Can rap radio stations survive in the Twin Cities?



It was 1998 at a random high school party and the hotly debated topics were many. Who is Monica Lewinsky? Is Kavian taking Jolene to prom? Are the Twins really getting contracted? Another subject came up: Will hip-hop one day have a "classic" radio station, à la KQRS and its classic-rock format? The debate raged on between spilled Bacardi shots and crushed Natural Ice cans, but we arrived at a profound thesis: yes. Just as our answer was floating in the air of that dingy garage, someone came by and switched off our stellar mix CD of Biggie, Tupac, Ghostface, and Outkast and changed it to ... KQRS. We then changed our answer to: maybe.

See also: B96 Switches to 96.3 NOW, a "Hit Music" Station

This past weekend, social media was abuzz about a new radio station playing classic hip-hop and R&B with no commercial interruptions -- or DJs -- in the Twin Cities market. With little to no promotion, Hot 102.5 (102.5 FM) was born.

Last Friday "Mo Money Mo Problems" by Notorious B.I.G. and "Party Up" by DMX kicked off the station, which is run by iHeartRadio (a.k.a. the former Clear Channel). Lucas Phelan, who many know from his afternoon DJ slot on sister station KDWB (101.3 FM), is the program director of Hot 102.5, which claims to be spinning a 5,000-song catalog.

"We're all about the music on Hot 102.5, and we're going to start by playing a ton of it," Phelan says in a press release. "I'm excited to introduce this new format to Minneapolis listeners; it's what they have been asking for."

One wonders if the '90s and early-'00s playlist will stand the test of time. Kids today probably ask about SkyPagers and Coogi sweaters the same way we looked at our parents and wondered, who is the Walrus and why should we care?

History hasn't been kind to "Rhythmic Contemporary" radio stations in the Twin Cities. Magic 1530 (1530 AM) only lasted a couple years; B96 (96.3 FM) enjoyed a 10-year stint but was mocked nationally on SNL for even attempting the format. But 89.9 KMOJ (89.9 FM) has been around since 1976 and is a rock for its devoted listeners. Plus, we are home to one of the biggest and most successful hip-hop festival in the country, Soundset. So we should deserve to hear some Raekwon over the airwaves without getting blasted by Lorne Michaels's writing crew.

But maybe that could be the issue with this station; I haven't heard any Raekwon or Tribe Called Quest or Outkast. After some weekend listening sessions I did hear Whodini, Dr. Dre, E-40, and Jay Z. Then again, Hot 102.5 also played Ja Rule and that won't fly with most classic hip-hop heads. Hip-hop culture is pretty divided, with many flavors and subsets. It's hard to satisfy the masses, which might have been the downfall of previous radio stations in the area.

So as the honeymoon period thumps along for Hot 102.5, we must remember that opinions are fickle and prone to change -- just like that night 17 years ago in that dingy garage.


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