Johnson's Raps: Kids Bring the Noise to WJPC
After five hours on the air, a young rap DJ's thoughts turn to...dusties, of course:
Tell me something good
At 7:30 on a balmy night, Pink House, who's been trapped all day playing rap records in a room the size of a closet, is on the Dan Ryan, roaring back home with two friends--one's also his engineer, Robert Selder, and the other is Ezra Buckner, manager of a local rap group. Buckner, who's a good 10 or 15 years older than Pink and Selder, was hanging around the station and volunteered to drive the pair home. Now the three of them are howling along to Chaka Khan in a blithe cross-generational ecstasy.
Tell me that you love me, ye-ah-ah!
There's no contradiction: the radio kids like rap and dusties; and the high is natural. Pink House is 25, with a radio voice that's high, wide, and handsome. His immense good humor disguises an intense single-mindedness when it comes to radio, a product of his first exposure to legend Tom Joyner. "I thought, I'd like to be able to do that," he says matter-of-factly. "I wanted to play music for people, say hello to them, make them laugh, make today a little better than yesterday." A few months ago Pink was a big fish in the tiny pond of King College's 100-watt WKKC. Now he's the flagship for a daring experiment undertaken by Johnson Publications, home of Ebony and Jet. The company has essentially turned over one of its radio stations, WJPC at 950 AM, to a band of eager and willing college DJs, led by a 23-year-old program director, Jay Alan. Alan, a vet of Columbia College's WCRX, was tapped by Johnson's radio chief, Charles Mootry, to take over the station; Alan, in turn, persuaded Mootry and company founder John Johnson to let him go with kids on the air. "I told them that they would make for a good image for the station, that they were professional, and all they needed was a chance," says Alan.
Can 'JPC survive and bring rap to the masses? Mootry, predictably, says that the company is behind the station for the long term, but he insists he's happy already: "It's doing 90 percent better than I thought it would." He says that after the signal improves--they're going to AM stereo in a few months--there'll be billboards on the north side and maybe even some station-sponsored shows at Metro. Let's hope so: it'd be great to see the kids who buy the records--the black south siders and the suburban whites and the trendy city alternative-music types--all listening to the same radio station.
Johnson Publications isn't worried about rap's bad rap. Mootry says he'd never listened to rap until his son, upon being forbidden to listen to it, challenged his father to try it himself. Like most people who've taken the time to listen, he found a largely positive music that's generally naughty as opposed to bad, and gritty precisely to the extent life is. "The media has put fear into the minds of white people and black people," exclaims the convert. "There's always been music like this. When I was a kid, it was the twist! Ray Charles had a song, 'Shake That Thing.' You'd have thought it was the ugliest thing that had ever been released, the commotion it caused!" Mootry, Alan, and Pink House know what happened to the controversial artists of the past, from Charles to Presley to the Beatles. Businesswise and artwise, they see--they think they see--only an upside in the most restlessly creative music in the world. "Rap's going to be a lot bigger in the next few years," says Pink. "It's gonna be large."
A bloodless Bruce Springsteen showed himself at the World Theatre in Tinley Park last Wednesday. Where the Tunnel of Love tour could distract us with its poignant subtexts--the farewell to Clarence, the impressive array of musical obscurities--1992 and a pair of desultory albums are by contrast cold comfort. The show's set pieces, pointlessly long versions of the new "Roll of the Dice" and the old "Light of Day," were simply excruciating. Sparks--a tres homoerotic duet with Bobby King on "Man's Job," and an acoustic "Thunder Road"--turned out to be evanescent. There's suddenly something eerie and detached about Springsteen: he's wandering around lost in the shadow of a superstardom that isn't working--not for him or, if the public reception to his albums means anything, for us. I think he's going to spend the rest of his career like this, on the outskirts of a culture, far from rock 'n' roll's bustling center. We'll see him every few years, probably, in a hushed, unlit suburb like Tinley Park--in the darkness, so to speak, on the edge of town.
Love, Janis is a surprisingly substantive bio from Laura Joplin, spiced up with large helpings of sister Janis's letters home. Joplin will be talking about her book and answering questions at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington in Evanston, Tuesday at 7 PM....Matthew Sweet's new CD single, "I've Been Waiting," includes three supersonic B-sides--versions of "She Said She Said" and "Mr. Soul" and his own "Does She Talk," all recorded at Metro last March. An hour's worth of the show will be broadcast by 'XRT Sunday night at 8....Lead of the week, from Jim DeRogatis in the September 4 Sun-Times: "I have seen rock 'n' roll past, and its name is Bruce Springsteen."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.