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Sunday, 12 January 2014 14:00

88.1 KDHX DJ Spotlight: Wil Wander, host of 'Elevated Rhymestate'

88.1 KDHX DJ Spotlight: Wil Wander, host of 'Elevated Rhymestate' Sara Finke
Written by Brian Benton
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One of KDHX's few hip-hop DJs, Wil Wander shows off the finer side of the genre during his show "Elevated Rhymestate," which can be heard early on Thursdays from 3 to 5 a.m. Central. With a focus on laidback or smooth sounds and poetic lyrics, Wil picks from the early rhymes of the 1980s or '90s, as well as newer releases, including some hip-hop from around the world.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Wil left for school in Chicago, but has since returned and was finally able to get the hip-hop show on KDHX he'd been thinking about since he was a teenager. We met on the Delmar Loop on a Thursday night to talk, where Wil was full of energy despite having done his show earlier that morning.

Brian Benton: When did you first start getting involved with KDHX?

Wil Wander: When I was like 15, I listened to "Ska's the "Limit," but then I didn't listen to it at all until I came back to St. Louis. I had actually thought about doing a hip-hop show when I was 15 or 16. I went to the volunteer orientation because I had heard about the audio classes. I didn't even know volunteers did the radio shows. I had no idea. And I didn't really even think about a show until Andy [Coco, Director of Production at KDHX] directly asked me during the audio training. And then I picked up concert calendars because it's a consistent thing and they think there's an element to my voice that works, apparently.

When you were coming up with the concept for the show, did you consider other takes on hip-hop?

My first thought was to try to be straight jazz rap. I didn't know too much back then, but I knew that the stuff I liked tended to have lots of jazz samples. But by the time I actually filled out my application, which was a long time after I got the idea of doing a show, I was not leaning towards jazz rap anymore. I think the idea was just to keep it real mellow and calm, and it's gotten a little more upbeat than when it started, but it's still not loud or abrasive.

So KDHX obviously isn't a hip-hop station, and there's not much hip-hop played on the station. How have you seen your show received so far?

Just earlier tonight I was looking at the KDHX website at the charts, and I started to notice that a lot of weeks, the top hip-hop album played was my featured album on the show from that week. So whatever album I play three tracks off of is the most played hip-hop album on the station half the weeks. But Needles plays a lot of hip hop and there are other people that play hip hop too, but we each kind of have our own side of hip hop that we play.

What do you listen to beyond the genre of hip-hop that you play on your show?

Yeah, and I definitely listen to a wide range of music. One style of hip-hop has definitely taken over since I started doing the show. I have a big book of CDs and it used to have equal different sections and now I have a separate book of hip-hop CDs as big as the other sections combined, but I definitely listen to music from all over the place.

I listen to a lot of mixed-format electronic stuff, like Rudimental I listen to a lot, and C2C is one of my favorites. But I also go see and listen to a lot of live jazz, funk, soul and a little bit of reggae.

For me, it seems like hip-hop is a genre that's harder to break into as a fan or get exposure to different sides of. Do you feel the same way?

I wouldn't say it's hard to get into, but exposure to the hip-hop that's not the mainstream stuff is definitely not always out there. You can find it; it's just not presented to you. From there, though, it's such a collaborative genre that you can just follow the web. You find this person, they've done a couple features with this person, and they're on this label with this person, and then you just connect the dots. And that's mostly how I've been able to discover good hip-hop, just by connecting the dots.

Is that how you learned about the music you play on the show?

When I was growing up I would sort of go from one type of music to the next. I first got into hip-hop at all when I was like 16 or so, and back then it wasn't necessarily the good stuff. My friend got this funk compilation album that had all kinds of funk music and I was like, "I really like funk! Who else can I listen to in funk?" So I went to Vintage Vinyl and I bought George Clinton's funk album that for the most part was a hip-hop album, with Dr. Dre and people like that on it. And that was really my first taste of hip-hop. I had every DMX album.

Have you come into problems with language? I feel like it would be more of a problem with your show than a bluegrass show, for example.

Going through song-by-song and reading the lyrics if I can find them or just listening is part of my process. Sometimes there's an edited version, but if I can get the regular version, I prefer the regular version. I'll go in, and I just take every word that I can't play and I reverse it, and then it's no longer in the song but you don't lose the rhythm of it or the tone of it. There's a little bit of a scratch sound but I think it's better than some of the edited version that completely change things or take out every single word or reference to sex or drugs or weapons. But while being very careful, I push it as far as I can.

If you had to pick maybe two or three artists that kind of define your show and the music you play, who would you pick?

That's tough. I could do that when I started, and that would be a lot easier, because I only really knew like ten artists back then. Back then, it was probably CunninLynguists and Blue Scholars and maybe Immortal Technique. Now, I'd say it's probably the entire Australian hip-hop scene, if I can count them as one group. And I don't want to leave out Solillaquists of Sound. There's times I'll listen to their songs, even songs I've heard 12 times before, and I'll just say, "Wow." They just blow me away with the production or these lines that I've never heard before.

Do you ever feel limited by the "laid back hip-hop" category you've billed your show as? Is it restrictive at all for you?

It's not entirely what I would always like to play, but I think sometimes I even try to see how far I can go without people questioning. But there are certain things that I might think is a really good song, but there are elements to it that I don't feel would work as part of the show. You know, something that's got a really annoying horn sound I won't play. It might be a really good song, but I won't play it because it's annoying, and I try to make my show as not annoying as possible. (Laughs).

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