Archive for May, 2000

FALL 1991. Hampton Coliseum.

The site of ]AMZ FEST I.

Tony Toni Tone headlined, a ticket cost a buck and three cents, the original George H.W. Bush was president, and Michael Jordan was wearing only one championship ring.

May 2000. Hampton Coliseum.

JAMZ FEST X.

Ticket prices in general have skyrocketed, George’s offspring is running for President, and the only way Jordan could get all of his title rings on one hand is if he had six fingers.

For local hip-hop and R&B fans, ]AMZ FEST has been a stalwart for several years. Organized by urban radio station WOWI (102.9 FM), the annual music festival has become an institution in and of itself.

Friday marks the festivals 10th anniversary, and with a lineup that boasts industry heavyweights like Jay-Z, Da Brat, Method Man & Redman, Destiny’s Child and local geniuses Missy Elliott and Timbaland, the festival is being billed as “the phattest JAMZ FEST ever.”

Between sets, “turntablists” – or deejays – will be laying down beats to make sure the crowd doesn’t lose its energy.

“It‘s amazing how you can just feed off the crowd,” said deejay joe Supa. “The more hyper they get, the more you do. There’s something to be said for spinning to 10,000 people up close and personal.”

The show grew out of whats described as a “collective concept” but was initially spearheaded by Ernie Jackson, the station’s former vice president and general manager.

What was once a work in progress has blossomed into quite an operation, however.

“For something so lmge, so complex, it‘s amazing how smoothly it runs each year,” said Dj Heart Attack, assistant program director for 103 JAMZ and deejay of the “Mid-Day Mini—Mix.” “We get our curveballs thrown atus, but it’s never anything we can’t handle, except for weather issues. Those we can’t do much about.”

Rainy days aside, acts like Jodeci, Busta Rhymes, R. Kelly and the late Notorious B.l.G. have all graced the JAMZ FEST stage.

“It amazes me how 103 is always able to lock down the biggest names in hip-hop” said james Colston, music editor for VeRVe magazine in Virginia Beach. “Before hip-hop took off, Virginia was kind of a black hole musically, but 103 and JAMZ FEST have helped to put V.A. on the map for everyone else to see.”

All of this doesn’t come off without a lot of work. WOWI, owned by Clear Channel Communications, puts a tremendous amount of effort into the event. From the on-air personalities to the technical support personnel and the marketing/ promotions crew, no one is excluded.

Commercials are made, record companies have to be negotiated with and artists need to be accommodated.

And, oh yeah, there‘s still a station that airs 24 hours a day. On the day of the show, don’t even think about anything other than JAMZ FEST.

“The actual day, we shut down the promotions office,” said Toni Bailey jones, Clear Channels promotions manager. “We set up shop, so to speak, at the Coliseum. We have our own dedicated phone lines and let our customers know that if it doesn’t pertain to JAMZ FEST it
has to wait until the following Tuesday.”

Tuesday? Why Tuesday?

Jones smiles. The festival “takes a little out of my people,” so she gives them an extra day off.

As rap and hip~hop have exploded in popularity in the last decade, so has the cost of putting on an event like this.

“It’s a little tougher to put the show together financially, but we are still able to make it happen,” ]ones said. She added that record labels use their promotional budgets to help bring acts into town.
Still, music industry insiders say such mu1ti·act festivals are dying.

“Concert events like this one are getting to be few and far between,” said Jazmin Perez, assistant to the music editor at Vibe magazine. “The larger market areas like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago don‘t have any problem keeping them going, but we are seeing other shows slowly
disappearing.”

“lt’s just not a financially viable option for many stations in today’s economics” she said. “If you have one that is able to make something like this happen year in and year out, then you’ve got something special on your hands”

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Lawrence Brown (rear) & Christopher Belcher, a.k.a. DJ Law and Big B.

“Boodah (Boo-duh) n., adj. 1. The incorrect spelling for a religion of southern or eastern Asia, 2. nickname for that bald guy across the street with the exceptional beer gut, and 3. unseen element that stirs and uplifts the soul. 4. ammunition utilized by the Subliminal Seduca to hypnotize innocent by-standers. See WOWI 102.9 FM (103 JAMZ)”

At least that is the definition you’ll get from Lawrence Brown & Christopher Belcher, a.k.a. DJ Law and Big B. (respectively) of Boodah Brothers fame. And when it comes to all things “boodah”, who would know better?

Law and B. have been blazin’ local airwaves on 103 JAMZ for the last 9 years, a testimony to their tremendous popularity. Yet despite their success and notoriety, the pair remains firmly grounded.

Not by humility, not by the almighty lord necessarily, but thanks in most part to their boss, one Mrs. Janet Armstead, Vice President & General Manager of Clear Channel Norfolk, the mother company for WOWI.

“She keeps reminding us to be humble because there are people who would kill for our jobs.” Lawrence offers up with a sheepish grin. B. adds that “We know she loves us and she’s just kidding but we kind of like this gig so we ain’t gonna take a chance!”

With that they both erupt into laughter. And when i say erupt, l mean erupt. These cats are some big brothers, with even bigger personalities.

