Hot 97: Evicted?

budden.jpgThings might be different if this guy still worked there

It's been a weird week for the biggest, most influential rap radio station in the world. It should've been a triumph; Hot 97 announced the lineup for its annual Summer Jam concert, probably rap's biggest annual event (I should add that this will be the first time I'll have a chance of going to Summer Jam, and I'm just unspeakably amped about it). But then a third-rate local rapper went and got himself shot in the ass outside the station's studios, and everything is finally going wrong for Hot 97.

Last Thursday, Jamal "Gravy" Wollar, a New York mixtape rapper of no great distinction, showed up for an interview with Funkmaster Flex. Gravy rolled up with at least twenty people in promotional T-shirts, and he somehow ended up getting one bullet in the ass. SOHH has reported that Gravy may have been shot by "a member of his own entourage who was upset that he wouldn't be allowed to accompany the rapper upstairs for the interview." Whether or not that's the case, Gravy still did the interview after being shot. He claims that he didn't realize he'd caught a bullet, and he's enormously fat enough that this claim might actually have a grain of truth to it. He also claims not to know who did the shooting, which seems a bit more suspect.

This shooting comes a few weeks after The Sopranos ran an episode where a fledgling rap star, played by Treach from Naughty By Nature, pays Tony's brother-in-law a few thousand dollars to shoot him in the ass so that he'll gain the credibility and infamy that comes with being shot. The episode seemed utterly ludicrous at the time, but now it's fueling all sorts of rumors that Gravy's shooting may have been a publicity stunt. If it is a publicity stunt, it's about the dumbest, most hackneyed move ever made by a rapper, which is saying something. If it isn't, that doesn't make it any less dumb. The Gravy shooting is also the third rap-related shooting outside Hot 97's West Village Offices. In February 2001, Capone and Lil Kim were scheduled to give interviews at the station on the same day. They were engaged in some sort of low-level beef at the time, since Foxy Brown had bashed Kim on the Capone-N-Noreaga album that Capone had been at the station to promote, and the rappers and their crews ended up crossing paths and exchanging gunfire outside the station. It may be virtually impossible to keep track of who's beefing with whom, but the station should've known better than to schedule Capone and Kim for appearances on the same day. A member of Capone's entourage ended up getting shot in the back, and Suif Jackson, a member of Kim's entourage, was sentenced to twelve years in prison for the shooting. During his trial, Kim apparently lied to protect him, and she's currently serving a one-year sentence for perjury. The other shooting came in February 2005, when 50 Cent announced that he was kicking Game out of G-Unit because of disloyalty. Game was across town at Power 105 giving an interview at the time, and he and his crew went to the Hot 97 offices as soon as they found out about it. They weren't allowed into the station, but they ended up coming across members of 50's entourage, some of whom hadn't been allowed upstairs for the interview, and Kevin Reed, a member of Game's entourage, was shot.

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Yesterday, the Daily News reported that the NYPD had decided to put a surveillance camera outside the building. But the big news for Hot 97 is that the New York City District of Carpenters Pension Fund, the organization that owns the West Village building where Hot 97 has its studios, announced that it would seek to evict Emmis Radio Corporation, the company that owns Hot 97, CD-101.9, and KISS-FM, from the building. I've got those Village Voice connects, so I've received a copy of the Carpenters' official notice of complaint, and it's some entertaining reading. The notice is twenty-eight pages long, and it includes remarkably thorough descriptions of all three shootings and the media coverage that all three received, especially in the local tabloids. According to the Carpenters, the shootings are the main reason for the eviction: "While there is a history of prior incidents at the Building that have shocked, offended, repulsed, or threatened the safety of other tenants, Landlord, or the public, last week's shooting involving Jamal 'Gravy' Wollard (the 'April 26, 2006 shooting') was the proverbial 'last straw.'" But the complaint also devotes four straight pages to cataloguing "Abusive and Threatening Behavior By Hot 97's Guests," rappers showing up to the station with too many people and then threatening security staff or throwing fits when they couldn't get everyone in: P. Diddy (twice), Cam'ron (twice), DMX (twice), Busta Rhymes, Suge Knight, a few others. And the complaint mentions two bomb threats, a G-UNOT protest rally, DJs making jokes immediately after Aaliyah's death, "The Tsunami Song," and a rock that someone threw through the back window of Brian McKnight's car. Some of this stuff is ridiculous to the point of being really, really funny. DMX is described as yelling at a security guard, storming out, returning a few hours later and apologizing to the security guard while a cameraman filmed him apologizing. When the security guard told DMX that filming wasn't allowed in the building, X is quoted as responding thusly: "F**** you, $8.50 an hour f****t. If you step outside I'll kick your f***ing a** you b***h." That's only funny, though, until you put yourself in the position of the $8.50 an hour f****t who was only trying to do his job. And things get considerably more problematic when you consider that one of the bullets from the Lil Kim/Capone shooting went through a second-story window in the building and that another broke a nearby car window. Nobody's been killed outside Hot 97, but someone certainly could've been.

Now, a good part of the tabloid-fueled media shitstorm about all these shootings comes from the fact that Hot 97 is a black radio station with offices in a predominantly wealthy and white neighborhood. But it doesn't especially matter where this stuff is taking place; it's not OK, and I imagine that most landlords would've evicted Hot 97 a long time ago. Granted, it's not like Hot 97 staffers are out there shooting people, but the station does carry some burden of responsibility here in its role as a venue for real-time rap beef. The station lets rappers declare war on each other on the air. In a perfect world, that wouldn't lead to violence, but it does, and the station shouldn't let itself be a vehicle for this stuff. As far as I know, the only time Hot 97 has openly taken a stand against this stuff was when they wouldn't let Nas burn Jay-Z in effigy at Summer Jam. Also, they never penalize any of the rappers involved in these shootings. A few months after the 50 Cent/Game shooting, Game was onstage at Summer Jam re-igniting his beef with 50, which the two had supposedly squashed a few days after the shooting. This past weekend, I heard 50's "Best Friend" played twice on the station in two hours, and it's not even a good song. 50 and Game did the radio station a great disservice by using the station as a battleground, and Hot 97 maybe shouldn't be hyping them to death afterward.

Issues like this eviction have a way of disappearing before any real action is taken, and I wouldn't be surprised if the station comes to some kind of agreement with the Carpenters before boxes start getting thrown out on the curb at Hudson Street. But it would be nice if Hot 97 didn't go back to business as usual immediately afterward, if some good actually came out of a fat mixtape rapper getting shot in the ass.

R.I.P. Big Hawk

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