
Snapping out of his trance, Julio says, Thats fuckin Scritti Politti. Can you believe that shit? Considering Scritti Polittis musical past, it is unbelievable. Gone is the cotton-candy pop of the British act whod enjoyed moderate success stateside in the early to mid-80s with jingly hits like Boom! There She Was; theyve replaced it with hard-hittin mo-bounce-to-da-40-ounce rhythms n raps. The groups about-face is just another testament to the mammoth impact of hip-hop on todays pop-music climate.
If anyone can identify with the pervasive power of hip-hop, its 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 oclock 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, theres 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 theyve 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, Julios 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 radios 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 havent 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, its his friendship with N.W.As 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.
After Eazys death, Julio remained with The Beat, giving Ruthless Radio the new name The Mixmaster Show, which he co-hosted with Tony G. By this time Julio and Tony had started producing for Latin hip-hop artists such as Kid Frost and Mellow Man Ace. After Tony left the station to pursue producing full time, Julio continued in the evening slot at The Beat, eventually developing his show and the stations night programming as it stands today.
Five years being the average life span of a jock at a station, perhaps its Julios tenacity that has kept him in The Beats evening drivers seat going on six years now. KKBTs recent restructuring of the morning show, replacing John Londons House Party with Doctor Dre and Ed Lover from Brooklyn, and replacing Theo with the Baka Boyz in the 2 to 7 p.m. shift, while touching nary a hair in the night slot, attests to Julios staying power. But being a big fish in a sometimes unfriendly black pond hasnt been easy.
The first year at The Beat was hard, says Julio, cause you had some people callin up and calling me names, like Fuck you, you beaner, and then hanging up. Or callin up and saying, I dont even listen to your show, you fuckin wack. And Im like, Whatever, you mothafucka. What Ive come to realize is that people are rude, and Im the kind of person that I talk to you the way you talk to me. Like theyll be someone callin up and sayin things like Who you gettin smart with? And Im like, Im gettin smart with you. Cause at the end of the day, I really dont give a fuck if you listen to my show or not. And dont be callin up tryin to punk me and shit, or think you can talk to me any kind of way just cause Im not black and thinkin Im gonna take your shit, a cause Im not. I grew up with black people all my life. I know the whole story, so it dont mean shit to me.
Fortunately I got through it, and people dig what I do now, and theyre cool with it. Im never going to deny what I am. I gotta put it down.
Latinos have always been at the forefront of West Coast hip-hop. Yet whereas Latin hip-hop acts like Cypress Hill and Kid Frost, plus the recent surge of local Latin hip-hop acts, have undeniably contributed to the development of the West Coast scene, Latin hip-hop DJs in Los Angeles are, ironically, few and far between.
A lot of Latin cats didnt grow up with hip-hop, explains Julio. See, I grew up in Lynwood, and I know a lot of music, but I know black music the most. A lot of Latin DJs are more club-oriented, because thats what Latin people like. They like roc en español and house music. Its hard to play hip-hop all night in a club full of all Latin people. Theyre not going to go for that. They want to hear Ricky Martin and so on -- thats just how Latin people get down. Its different like that.
Or maybe not. While the rest of the Latin community, and others outside it, may be mesmerized by Ricky Martin, the world of hip-hop has its own Latin contingent, and its converting believers by the day. Artists like the Terror Squad, Delinquent Habits, Molotov and the Beatnuts have demonstrated how potentially massive and virtually untapped the Latin hip-hop audience is, a situation that has created a dilemma of sorts for Julio, who, already hounded by black artists, is aggressively sought out by local unsigned Latin hip-hop artists as a resource for radio play. On the other hand, Julio strongly feels that for the good of all hip-hop, black people must, ultimately, own the music outright.
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Until blacks -- and Latins with their music -- until they control the companies and the profits, until its owned by the same people that make it, its always gonna be Youll put out what we say youre gonna put out, Julio says. Thats not a racist thing -- its just that the music business is not run by black people. Like Master P., him doing his own thing, thats a very good start. Even though his music is the same old shit, hes makin a hell of a statement. Like, Hey, I want 75 percent. Yall take 25 for puttin my shit out, the rest is mine. Thats my money and my shit. And Im keepin my shit and my money in my city. You can only respect that.
Rap will reach its peak when its black-owned, cause black people will really know how to put their shit out. Theyll know what their shit is and what the bullshit is.
For right now, Julio is at work on his own future. Alongside his duties at The Beat, he continues to produce, having overseen projects for Eazy E, Mellow Man Ace and local Latin hip-hop act the Brownside. In the last year, hes produced tracks for MC Eiht, KAM and the WhoRidas while preparing for the release of his own album, due out early next year, which will feature West Coast rap big guns like Kurupt, Daz, Soopafly and E-40. Hes also setting up a Web site, www.westtv.com, that will feature interviews with artists who appear on his radio show.
But will Julio lay aside hip-hop when the radio stint is over? Not a chance. Ill do it forever, he says. Ill always be involved in hip-hop, whether Im on radio or not. Thats the way it is for some people. Its a way of life.