By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
During hip hop's ascent, Stanford University was definitely not down. If Oakland was Bay Area rap's alpha, the Farm was its omega. Buffered from the urban experience by Highway 101 – East Palo Alto is just on the other side – Stanford's campus life was fueled mostly by frat parties and Jamba Juice. Andrew Kringstein, alumnus, class of '97, and founder of San Francisco-based hip hop design collective Exact-Science, suffered a mild concussion after moving out from Brooklyn freshman year and being thumped by the school's obliviousness to hip hop. He remembers seeing De La Soul, one of the more agreeable, benevolent rap groups of all time, end its on-campus show by clowning the audience for being so painfully bland and unenthused.
Stanford, though, has been trying a lot harder recently. Last year's Big Game (Stanford versus Cal football) featured Talib Kweli as halftime entertainment, and the crowd seemed to nod along, as if the rhythms were more familiar than, say, Fijian gamelan. And in a major move, the communications department lured from Harvard associate professor Marcyliena Morgan, who directs the Hiphop Archive (www.hiphoparchive.org), which Stanford touts as the most extensive collection of hip hop materials in existence. Even the university's lab rats are making shout-outs – scientists have christened their chemical genomics laboratory "HIP-HOP," an acronym they twisted out of HaploInsufficiency Profiling and HOmozygous deletion Profiling. Dropping science, for real.
Given this new street cred, one might think Kevvy Kev, aka Kevin Montague, would be greeted on campus with flowers and the keys to the Faculty Club. He has been broadcasting his purist underground hip hop show, The Drum, every Sunday between 6 and 9 p.m. on KZSU-FM (90.1), Stanford's radio station, since 1984. Those 21 1/2 years make it the longest continuously running hip hop radio show anywhere ever, a superlative at least as impressive as the one claimed by the Hiphop Archive. It's also a slice of vintage radio programming that is all but extinct on the airwaves today – a niche show built around a playlist meticulously selected, without outside interference, by its host, who's a distinctive personality at that. Kev is excitable, obsessively knowledgeable, and a hard-core cornball – he offers bags of Snickers, canned hams, and sundry other imaginary treats to the fifth caller who knows such pieces of essential information as which New York cab company Lord Finesse said was his favorite on the B-side of his second 12-inch.
But the university, even with its newfound devotion to the four elements and its longer-standing commitment to multiculturalism (stodgy, Western civ-defending academics like Harold Bloom have ridiculed it for years), has done nothing to acknowledge The Drum or Kevvy Kev, himself a Stanford alumnus. More perplexing still, the Archive has a page devoted to what it calls "True-Skool Radio," which lists various underground hip hop programs, and it makes no mention of the show either. The Drum has been chronically overlooked and underheard since its inception, partly because KZSU's signal doesn't reliably reach all of the Bay Area. But the Archive is housed almost close enough for the employees to lean out their windows and read the labels over Kev's shoulder as he cues the records up.
Kev says the situation doesn't surprise him. "It's probably bizarre how little interaction there is between Stanford and the station," he explains while at his day job, which is spinning classic hip hop as customers peruse the terry cloth G-Unit outfits in Macy's men's section. "The university underwriters only want to make sure we don't cause trouble with the FCC, and as long as we don't, they leave us alone. I think other college stations have a different relationship with their administrations."
One of Kev's favorite expressions is "I'm not mad at you," and it seems to sum up his life philosophy. He forgives his alma mater for its ignorance, and says he doesn't feel owed anything by the legions of now-successful artists to whom he first gave airtime. That's a magnanimous attitude, considering that list includes Jay-Z (who was then with a group called Original Flavor), the Fugees, Redman, Busta Rhymes, and the entire Wu-Tang Clan. He also got behind just about every local act that made it, from Hieroglyphics to Solesides (now Quannum). Even his volunteers have flourished – Kutmasta Kurt had his first gig DJing on The Drum; Joe Quixx, now of the Oakland Faders, handled the decks for a chunk of the '90s; and even Kev's first intern, a profoundly odd fellow named Dopestyle, got a record deal last year.
Regarding any indignation over his being underappreciated by artists and fellow Cardinals alike, Kev says, "I can't start thinking like that because, one, I'll wind up on the clock tower with a sniper rifle, and two, that's just not human nature. People are mostly self-interested, and then you have to consider that fact in the context of the music industry, which is the shadiest on the planet."
As Kev acknowledges, almost none of the artists who clamored to get on the show before their albums started selling now drop him a line when they pass through town. (The RZA is a prominent exception – he played Kev's 20th anniversary party in Golden Gate Park for free.) Again, he's not mad, but he says he's also ready to start collecting on long overdue favors. He's compiling a CD of past Drum interviews and freestyle sessions by prominent artists, and will ask each for an original song to include.