If Kansas City radio is a party, and its commercial stations are the DJs, what are they gonna bring? A bag full of tricks by the Popper, CES Cru and Reach? Or a complement of the latest hits from Kanye West, 50 Cent and Def Jam's starry-eyed young thing of the moment? Of course: They'll bring what the entertainment industry says is hot, not what might actually make their city more exciting.
Shorty and the Boyz know this all too well.
Yeah, we're talking about a team of hosts on a morning show on a commercial station that never, ever plays local music.
The format of KCHZ 95.7 (the Vibe) is known as "CHR/rhythmic," the hip-hop- and R&B-flavored side of the Top 40 chart. It's the music of superficial raps (I can make a mill sayin' nothin' on a track), ring-tone-ready beats and two-stepping instructions for young people. Shorty plays that music throughout her show.
But it's not what she and her Boyz care about most.
I hadn't even heard of this loudmouthed, 34-year-old Italian and her show until a certain CD rattled onto my desk. Spearheaded by the diminutive brunette and her husband and executive producer, Mike Savage, Heat From the Street features 15 area artists and three notable out-of-town acts. Though most tracks use different producers (SG, Seven and Miles Bonny are some of the local names), DJ Sku has mixed them into a banging rush that lets up only for the sparse and slinky Track 14, which happens to be Stik Figa's entry.
What's Stik Figa — who was once based in Topeka and is named for the humblest of human forms — doing on a CD with local heavyweights Reach, Approach and Heet Mob and imported talent such as Los Angeles' Fixxers, who bring the hugely successful Southerner Rich Boy to lay down a verse on Track 17? And you'll never believe it, but Kid from Kid 'n Play, the '90s comedy-rap group, contributes one of the dopest tracks (see the Wayward Blog for more on that). What is this thing?
For Savage and Shorty, it's a love letter to the scene.
As radio DJs unable to play the local artists they want to see become successful, they figured a mix would be the next best thing. Also, it's about making amends.
"We give it away for free," Savage says of the record. "We paid for it all on our dime. It's our way of letting people know, 'We hear you.'"
Savage, who is 33 and dresses in hoodies and backward ball caps, has been in radio for 12 years, including a run as producer of Johnny Dare's show. He also has experience in the local rap trade, having managed — with significant help from his Shorty — the Hispanic gangsta-rap group Empire, three former members of which (Luna, Panic and Grant Rice) contribute tracks to Heat. Around 2002, Savage helped Empire net 1,500 spins at 40 stations across the country, sell 3,200 copies of its debut, tour 30 cities and land a couple of TV spots. The numbers aren't huge, but, Savage says, "I truly believe they were on the cusp."
Passing out CDs is nothing new for Savage, in other words. And to hear him and Shorty talk, that's what they plan to do with Heat.
"By doing what we do, we are in a lot of situations where we're in front of people," explains Shorty, who routinely interviews music celebrities on her show.
"It's good promotion for these artists, who maybe don't have the resources to do it themselves," Savage adds. "We'll go out and maybe put it in some A&R's hand, you know, do something they can't do. Basically, we wanted to let people of that stature know that these people in Kansas City have skills."
Skills aplenty. In addition to strong stuff from the landed gentry, Heat boasts some exceptional performances by virtually unknown acts. Local Str8jakkett comes on fast and strong with Track 3, "This Is It," which contains the mix's most impressive combination of local references and polysyllabic words (antibicoastal, y'all?). On "How We Play," the Incredible Zig and UBB emerge from the tides of local obscurity like humpback whales, spewing forth the album's meatiest combination of hefty verse and R&B vocals.
Heat From the Street's best-selling point is its power to send the listener straight to MySpace in search of more tunes by these artists. And because the words Kansas City are nowhere on the packaging, it's through further research that the local connection will emerge. To the uninformed, it's just a helluva tasty little mix.
This from commercial-workin' Shorty and her Boyz. Who knew?