"Me and Ariel Nuñez walked into the public access TV studio on a Friday in 2002, and they gave us a time slot for that Monday!" Halline Overby, who performs under the name DJ Haylow, is recounting the day that he and Ariel Nuñez were given the go-ahead for their hip-hop TV show. Named Distortion 2 Static, after a song by the Roots, the show quickly became a Bay Area broadcasting beacon: on it, Ariel Nuñez (also known as Rel), his brother Aries Nuñez (a.k.a. Prince Aries), and Overby profiled local artists without major reputations, and hustled interviews with soon-to-break megastars. On Nov. 25, they will close the show's decade-long reign with a farewell party at Mighty.
The way Overby and Aries tell it, Distortion 2 Static was fueled by the unbridled enthusiasm of die-hard hip-hop fans, coupled with an aptitude for professional broadcasting. The three were studying at San Francisco State University in 2001 — Ariel and Overby were majoring in broadcasting and electronic communication arts; Aries' focus was design — when Ariel had the idea to put together a documentary focused on the pre-hyphy Bay Area hip-hop scene. The suggestion was refined into a show inspired by both Yo! MTV Raps and local late-'80s show Home Turf. For a set, the Nuñez brothers plastered the walls of their garage with posters of Bay Area artists like DJ Shadow, Zion I, and Blackalicious, and complemented them with images of Nas and Eric B & Rakim ripped out of Aries' vast archive of The Source magazine.
Filmed on equipment Ariel bought with student loan money, the first episode of Distortion 2 Static consisted of interviews with associates who were making beats, and profiles of plucky MCs performing at an open mic night Overby ran at a cafe on Haight Street. After six months of rudimentary shows, the affiliate station WB20 contacted the producers and added D2S to its broadcasting portfolio. Aries recalls, "That's when we really built a structure and came into our own as a hip-hop show."
Key to Distortion 2 Static's influence was its ability to spot promising talent, whether local or worldwide, and to mine local rap channels to wider gain. "We interviewed Mistah FAB before the hyphy thing blew up," says Aries. "He'll say it himself: We always supported him since day one, and interviewed him before anybody else was interested in interviewing him. He appreciated that even when he blew up. I remember we'd be at shows and other artists wouldn't want to do interviews, but he'd be like, 'No, they're good people, speak to them.' That happened with Wiz Khalifa." (Overby also remembers interviewing Melanie Fiona long before she graduated to singing at the 2009 Thanksgiving Day halftime show in Detroit; Aries recounts a similar early profile of Lupe Fiasco.)
Distortion 2 Static also picked up curios right on its doorstep. Overby remembers scoring a record by an artist named Esinchill in Amoeba's dollar bin. He liked it so much he called the phone number on the record and arranged to interview the rapper. "The show was a reflection of what we liked and supported, and never about promoting someone else's agenda," Overby says. The payoff for artists profiled on Distortion 2 Static was, as Aries puts it, "They got Bay Area fans."
He estimates that the show's influence peaked around the fourth season. Guests reached the caliber of superstars like Pharrell Williams, 50 Cent, Common, and Busta Rhymes. "In its own way it became a little empire, a brand even," Aries remembers. "We'd do shows and merch; we put T-shirts with the logo on it in [streetwear store] True and they'd sell out in a week." But as the Internet gradually became more of a prevalent promotional outlet, Distortion 2 Static saw its viewership and influence wane. More people began to view the show online, as opposed to tuning in during its broadcast TV slot. "We put a lot of work into the videos and the production quality," Aries says. "We set a high standard, and for it to just be on the front page of a blog for an hour wasn't the payoff we wanted. We wanted to do something a little more timeless."
So earlier this year, Overby raised the idea of wrapping things up. He spoke with the Nuñez brothers, and the trio called an end to Distortion 2 Static. The last episode aired in September. "It's been a big part of our lives," Aries says, "so it wasn't an easy decision, but something has been different for the last couple of years."
Overby and the Nuñez brothers are proud of the show's long run and achievements; far from bitter, they see its end as a natural consequence of changing times. "Distortion 2 Static was a big part of the Bay Area hip-hop scene," Aries says. "We provided for the scene when it came to exposing artists and breaking music. That's what we want our legacy to be."