Inside D.C. entertainment

Pharoh Martin of WKYS explains the 'KYS List' rapper rankings

January 6, 2011 - 11:40 AM
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Wale: Hottest rapper in the DMV, according to the KYS List. (publicity photo)

The KYS List, a ranking of the hottest area rappers of 2010 orchestrated by Radio One station WKYS 93.9, stirred up a lot of controversy when it was released last week. Members of the local hip-hop community took issue with everything from the artists that were selected to the fact that WKYS, which doesn't typically play much local hip-hop, would attempt to rank area rappers.

Pharoh Martin, an online editor for the station's website who came up with the idea and created the list with help from area writers, DJs and other music insiders, says it was meant to highlight artists that received national attention this year, not necessarily the best MCs in the region.

"I wanted to do 'hottest,' because 'best' is subjective," he says. "The hottest are those who did the most outside of the DMV this year. It's meant to motivate others and give examples of people within the city doing things outside of the city. It's not choosing definitively who is the best—we're not making that distictintion. It's who is most visible, who had the most buzz, who had the best year. And I'm not saying it can't change next year. Michael Jordan was the best until he left the game, but who is hottest can always change."

The KYS List: The DMV's Hottest Rappers 2010: #1 Wale from pharoh martin on Vimeo.

Martin also says the top 10 list (which includes 11 MCs--there was a two-way tie for one slot) was meant to introduce the general public to DMV hip-hop. " There was no better way highlight people who've been doing it the best for 2010," Martin says. "A lot of people don’t know what's going on with DMV hip-hop, a lot of people weren't aware of how deep the talent pool is. Diamond District has been doing tours overseas, Tabi [Bonney] has been on MTV and VH1, Ra the MC is getting plugged on MTV...a lot of guys are doing it, and I wanted to highlight that. That was really the propeller."

Martin, formerly an editor of Streetz Magazine, which chronicled the area's rap scene extensively, says he knew there would be complaints about the list, but he took care to make sure that a wide variety of respected music insiders chimed in.

"We brought in local bloggers, like Couch Sessions, Judah of For the DMV Only, we had a City Paper writer come through, so they could give their take, we had DJs who spin the music—our [station] DJs made a list and the bloggers made a list, so it wouldn't just be a KYS-centric list," Martin says. "We tried to get outside perspectives. We contemplated letting the public vote, but the public doesn’t necessarily know that much local hip-hop, and we didn't want rappers rallying their fans and having them vote multiple times—it would've just become convoluted."

There were also some internal debates in the creation of the list. There was talk of excluding Wale, the a major label MC who ended up taking the top slot on the KYS List. "At the end of the day, he is a DMV rapper, even with the machine that's behind him," Martin says. "But some people said that wasn't fair to the independent artists."

Martin also says he's sensitive to artists who've complained that WKYS doesn't regularly play the DMV hip-hop, but says that the list, and some of his other online efforts, are his way to bring attention to artists in the area, even though corporate radio structure makes it extremely difficult to get their music on air.

"You know, I work in radio now, but coming from the magazine side of things, I was critical of radio stations not playing more local music," he says. "But it's a business at the end of the day. Artists don't have an understanding of what the playlist is. It may be valid that we don’t play it enough, but this was my attempt, from the inside, to bring more exposure."

"Ever since mix shows were removed, DJs don't have much room to break new music--they're beholden to a playlist from corporate. Artists have to have radio-friendly hits and establish relationships. You can't come in and just say, 'Play my stuff,' if I've never heard of you. We try to support local artists, but you need a story, hotness, buzz, or you're not ready for radio."

Martin maintains, however, that things like the KYS List are a way for area artists to generate buzz even without radio play.

"It doesn't have to always be the radio, it can be the Internet," he says. "I try to use the website to put up new music and give artists some visibility, because I can be more liberal than DJs can be with a playlist. There's an infinite amount space and we have a good readership, so I try to use that as alternative.

"A lot of people want to criticize, but a lot of DJs listen to local music, they just have a protocol they have to follow," he continues. "I'm using the website to as a platform to give a wider voice to the local hip-hop scene, and do what I can on the digital side and hope that it bubbles up within the building to the radio side."


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