Shani Kulture, HOT97 Producer of The Morning Show, talks Hip-Hop in radio
There are no geographic limitations when it comes to listening to the radio because it can stream from anywhere nowadays. How do you feel about the movement of radio and its expansion?
Because of the increase and the variety of outlets, I think the expansion of radio is gaining because it allows for the average person to start his or her own radio podcast or station right within their own dorm or bedroom. It also allows for the flexibility to have many choices and the potential to get what you need.
How do you think radio has changed from when you started until now?
When I started there wasn’t Internet radio, Pandora or these other things. (Online streaming platforms) There was a lot more freedom for radio stations to do as they pleased. There are now more options that make for a station to expand what they’ve built for so many years while staying in their lane and still competing with other music stations. There is more diversity, which keeps us on our toes.
Do you think radio personalities can easily transfer their talents from radio to television like Steve Harvey or Wendy Williams? How about from television to radio, is it the same transition?
I think it’s easier to transition from radio to television. I don’t know about television to radio but I suppose it’s possible. I don’t see it being a problem. Now from radio to television I think it is much easier because everything with radio has become semi-visual. For instance, if you go to the website you will see that it is almost like a talk show. If you look at The Hot97 morning show you can see we are basically on television. It's a radio show but people watch it online and it has allowed for Rosenberg, Cipha Sounds and all these people who are in the variety of radio positions to become a television host and personalities.
What major moments in Hip-Hop do you think influenced radio?
That’s a great question. It is also a hard question because there are so many little moments that have led to the transition. For example, when P. Diddy and Biggie Smalls took over the radio, Hip-Hop went from a diverse way of expressing yourself to a specific gangsta and hardcore type of Hip-Hop. So it shifted the gear because people didn’t want clever Hip-Hop anymore they wanted aggressive Hip-Hop. Since then, it's been a strong move upwards until Drake of course. Gangsta provocateur gun talk is not where it used to be. Labels are into clever Hip-Hop. The transition in Hip-Hop influences what the radio plays. We at radio just roll with it, the same way the audience rolls with it.
Do you think Hip-Hop in radio has progressed over the years in terms of censorship and marketing?
It has evolved. It has become a multi-million dollar industry. Everyone is doing Hip-Hop. Even food commercials have hip-hop beats. For instance, Sprite has always endorsed Hip-Hop over the years and the exposure an artist gets through the Internet and television because of that Sprite deal, allows for young artists to make a lot of money. Pop crossover groups are doing Hip-Hop categories. They are seeing what we’ve done and they are capitalizing on it. Anyone who wants to become a hip-hop artist has the potential to make big numbers. But now the offset is that every young kid wants to become an artist. It seems like an easy way out without having to study and just be cool.
Back in the day artists were eager to get their songs played on the radio because it gave them notoriety. Do you think the drive and hunger are still there for established artists?
Initially, artists act like they are not hungry for radio plays because of the Internet. But it’ is a good idea to have all channels open to you. Artists don’t think they need radio but ultimately they do because they want their music to be played everywhere, received by everyone, and a part of that is with the help of radio stations. At the end of the day, radio can put them on a larger scale. What the radio does is allow for the person whose life becomes a little busy, who still loves music, but doesn't have time to sit in front of a television or computer to hear popular music that is generating across the country.
What do you think the longevity of hip-hop radio entails?
Hip-Hop brings in the money. It has been around for so long and it is so contagious. Radio stations are going to continue to play it because it makes a ton of money. I don’t see radio stations that play hip-hop going anywhere. What else are they going to play? R&B now has a lot of Hip-Hop influence. There is no rapping but the beat is hard and you can hear it in the baseline because it is a little bit heavier.
There seems to be much competition in the industry. What sets a station apart from the other?
The personalities set a radio station apart along with the content and the music being played. The musical transitions need to be smooth and knowing the difference between what people want to tune into and what they are tired of hearing, sets a station apart from the other.
Do you believe the landscape of radio has become more uniform and predictable?
It is set up to be predictable and uninformed. Terrestrial radio is mainstream and major league. A person who is organized and has jobs and kids needs a certain amount of predictability. The radio world is built to be predictable. We build teasers. The teaser is the main part of a radio show. We predict it for you so that you can stick around and listen some more. Contents are predictable as well. Every day at 9 o'clock we're going to do What's New, and at 8 o'clock we’re going to do a giveaway. We do this so people can rhythm their day around us. When our listeners wake up, they know that when someone on the radio is saying “Giveaway Time", that might give them an internal clock to know that they are behind schedule or it is time to cook. It is predictable on purpose and we are moving on a professional plane. We are doing everything like clockwork. For the younger crowd, it might be boring so that’s why they turn to the podcast because it is unpredictable.
You stated back in a 2014 interview, “I don’t believe in curse words. I believe in cursed ideas”. Do you think curse words in music have the same effect as songs without curse words?
Any song can be effective. The content of the song is based on the power of how great the artist is. Curse words themselves aren’t as important to me as the way the artist delivers the message. I can have a full album of 13 songs without one profanity on the album but I can say, “I can take your life”. I am not cursing but the idea of it is ridiculous. If the whole idea of every song is evil or unspeakable then that is a cursed idea. But if I am saying, “I don’t give a fuck who tries to hold me back”, these are curses that people might be turned off by. The idea of what I am saying is that I am passionate about my freedom, and using expressive words may be explicit to some but it shows how strong I feel about a topic, but the idea of it is not profane.