A KJHK disc jockey is receiving feedback about his radio show from around the world.
"Hip-Hop Hype," the popular rap show that booms out of KJHK-FM 90.7 from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturdays, is a groundbreaking blend of fresh cuts, b-boy attitude and block rockin' beats.
Enigmatic host Abdul Kareem Ali throws in dextrous mike skills and stylistic dialect, resulting in four hours that sound like nothing else on area radio.
Currently in its third year of broadcasting, "Hip-Hop Hype" is a rap lover's dream, featuring heavy doses of up-and-coming artists and a smattering of old-school classics for added flavor.
"The stuff I place on the table is cutting-edge," the 20-year old Ali said. "Kansas is isolated. It's not West Coast, it's not East Coast. All the stuff that I get is coming straight from the record labels. It's fresh out of the oven. It's hot. I know people ain't heard it."
KJHK upgraded from 100 to 2,800 watts earlier this year, enabling the station to be heard from Topeka to Kansas City and expanding Ali's audience considerably. The station also broadcasts on the Internet.
"The people that listen to the show are just bananas," said the DJ, who grew up in Atlanta. "Because there's nothing like that here, if you're a real hip-hop head and you like to hear some tight music that's underground -- stuff that you're not going to hear on the commerical radio until maybe a month or two later -- that's the spot to go to. We get a lot of KC callers, a lot of Topeka callers. A lot of calls over the Internet, too. I got a call from Japan one time. A lot of my friends back home listen to it. It just makes me feel good, to be doing something that people want to hear."
Ali's hyperkinetic radio persona contrasts starkly with his mild-mannered off-air aura. On the show he is the consummate master of ceremonies, a barrage of shout-outs, inside jokes and rapid-fire flow. In person he is easy-going, grounded and thoughtful.
"I look at it as entertainment," he said. "Everybody has their own kind of personality. I'm the quiet type, but on the air, you'd never know that. Anybody can get on the radio and press play. But people tell me that my personality on the radio really sets it off. If you combine tight music with a personality that hypes it up, even if the song is mediocre, you can still get people pumped up about it."
Ali laid out his philosophy:
"Hip-hop is like a tree. On one branch you got rap music. On another branch you have graffiti. On another branch you have break dancing. On another branch you got the way you dress. All that is what makes hip-hop. Rap is the music of hip-hop, but it's not limited to just that. It's a way of life, a culture."
He also reflected on the cultural explosion of rap music:
"Hip-hop is becoming more and more diverse. Hip-hop started out as something in the black community, but now it's like a nuclear bomb. It spreads out. You got white kids listening to it in the suburbs. Cats down in Leawood and Blue Valley North. Of course, we know it is real big in Japan now, the Philippines, all through Europe. Hip-hop is some worldwide stuff now."
Ali likes life in the Midwest, where there's less competition and more opportunities for making his name known.
"I believe that everything happens for a reason," he said. "That's the reason, I think, that I ended up in Kansas. There's no hip-hop station here. It's dead. If you really like alternative music or punk, this is a happening spot. But as far as hip-hop, it ain't there."
As for local radio, "People play what plays the bills," he said.
Ali, who is a junior in broadcast management at Kansas University, spends his time trying to balance school, work and radio.
"I put a lot of time into the show," he said. "A lot of people don't know that it's more than just being on the air talking. It's something you have to be committed to and you have to make time for it. Just like any other job, except I don't get paid for it. But it's something that I love to do and I take it seriously."
Also serious are his plans for the future.
"My dream is to establish an all hip-hop radio station in Kansas," he said. "It takes some young cat like me who's full of ambition. Right now I'm learning about it, gaining experience doing it and gaining voice recognition. People recognize my voice now. I guess there's something about the name Abdul Kareem that kind of stands out.
"Still, I don't think it's me that makes the show," he said. "It's actually the people. Because they're the ones that keep me amped up. I got on (the show) this week. It just made me feel so good. I was grinning from ear to ear."
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