From African Alert to Hush Groove and Musical Edu-Tainment: An Interview with G. Wiz
On Friday, August 25 at the Old Rock House, G.Wiz, D-Ex, DJ Alejan, Needles and Iceman Stylz will gather for a special Hush Groove event celebrating 30 years of KDHX. In advance of the event, Wil Wander of Elevated Rhymestate spoke with DJ G.Wiz about the legacy of rap and hip-hop at the station and what to expect at the silent party with three DJs mixing live on three different headphone channels. For a double dose of G.Wiz, follow up Friday's Hush Groove with this month's Musical Edu-Tainment, "Blue-Eyed Soul: Chapter II," at the Stage at KDHX on Saturday, August 26.
Wil Wander: You've been in hip-hop & DJing even before KDHX was around.
G.Wiz: That's true, that's right.
WW: So where did you start pre-KDHX?
GW: I started right out of high school — in 1978, yeah. [laughs] I was brought in by Sylvester the Cat [Sylvester "The Cat" Caldwell] who later started Churban Radio here. (Now his brother Ray is doing Churban.) But Sylvester got me started DJing. I was doing frat parties, house parties, skating rinks and all that stuff, then I got into KDHX through Russ Girard aka LG when he started the hip-hop show African Alert in '87 or '88. It was a year later that he brought me in.
WW: Could we say that African Alert was the start of hip-hop on the radio in St. Louis? Or is that too much of a claim?
GW: Well, I don't know. I know there was rap played on the radio — very, very little. But there was also rap shows. Marley Marsh did a rap show over at WashU and I think a couple of other colleges, community colleges were doing stuff — but I'm not quite sure and I don't want to stake a claim.
WW: Alright, fair enough. But we were in there, though!
GW: Oh definitely, because this was during the time when commercial radio was putting billboards up saying, "We don't play rap," so yeah, it was ground-breaking.
WW: Right. "You can avoid it by listening to this whatever station" — don't need to name names....
GW: I could name names! [laughs] But, yeah, it was definitely a launch pad. And it took a little persuading to get hip-hop on KDHX but they gave in and thirty years later it's still here. And all those shows branched off that one show.
WW: Hip-hop is still maybe a struggling minority amongst KDHX shows, but it's not forgotten.
GW: It's not forgotten, right. It's not a step-child or anything — it's in the house, it don't eat much, but it gets fed. [laughs]
WW: How long were you on KDHX?
GW: I was actually on for a ten-year stretch — from '88 all the way to 1998. And that's from African Alert and then when Russ passed the show onto me, I changed it to Street Vibes. And I kept Street Vibes up until '98 and then I passed the show to Fly D-Ex & DJ Alejan, and they changed the name to Da Science. And they ran that stretch as Da Science until 2006 or 2007 when it turned into Deep Krate Radio, which is on the air currently. When I came back to KDHX in 2007, I brought Needles in — and we started a show called The Remedy. We did The Remedy for two years, and then I stopped and Needles started his show Rawthentic, which is on the air now.
WW: I remember that Da Science wasn't just a radio show...
GW: Yes, the radio show was a live broadcast from the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill.
WW: I remember this friend of mine who joined the Navy when he was 18 who gave me this CD that just said "Da Science" on it. He was like, "I know you like rap and hip-hop! I think you'll like this." I was perhaps not ready for it, but now I really wish I had it somewhere.
GW: You blew it! You blew your chance! [Laughs]
WW: I did. At that age, I wasn't quite into the independent scene yet. Now you got Needles in and he's doing Rawthentic now and you talked about Street Vibes — Alejan was on there?
GW: Alejan was a guest DJ on Street Vibes and then he went to Da Science. And then, as time went on, Da Science brought on other DJs — B. Money, Grocery, among other folks — they always had guest cats comin' on. And then when D-Ex changed it to Deep Krate, he brought in Furious Stylz — Iceman, who actually runs the show now.
WW: So to celebrate the 30 years of KDHX as well as the hip-hop on KDHX, you guys have an event coming up at the Old Rock House in August.
GW: True indeed!
WW: Pretty much everyone involved in that event you've already mentioned in this conversation, right? You've got four DJs spinning?
GW: As we know them now, there's five and probably some extras who may stop by. But me, Alejan, Fly D-Ex, Needles, and Iceman on the turntables.
WW: Now what's the date on that event?
GW: It's August 25th — Friday Night at the Old Rock House. Hush Groove, which is the name that I have given my events, basically entails the quiet or silent headphones. And instead of quiet or silent, I call it "hush." So, basically you come to the venue and you don't hear any music until you put your headphones on, and you have the ability to switch to any DJ — and three DJs will be spinning music at the same time — you can choose whoever you want to listen to, at your own convenience, at your own volume control. And you can talk to the person next to you without screaming, you know.
WW: I love that idea. I'm also interested to see what it looks like when you have people on the dance floor dancing to three different songs, maybe it will just look like a movie where people don't listen to the music as they dance. But I'm picturing some people with a fast beat and some people have a slow break. It will be interesting to see the mix of physical responses out there.
GW: The physical thing is — you've got two entities going here: the sight and the sound. Looking at a floor of people going to three different grooves throws your equilibrium off, but it doesn't matter, because it's all virtual. It's like driving down the highway with your windows rolled up — you got somebody going slow, somebody speeding, somebody driving crazy — but you deal with it, right?
WW: You stay in your lane and you're fine!
GW: Yeah! And you're cool! I mean it trips you out, but you really don't trip off it like that. You actually laugh at it 'cause it's funny. Now you really wanna trip? Take off your headphones, listen to the ambience of the room, and you hear people singing or rapping and they're saying the wrong words — that's hilarious.
