The Demise of Hyphy

Thizzle, bling, and blunts may have helped bring down the overhyped hyphy movement. But KMEL pulled the trigger.

Not long after that, F.A.B. pitched Johnson with an idea for a new, locally oriented show, to be called Yellow Bus Radio. But KMEL already had a similar show in E-40's E-Feezy Radio, so F.A.B. took the concept to Jazzy Jim Archer, the program director at KYLD-FM (94.9) — located in the same building as KMEL. Archer green-lighted the show, which aired directly opposite Johnson's on KMEL.

That, F.A.B. says, "really made it seem I was going after [Johnson's] timeslot. I became his archenemy."

By all accounts, Yellow Bus Radio was a success. The program garnered high ratings on KYLD and was syndicated by other stations across California and podcast by Web sites worldwide. In addition to playing his own music alongside songs by lower-profile locals, F.A.B. used his airtime as a vehicle for community interaction, conducting interviews, and, in keeping with hyphy's special-education theme, reading book reports.

"I don't necessarily want to use the word 'movement,'" F.A.B. says, "but we actually started a big deal with Yellow Bus Radio, which was to give people a chance and an opportunity." However, he adds, "I didn't know it would stir up that much controversy."

The show's run ended because of the rapper's busy tour schedule and because, Archer says, it was "causing F.A.B. some problems in other areas of his career."

In retaliation for F.A.B.'s perceived disloyalty, sources say, someone at KMEL apparently deleted all of his music from the playlist; in addition, his verses began to be omitted from songs by other artists he had appeared on. "Once I started noticing that, I was like, 'Goddamn,'" the rapper says. "That's what made it look like it was an individualized effort to stop me."

F.A.B. loudly blamed Johnson for the deletion of his music from KMEL. "I was real bitter about it," he says now. "There might have been some things said out of spite."

Without hometown radio trumpeting his buzzworthiness, F.A.B. says, major labels started to get cold feet. Atlantic eventually signed him in late 2006, but being persona non grata at KMEL "affected what their whole staff would be able to do promotionally" as far as breaking him, he claims.

Being blacklisted from KMEL also affected the rapper's other major sources of income: money for "features" (appearances on other artists' songs) and concert revenue. When he traveled outside the Bay, F.A.B. says that he was often asked, "Why you ain't getting play in your own town?"

KMEL program director Stacy Cunningham confirms there was an "unofficial" ban on F.A.B., but says the station stopped playing his music not out of spite, but because he was "our competition in the ratings." She claims to have "nothing but love" for F.A.B., but advises, "Don't play the 'Cry me a river' card."

Cunningham says the station never received a copy of F.A.B.'s latest album, Da Baydestrian, adding that even after Yellow Bus Radio went off the air, "there was no real follow-up by the artist."

However, F.A.B.'s issues with KMEL may have had a domino-like effect on the entire Bay Area rap scene. Few of the artists signed to majors in hyphy's wake saw their records released, and those that did come out were often significantly delayed. "Once they canceled my airplay, it put a big halt to the movement," F.A.B. says.

According to former KMEL DJ BackSide, F.A.B.'s conflict with the station was "a very big part of why the hyphy shit stopped."

The Bay Area has long had a love/hate relationship with KMEL. At 69,000 watts, the station casts a sizable shadow over the entire region, from Santa Rosa to San Jose. For many local rap artists, the perception is that the path to commercial success goes through KMEL.

In the late 1980s and early '90s, KMEL earned a reputation for innovative programming, creating the blueprint for the "hot urban" format, a mix of hip-hop and R&B later adopted by New York's Hot 97 and Los Angeles' Power 106. Its annual all-star concert, Summer Jam, was widely copied. The station was the original home of The Wake Up Show, the first hip-hop program to be syndicated nationally. To this day, fans have fond memories of Wake Up Show exclusives like the 1995 Saafir vs. Casual battle, a defining moment in Bay Area hip-hop. KMEL is often credited with being the first commercial station to play the likes of Too $hort, MC Hammer, Digital Underground, Tony! Toni! Toné!, En Vogue, Tupac Shakur, E-40, Souls of Mischief, the Luniz, Mac Mall, Goapele, and the Federation.

Unfortunately, the station hasn't always supported local artists. Following a backstage altercation at the 1995 Summer Jam, Too $hort was temporarily banned from the airwaves, as was Tupac just before his death in 1996 ("At least I'm in good company," F.A.B. jokes).

In 1996, KMEL's parent company, Evergreen, was purchased by Chancellor Media. In 1999, amid an industrywide consolidation trend, Chancellor's Bay Area stations were bought by Texas-based media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications, becoming part of a national chain which at its peak had more than 1,200 stations, including several in the Bay Area. Even before the Clear Channel takeover, KMEL's programming had become more mainstream. As former KMEL air personality Davey D recalls, "The playlist suddenly shrunk. We had to follow dictates. That was a rude awakening with respect to the local stuff."

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