And why sh0udn’t they love this gig? The last three years found the two “doing it to listeners in 3D” every evening from 6-10. The Boodahs brought some of the highest Arbitron ratings in WOWI history to that time slot.

Last January, when the afternoon 2-6 slot was vacated by K.J. Holiday’s move to the “management side of tha house” (he has since left Clear Channel Norfolk for greener pastures in Detroit), it was an obvious choice as to who was going to hold down that important drive time slot from that point on.

While their creativity is somewhat hindered by the fact that”everybody in the office hasn’t gone home yet” the two have acclimated quite well to their new gig.

“ln addition to doing afternoons during the week, we recently went back to doing 6-10 on Saturdays;” Law says. “Da Boodah Spot as we call it gives us an opportunity to give our listeners some of that night time flava that made us so popular.”

Every couple of decades an interesting phenomenon affects the music industry.  There always comes a point where the technology available to consumers simply makes a quantum leap of sorts, catching us all off guard.  When it happens, record label executives instinctively start crying “chicken little”.

It happened when the FM radio became popular and later again when the audio cassette hit the market.  When the Digital Audio Tape (DAT) was close to completion the Radio Industry Association of America (RIAA) rallied its troops t make sure that consumers never had the chance to enjoy that device.  They, however, rely heavily upon it in both the recording process and live performances.

The most recent of the “leaps” occurred late last year.  Two teenage college students, Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, launched the MP3 sharing program called Napster and the current paradigm for how the industry conducts it’s business was rendered obsolete overnight.

For those of you who are familiar with Napster and all of the issues surrounding it, we apologize for the following oversimplification.  For all of you others here is the Cliff’s Notes version of things.

Fanning and Parker were attending Boston’s Northeastern U. when they decided to do something about the relatively non-existent way to easily locate and retrieve music (MP3 files) via the internet.  After an enormous amount of work the two came up with a simple, user-friendly program to do just that.

How easy is this thing to use you say?  All one has to do is to go to the company’s site and download the Napster software onto your computer.  Once you establish a user name and log into the system just search for the songs you want by artist or title name.  The program scans the available songs of any and all users that are currently online and populates them in a nice tidy list for your perusal.  Then all you do is point & click.  Minutes later they are all yours.

And it’s all free.  Free like “fell off the back of a truck in Brooklyn”.  And that is what has the RIAA in an uproar.

Needless to say the site’s popularity spread like wildfire.  It launched in November of ’99 and by February Indiana University officials noticed two-thirds fo their internet bandwidth was routinely dedicated to the site.  Things got so bad that the school had no choice but to install a filter to block the service.  Since then over 100 other colleges and universities have had to do the same.

In an effort to bulkhead against this hurricane called Napster the RIAA filed a motion to shut down what it calls the “music pillaging website”.  Lawsuits form Metallica and Dr. Dre quickly followed.  Metallica, who ironically enough attributes their meteoric rise to fame to underground mixtapes fans used to circulate (the pre-historic version of file sharing perhaps?), has had mixed success in the courts over the last few months.

Initially the band coerced Napster into banning over 300,000 users who had downloaded their music via the site, citing the enigmatic Digital Millenium Copyright Act.  Unfortunately for the group, Napster reinstated the exiled users when Metallica failed to file suit against each and every offender withing ten days, as required by the same piece of legislation.

Dr. Dre’s lawsuit comes on the heels of one of my favorite “music biz” moments.  His Aftermath Record’s label was forced to release Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP weeks ahead of schedule when an L.A. radio station downloaded the single “The Real Slim Shady” from Napster and put it into heavy rotation.

In an effort to fend off the packs of rabid lawyers nippin’ at their heels the company has brought in some big guns of their own, most notably one David Boies.  Boies is the lawyer that spear-headed the U.S. Governments efforts to break up Microsoft.  Rut-ro-raggy.

He argues that not only are his clients not responsible for the actions of the people who use their site, but that the five companies that control 90% of the recorded music sales in the U.S. are in violation of federal anti-trust laws.

Simply put, it’s fixin’ to get ugly.

Copycat sites are popping up like zits on prom night, artists are divided over whether or not they support Napster and potential music customers are not altogether happy with being labeled as “thieves”.  Those crazy kids Fanning and Parker are even sponsoring a free concert tour headlined by Limp Bizkit and Cypress Hill in a brilliant public relations move.

As it stands now, the laws governing these issues are entirely too vague to offer hope for an immediate resolution.  The legislators in Congress are moving, albeit slowly, in an effort to avoid stifling the boom internet based companies have put into the economy.  The task of doing so while protecting the artists rights seems to be a daunting one.

What happens next is anybody’s guess.  I personally envision a future that finds us paying a modest monthly fee, five bucks sounds about right, in order to get our downloading fix.

But one thing is certain.  Things will never be the same again.

To underscore this point I will leave you with the following:  The last six months have seen something unprecedented.  For the first time in the existence of the World Wide Web sex related files were NOT the most researched/retrieved ones on the Internet.  If that isn’t a sobering fact then I don’t know what the hell is.