A new modern hip-hop radio station — Go 95.3 FM — launched Jan. 5 in the Twin Cities. Before Go, there was no radio station that exclusively aired contemporary hip-hop, just two exclusively classic hip-hop stations — 105 the Vibe and Hot 102.5.
Why is this important? Because airing modern hip-hop validates active, modern, black creativity and thought.
Black expression, particularity young black expression, has a history of being avidly consumed by all races. But from the beginning of popular music, white artists performing traditionally black music has proven more palatable for mainstream white Americans (watch David Bowie call out MTV in 1983 for perpetuating that norm). Historically, broader pop culture is often unwilling to accept undistilled blackness.
Minneapolis is no exception to the erasure of blackness. The city is known nationwide as one brimming with economic opportunity and a vibrant arts scene — if you are not black. A recent New York Times feature reports that the unemployment rate for blacks in the Twin Cities is four times higher than the overall rate of 3.1 percent, among the lowest in the country. Of the blacks that do have jobs, the Times reports they earn, on average, 38 percent less than whites.
Boxing out blacks, culturally or otherwise, is nothing new.
The content of black musical expression is no longer feared, but validating black people — and what that would do for black people — is feared. Owned by the white Pohlad family, Go 95.3 won't reverse the entrenched bias resulting in the Twin Cities’ stark racial opportunity disparity. But it will air modern black music, allowing for — an albeit abstract — space for open, unfettered blackness.
Throwback hip-hop stations, on the other hand, are nostalgic but belittling, keeping young black creation at arms length. Over the last decade, hip-hop has evolved into sing-songy rapping over more sophisticated and saturated beats that blend soul, R&B, gospel, and pop with the origins of hip-hop. The more impressionistic and poetic aesthetic of modern hip-hop illustrates the reckoning of being black in 2016 — a paranoid existence no longer so straightforwardly oppressed, yet still systemically left behind.
Tuning into Go 95.3 for the first time was exhilarating. While pining for such a station, I hadn’t realized that, of course, the station would showcase mainstream and hyper-local work — neither of which I'm really a fan of — but it is music by young people doing work now. Young, mainly black people creating music from modern inspiration for modern listeners. They express modern, relatable sentiments that are being reckoned with now — not 1992.
One stretch of songs during Go 95.3’s first week included the classic “Runnin” by Pharcyde, “Take Care” by Drake featuring Rihanna, and “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd.
“Runnin” came out in 1995. It really is classic, a hip-hop song that is rooted in the lyric-focused, delivery-emphasized tradition of the early ‘90s. The song is a classic because its melody, message, and quality transcend time period. That's why it and other classics still find room on Go 95.3. Appreciating hip-hop’s history is not, in and of itself, a bad thing.
The Drake song, and the presence of modern rappers like Kanye West and Ty Dolla $ign, are examples of where modern hip-hop and black creativity is now and continues to trend: radical vulnerability and introspection. Traditional rap, that of Pharcyde, is about tight and exacting bars over bare, lightly jazz or soul influenced instrumentation.
The Weeknd is an R&B singer who collaborates with many rappers; he's making R&B-pop music many have compared to Michael Jackson. Though he follows in a tradition set by Jackson, there are modern deviations that have young people responding to his work. I don't like his music, but he is a young, black, successful artist who is trying to create something new, and now I have a local place to check it out.
Go 95.3 is also providing a larger platform for local hip-hop, which is great.
Adding vibrant, culturally diverse forms of expression only enhances a community. The Twin Cities has one of the highest achievement gaps in the U.S. between white and minority students, but it is also one of the more richly artistic diverse areas in the country and a safe settling place for immigrants.
While largely symbolic and superficial, the Twin Cities has righted a wrong with the presence of Go 95.3. Well, the Pohlads have. They know how to make money, which no doubt has something to do with this.
But, hey, we have modern hip-hop now.