Alternative rock radio’s narrow view of listeners

Tbe best part of Eliot's show is when he is obnoxious and plays bad music. From Wikipedia.

The best part of Eliot's show is when he talks the whole time and plays no music. From Wikipedia.

The average listener of WWDC (DC 101), or any other mainstream alternative rock station (WCYY for Northerners) likes a steady diet of: 90s hits, whatever new song is out from a band whose name starts with “The” and, of course, Eminem. Or so their playlists say.

Alternative stations think hip-hop appeals to their listeners mainly in the form of Eminem, Everlast and old Beastie Boys. Quite a stereotype. Yes, there was that guy in school that occasionally mixed in the “Marshall Mathers LP” to his regular rotation of Staind and Disturbed. But that person is the exception, not the rule, to peoples’ diverse tastes in media.

DC 101’s Elliot played Eminem and Rihanna’s collabo “Love the Way you Lie” this morning (or DC101 made him play it). But since when does Rihanna belong on the same playlist as Alice in Chains and Smashing Pumpkins?  I don’t remember hearing “Don’t Stop the Music” at any time on rock radio, maybe I just missed it. In DC 101’s defense, I don’t recall WPGC or WKYS bumping any Eminem before he joined Rihanna or Drake on a track, but that is a different, though parallel, discussion.

Above: M.O.P.’s “4 Alarm Blaze” is heavier metal than anything of Eminem’s.

Why does Eminem get this playlist exemption? Are rock listeners minds so narrow they only like rock + Eminem? He is not Limp Bizkit or Crazy Town, bands best described as rap/rock or just plain ol’ “bad.” If Eminem music qualifies as rock, how does Jay-Z’s “DOA (Death of Autotune)” or M.O.P.’s “Ante Up” not fit the bill? Those are songs for moshing, not grinding, and they certainly incorporate more rock elements than the majority of Shady’s songs. This subject would be more comfortable if all hip-hop songs with rock elements (screamed chorus, heavy guitar or a live band) were considered for alt-rock play. But that is not the case.

Marshall Mathers is white, but this doesn’t fully explain his place on alternative rock radio. I don’t recall hearing a spin of Bubba Sparxx following “Mr. Brightside” a few years ago. Plenty of Little Brother songs feature Joe Scudda, also a white artist, but that group has never been blessed with ANY radio play. Asher Roth got on alternative radio, which of course led to plenty of racial examinations. If Asher Roth is in the conversation, is Kayne considered an alternative artist? Perhaps a frequent listener of rock radio can enlighten me, but I haven’t heard him on DC 101.

Perhaps it boils down to something less conspiratorial: money. Somehow rock radio stations — ones that don’t normally play hip-hop — found out that when they play Slim, they indirectly (or directly, if payola is alive and well) make more money. Perhaps way back, when people had to request a song on the radio to hear it, stations found out “The Real Slim Shady” was so lucrative they have decided to make the “Eminem exception” ever since.

It’s a free world, and as long they follow the law, stations can play whatever they want. But most radio stations make no quantitative decisions about the fine line between some hip-hop and rock music, and because they still hold sway over millions of drivers a day, this is unfair to listeners and artists. But mostly, it is insulting for a radio station to try to convince listeners anything featuring Rihanna rocks harder than Biggie’s “Gimme the Loot” or “Ground Zero” by Dipset. That’s one argument rock stations will never win.

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