WW: [laughs] Oh yeah, I'm picturing that now. I might get myself in trouble in a room like that.
GW: But see, nobody cares. That's the thing, because at events like that everyone's about having fun. You have the remote control in your hand, and you control what's going on inside of you. You know who's listening to what DJ, because the color of their headphone will light up, the color of that DJ.
WW: I was going to ask if there was anything like that, because it's so simple now. Just a little bulb that you can change. Will there be any kind of competitive nature with that? If you're the red guy and you see a pool of blue out there, are you going to be dropping something else?
GW: [laughs] That's one of the reasons why I chose to DJ as I do. Myself, Fly D-Ex, Needles, Alejan have a group called the Turntable Orchestra. We always spin together at events — the four of us together at one time. We don't have an ego-competitiveness amongst us. We all love the same type of music and we bring it like that, we don't compete against each other, so we don't really care if the room is all red and there are two blues over there and one green. 'Cause we don't really care. As long as everybody's having fun, that's all that matters to us. That's how we roll! [laughs]
WW: That great. You know there's usually a competitiveness from like the battle rap scene. It's taken over so much of the culture. I personally like to see the culture move more toward that type of feeling, even if it's in small groups. I like the idea of doing it for the love.
GW: It's for the people, man, for the people.
WW: So that event will be one of a few events celebrating the 30th year of KDHX. That's celebrating the past, but we've also got the present and future that we're still lookin' at. You're still very much involved here with your monthly Musical Edu-Tainment series.
GW: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
WW: I have to get through those crowds to come in to do my show! You did one on Nina recently, right?
GW: It was actually for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it was a tribute to those who passed or struggled with breast cancer. It was a combination of people from Nina Simone to Minnie Riperton — you know, like 12 different women and based on their careers. For me, Musical Edu-Tainment is basically a live version of the TV show Unsung / Behind the Music, but it's done live. I read books, dig up information on the artist or the group and I tell a story showing video footage — performances, interviews — play some of their music and just try to give people insight into that particular artist. Where they started, who they started with and where their career went off to — that's what it's about.
WW: Well, not to put you on the spot...
GW: I'm never on the spot. [laughs]
WW: If you were to have a Musical Edu-Tainment event about the history of hip-hop on KDHX to this point, what would be the selling point for that night?
GW: Well, it would come from with Russ Gerard on African Alert playing some of the music that gave him the inspiration for the name of that show. Because at that time, the name of that show was based on the fact that hip-hop music was Afrocentric. You had the Poor Righteous Teachers, Public Enemy, King Sun, Rakim — so it was based on that. And that would be the beginning of the story. Then Street Vibes is when the music starts slightly changing — you had the more backpack groups coming out — Black Moon, Das EFX, Lords of the Underground — and as it evolved on into Da Science, you had the Talib Kweli, the Mos Defs, The Roots and all that doing their thing. So that's easy for me! [laughs]
WW: Right — that's something you wouldn't even have to prepare for.
GW: Yeah, I really wouldn't have to prepare for that because I was there. I lived it. I witnessed it. I was involved in it. So that's easy.
WW: If you're looking at the future of hip-hop in St. Louis and KDHX, what's your hope for what you'd like to see happen.
GW: That's the hardest question you've asked me, man! Whoa. Well, how about a curveball: how about hip-hop in primetime on a weekday?
WW: You're saying like that 7 o'clock spot ...
GW: Uh-huh, uh-huh!
WW: That would be interesting.
GW: It's never been done! [laughs] I'm saying that whole live mixing, back-to-back type style of hip-hop show — that true, raw, like BAM! It's 7 o'clock! Woah! Now, that's a wake-up. [laughs]
WW: That would definitely be interesting. I certainly hope to see that too. It'll be tough going into the future...
GW: Yeah, especially with the way the music is going. Everybody wants to curse. I'll be like, "Aw, this sounds good!" Then half-way through they start cursing and I'm like — "Really, really?" Did you have to use that word?
WW: So many times!
GW: I mean, I want to play this but I don't want to have to work to play it. You know? So you gotta start doing the edits. It's so sad.
WW: Now that I've been doing edits for a while, I have a library of my edited material. But when I first started edits, it was terrible. I was editing 15 songs for every playlist. I was dyin'!
GW: Those words are really unnecessary — that's how I feel.
WW: I used to say "wasted syllables," but at the same time, it's not always wasted.
GW: I mean, get a thesaurus!
WW: Yeah, like find something else to keep that rhythm you got going.
GW: Like, really, couldn't think of nothing?! Really?! I understand emphasis on something — but just to use 'em for no reason? That was the thing that always got me. I'd be like, they don't need that word there.
WW: I think we've about covered everything — anything you'd like to add in preparation for Hush Groove or anything else?
GW: I think people need to get their tickets for Hush Groove because there is the possibility of selling out. I'd hate for people to come to the door and be like, "Aw! I waited too long!" You need to go to Ticketfly and get your tickets. Now! Seriously! I'm not saying that on the quiet tip. I'm not saying that on the silent tip. I'm saying that on the hush tip! [both laugh] It's going to be an epic event, I can feel that. When I came to KDHX with this idea and they went for it, I was like "Yes. That's why KDHX is my home." They understand my ideas.
WW: I think that's a great point to end it on. I appreciate your time and everything you've done for KDHX and continue to do.
GW: Well, you know, anytime you all need me, all you have to do is call. Come see the Wizard.