Urban Radio Stations Should Learn From Atlanta’s Playlist Model

11 years ago view-show 1,085,238


If you’re an internet rap nerd, you’d at least be familiar with Detroit’s indie rap scene. The city is chock full of talented artists with a wealth of content to sift through. Black Milk, Danny Brown, J Dilla, Elzhi and Royce Da 5’9″ are the biggest names in that space but it’s not limited to those figures.

I was taken aback somewhat when I heard, according to a few friends from Detroit, the aforementioned artists get next to no shine on their local urban radio stations. Part of me wasn’t surprised because such is true on the east coast to a degree. However a complete lack of local artist support, outside of expected praise via shows, is surprising considering how independent artists usually get their first looks with help from the radio.

Some perspective is needed here. Most popular urban radio stations primarily play Top 40 songs during the day. Then DJ’s will play some underground/indie stuff occasionally mixed with even more country-wide hits.

That’s been the m.o. for Hot 97 and Power 105 save for their respective throwback hours. Most of the hometown talent played on both stations have major deals. Nevertheless, they’ll throw NY-native underground and internet rappers a bone once in awhile.

New York and Detroit’s radio play comes in stark contrast to Georgia’s. I went to school in Atlanta for a year and, while the stations still played hits, they supported local, unsigned prospects TOUGH. I was such a boom bap rappity rap geek so being in ATL during the crunk wave was hard on the ears. Regardless, I got to witness just how much the South supported their own.  Competition obviously existed but the region has the best sense of grassroots backing I’ve witnessed.

Many of those rappers went on to use those records to become anything from one hit wonders to successful in their own right. Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy sounded straight comical to me on “So Icey” back in ’05 and I thought they wouldn’t make it. They eventually got the song on NY radio a year later with regular airplay and are now among the genre’s biggest stars. That doesn’t mean you have to like their music. But you have to realize their initial, strong support base spurred by local radio plays got their movements going.

The above-mentioned artists got their first looks via local radio spins had formulaic and/or radio friendly songs. That key is something many unsigned Detroit and NY rappers don’t have or  don’t strive to achieve. With that said the indie Detroit rap sound is largely distinct despite some of its influence hailing from NY boom bap. It’s just not getting a fair shake from what I can tell. So, with that in that sense, who can say it won’t grab audiences if doesn’t get a chance?

NY rap’s problem, as stated earlier, suggests many of today’s NY rappers emulate their forefathers while failing to approach their quality or ride trends as a means to stay relevant. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions. Vado instantly comes to mind since his most popular songs range from traditional to catchy club records. They didn’t break new ground sonically but were heavily featured on Hot 97 and Power largely in part to DJ’s appreciating his songs and fan requests. That success lead to him signing with Interscope.

Additionally NY DJ’s, arguably more so than other regions, have to deal with the pressures of playing the same content from higher ups and major labels. It’s still funny, yet a bit frustrating, to read some notable ones lament over not playing records they want to play. I’m sure Atlanta’s stations have the same problems but that doesn’t stop them from promoting a string of homegrown rappers during rush hour. Thus uninspired rappers isn’t the only problem here and it doesn’t stop with the DJ’s. But I digress.

The radio is still important and viable in that it’s a more available means towards hearing music for the masses than via the internet. Browsing for tunes online is liberating for many because it enables users to search and make choices on what they want to hear. Thing is, you’d be surprised at how many people aren’t interested in making such choices. They’d rather listen to music with as few steps as possible. There are more people hitting up social networking sites for new records than ever before but spins don’t lie. You’re on once you’ve made waves on the radio. You can’t say the same about getting tons of hits online. Getting those initial nationwide plays leads to more opportunities down the line all while getting more widespread recognition.

More importantly, utilizing Atlanta’s radio playlist model, or lack thereof, nationwide would increase the visibility and variety of the music industry’s talent pool. Much of music in general has gotten to a point where it gets cast aside to the online realm if it doesn’t fit a predictable mold. Every song from artists who can appeal to a larger base doesn’t need thousands of spins a week. Yet regional support may eventually create more diversity on a national scale.


  1. Great article. I have to agree 100% I go to school at U of M. I never hear any of these artists on the radio. The funny things is, I did not most of them were from Michigan. I would have imagined that these artists would be played and spoken of in their hometown. Its a sad situation really. How can an artist make it without support from his home?

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