“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.
After Eazy‘s 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 station’s night programming as it stands today.
Five years being the average life span of a jock at a station, perhaps it‘s Julio’s tenacity that has kept him in The Beat‘s evening driver’s seat going on six years now. KKBT‘s recent restructuring of the morning show, replacing John London’s 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 Julio‘s staying power. But being a big fish in a sometimes unfriendly black pond hasn’t 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 don‘t even listen to your show, you fuckin’ wack.‘ And I’m like, ‘Whatever, you mothafucka.’ What I‘ve come to realize is that people are rude, and I’m the kind of person that I talk to you the way you talk to me. Like they‘ll be someone callin’ up and sayin‘ things like ’Who you gettin‘ smart with?’ And I‘m like, ’I‘m gettin’ smart with you.‘ ’Cause at the end of the day, I really don‘t give a fuck if you listen to my show or not. And don’t be callin‘ up tryin’ to punk me and shit, or think you can talk to me any kind of way just ‘cause I’m not black and thinkin‘ I’m gonna take your shit, a ‘cause I’m not. I grew up with black people all my life. I know the whole story, so it don‘t mean shit to me.
”Fortunately I got through it, and people dig what I do now, and they’re cool with it. I‘m 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 didn’t 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 that‘s what Latin people like. They like roc en español and house music. It’s hard to play hip-hop all night in a club full of all Latin people. They‘re not going to go for that. They want to hear Ricky Martin and so on — that’s just how Latin people get down. It‘s 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 it’s 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.
”Until blacks — and Latins with their music — until they control the companies and the profits, until it‘s owned by the same people that make it, it’s always gonna be ‘You’ll put out what we say you‘re gonna put out,’“ Julio says. ”That‘s not a racist thing — it’s just that the music business is not run by black people. Like Master P., him doing his own thing, that‘s a very good start. Even though his music is the same old shit, he’s makin‘ a hell of a statement. Like, ’Hey, I want 75 percent. Y‘all take 25 for puttin’ my shit out, the rest is mine. That‘s my money and my shit. And I’m keepin‘ my shit and my money in my city.’ You can only respect that.
“Rap will reach its peak when it‘s black-owned, ’cause black people will really know how to put their shit out. They‘ll 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, he’s 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. He‘s 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. “I’ll do it forever,” he says. “I‘ll always be involved in hip-hop, whether I’m on radio or not. That‘s the way it is for some people. It’s a way of life.”