By Geoff Harkness
Every Saturday night, Clinton "CJ" Wilford begins the transformation. A serious-yet-laid-back Kansas University student by day, CJ slowly morphs into CGz, the "geezulating" emcee of "Hip Hop Hyp" as the weekend starts to peak.
"When that red light goes on -- the one that says 'On Air' -- I'm in a whole other world," Wilford says. "My body is in a whole other state. I throw my whole personality into it because I want my voice to be felt."
Running from 8 p.m. to midnight on Saturdays, "Hip Hop Hyp" has long delighted area music fans with its blend of cutting-edge rap, local favorites and old-school classics. The show, found on KJHK 90.7 FM, has helped bring the hip-hop movement to Lawrence, entertaining and educating in its few short hours.
"We like to innovate, we like to create," Wilford explains. "The dynamic of the show makes you have to include this all-encompassing body of hip-hop. We try to give people new stuff that
they ain't heard yet -- the new rawness, the new hypeness, the new hip-hop -- and keep people informed about the culture they love. Plus we have to include all the old stuff, too. When I say old stuff, it could be a month old or the first hip-hop song. And we try to include all the local flavors. So you have to take everything and try to fit it into four hours on a Saturday night, once a week."
The CGz funk era
"Hip Hop Hyp" (formerly "Hip Hop Hype") began in 1996 with host Apocalypse, whose young protege, Abdul Kareem Ali, took over the program soon after. Ali's exuberant presence, tastemaking song selection and commitment to breaking new musical ground brought national attention to the show, making it easily among KJ's most popular offerings. Wilford came aboard in the fall of 1999 as Ali's apprentice and co-host, taking over earlier this year as Ali prepared for graduation.
"He's the perfect person for it," says Ali, who's currently interning at Kansas City radio behemoth KPRS 103.3 FM. "I brought him on with me and saw how he really just shined. He has the right type of personality for the show. He's definitely real down to earth and full of excitement. With him, you never know what you're gonna get, he's a constant ball of energy. He's definitely good at interacting with the crowd."
my partner and my brother for real.
"After I got down the technical and business sides of radio and learned how to run the show, it was mine like it was his. That's how we looked at it: We shared it. We were teammates. You gotta man every part of the battleship, and our battleship is Saturday from 8 p.m. to midnight."
Though the one-two punch of Kareem and CGz proved lethal, the show now basks in the radiant glow of its new frontman. CGz' on-air vibe is a bit more relaxed compared to Ali's quicksilver energy, but the essence of "Hip Hop Hyp" remains wholly intact.
"I think the show definitely has changed," the 22-year-old Wilford admits. "I get a lot of feedback from the listeners, from people who've been listening for a long time and from people who just caught on. They let me know that they can tell that it has CGz' flavor. But it's still the same old 'Hyp' other than that. We still come with the same music, the same type of flavor."
In true "Hyp" tradition, Wilford brought his own apprentice/permanent special guest on deck this semester. Brian "Smokey" Pearson is the perfect sidekick for CGz, throwing in his court jester humor and trademark smoke-isms like rap's original madman.
music period. We met last year, and over the summer he expressed an interest in the show. He started coming up to the station, and now he kicks it with me on the air every weekend."
While putting together the program takes a fair amount of time and energy, Wilford refuses to write out set lists in advance, preferring to keep the show flowing and spontaneous, allowing for happy accidents and moments of sheer inspiration. This is not to say that Wilford doesn't put in work -- he spends dozens of hours each week poring over new records, filtering out tracks that aren't hot enough for the "Hyp."
"I never go in there with a sheet or anything telling me what I can play," he explains. "People think that we just come in on the weekends and have fun and mess around in the studio, but there's a huge outside commitment of time. Every Saturday is my radio day, where I devote all my time to radio. I spend the whole day just kinda chillin' and maxin' and soaking up music."
Sadly, the former host of "Hip Hop Hyp" isn't finding the transition to commercial radio a particularly satisfying experience. Ali, who admits that he misses his old gig, is quick to point out the differences between his internship at KPRS and his previous work for KJHK.
"My experience with commercial radio is not at all like college radio," Ali says. "There are a lot more restrictions. It's not what a lot of people would expect, at least for the on-air personalities. It's definitely still somewhat interesting but I don't like the idea of being a puppet."
character from the characters behind the mike.
"Commercial radio got what you can recognize, but we got the goods," Wilford enthuses. "'Queer Radio,' 'Malicious Intent.' You wouldn't hear shows like that unless you were in a large city somewhere. We offer that right here in Lawrence. KJHK is so dynamic. It's the home to so many formats -- they all just interact and cohere. It seems like just a small station, but it has this huge power -- it's broadcasting to the capitol of the state all the way to parts of Kansas City. Plus we broadcast on the Internet (kjhk.ukans.edu). So we reach a lot of people, and I work like I'm touching people all over the world."
Wilford knows what he's talking about. Born in Tacoma, Wash., he grew up a military brat, living in various parts of the world -- including several years in Germany -- before coming to Lawrence to attend KU. All that moving around has given Wilford an expansive world view and an ability to see things clearly. For example, ask him about the "dangers" of gangsta rap and he'll tell you:
power we have to make other countries move is like a big bully. So gangsta rap is trying to teach and live the values that society teaches us. And it's a constant battle, with ourselves and with outside entities."
As for the area hip-hop scene, which has begun to generate serious heat in the last year or two, there's no lack of talent. Wilford quickly rattles off a list of favorites, including DVS Mindz, The Zou and Archetype.
With all those styles floating around, it's a wonder there are not more outlets for live hip-hop here in town. Though a handful of national acts usually include Lawrence on their touring agendas, local bands often fight an uphill battle in their quest to build local rap audiences. According to Wilford, part of the problem stems from a lack of all-ages venues.
"Our society doesn't cater to the youngsters when it comes to live entertainment. In Lawrence, businesses want (KU) money and the 21-and-up money, but with hip-hop you have to cater to everybody. There should be more access, someplace you can go two or three nights a week just like all the other kinds of music here. Some people are afraid of the aura that hip-hop brings, but we represent the culture of hip-hop, not rap music or gangsta rap. We support the elements -- righteousness and peace -- and we encourage creativity."
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