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Burbank Radio Station Gives Chicano Rappers Airplay

October 16, 2000|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The recording studio at radio station Power 106 filled up in a hurry.

Half a dozen Chicano rap artists, all from Oxnard, had descended on the Burbank-based hip-hop station to take their turn behind the microphone for a new program spotlighting their brand of barrio music.

The hosts, a pair of former Oxnard deejays named Khool-Aid and Johnny Cuervo, called it "an 805 invasion."

The rappers, who for years have been pumping out these bass-driven beats for independent labels and underground markets, called it a golden opportunity.

"I never really thought I'd be in here like this," said Juan Martinez, 25, who makes up half of a two-man rap crew called Brown Intentions that was featured over the weekend on the youth-oriented party station.

"This is the best opportunity we could ever get," he said. "Now everybody is going to know what we can do."

After years of relying on word-of-mouth and street-level awareness to push their music at swap meets and mom-and-pop record stores, Latino rappers in Oxnard and across Southern California have found a new voice on what many consider the biggest, baddest hip-hop station on the West Coast.

KPWR-FM (105.9) launched the Chicano rap show "Pocos Pero Locos" ("The Few But Crazy") late in the summer after a flurry of publicity about the emerging Latino rap scene.

Show Lights Up the Phone Lines

Now in its 10th week, the show is designed to showcase the talents of these underground artists, many of whom have been making music more than a decade, while helping as many as possible cross over to the mainstream with their straight-from-the-street expressions of social consciousness and bilingual statements of Chicano pride.

"I wanted these Latin hip-hop artists to have a voice, to have an actual light on their struggles," said Khool-Aid, who convinced the station's management to back the program by bringing in more than 200 independently produced Chicano rap CDs receiving little or no air time.

"It's so huge that, after all these years, this form has been given the platform and the media shot," she said. "And this is only the beginning as far as I'm concerned. It's only going to get bigger and better."

The show hasn't exactly hit prime time. It airs from midnight to 1 a.m. Mondays, an hour when a good portion of the station's 1.6 million weekly listeners are tuned out.

But there is much hope that the innovative showcase will eventually find a friendlier time slot.

And even where it is, it appears to be generating plenty of listener support.

Although the show is taped in advance, Cuervo, Khool-Aid and her boyfriend, former Oxnard resident and music producer Edward Rios, were at the radio station the night the first show aired.

A couple of songs into it, the phone lines lit up. And it has been that way ever since.

"The good thing is they put us on at the worst possible time in radio and we're still having great response," said Rios, who produces music for many of the Latin hip-hop artists and puts together the KPWR show free of charge.

"Listeners are so excited to be hearing their people on the radio," he said. "We just let them know they've got to support it as hard as we do."

Oxnard rapper Vince Martinez, who goes by the rap name Madogg, has benefited as much as anyone.

Not only did Rios tap him to do voice-overs and introductions for the program--Martinez's refrain, "Pocos pero locos, putting it down for the Chicano underground," is sprinkled throughout the show--songs by the 24-year-old rapper are now in heavy rotation.

Like many of the local artists, Martinez has been rapping since he was a boy. And like many of the locals, his music is a combination of introspective commentary on the social ills and celebrations of barrio life and raw-edged depictions of joblessness, poverty and gangs.

Martinez, who works in a video store by day and turns street poet by night, said that hearing his songs on the radio is the culmination of a childhood dream. But he figures that he and the other rappers are just getting started.

"It's going to take us far. I know it will," he said. "The station is big, and everybody is listening to it. Hopefully the right people will listen to it and pick some of us up."

There is not yet any official measure of how many people are listening. KPWR program director Jimmy Steal, who gave the show his blessing after Khool-Aid's insistent appeals, said there's no good way to gauge actual listeners or the potential success on that overnight time slot.

But he said the show has picked up an official sponsor, independent producer and distributor Familia Records. And several music industry groups have asked about advertising on the show.

Rapper Gets Chance After Decade of Work

Steal said that if the show continues to perform well, he's thinking of moving it to a better time slot to see if it can really take off. And if that happens, he said, there's always the possibility that it could be syndicated and shared with stations in hip-hop-crazy communities across the nation.

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