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I frequently read the Washington City Paper as well as other news and literature in an effort to stay socially conscious. When reading, I often come across ideologies and viewpoints with which I disagree. Though my perspective may diverge from those presented in whatever books, magazines, or newspapers I read, I wholeheartedly support the freedom of writers to express these viewpoints. However, I draw the line when writers combine distorted facts and personal opinion under the camouflage of journalism. An article titled “Air Waived,” printed in the Nov. 12 issue of the City Paper, epitomizes how irresponsible journalists abuse their positions and attempt to deceive the public. As an MC and lover of hiphop music, staff member and jazz host at WPFW, and fellow writer, I find this article to be insulting to my intelligence.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, however subtly, insinuates that The Soul Controller Mixshow is the only voice for D.C.’s hiphop underground and that our fate lies in the hands of WPGC, WKYS, and WPFW. The truth of the matter is that there are several outlets for underground hiphop in D.C. DCTV airs a hiphop video show called Spread Love, hosted by Alan Page. Open mikes are held at places like State of the Union and Erico. I personally hosted a freestyle battle called “City Knights,” which I advertised in the City Paper. Of course, there is much room for growth and improvement.
Second, as long as there are MCs, DJs, beatboxers, and breakers who love this thing called hiphop, it will always be heard. Before hiphop ever blessed the airwaves, inner-city youth gathered on street corners to spit lyrics—and sold tapes on the underground circuit. I wish The Soul Controller Mixshow much success, but if they “pack up their bags” because of inconvenience and limited exposure, I question their understanding of what it means to be underground. Whatever happened to two turntables and a mike? A small percentage of underground artists and broadcasters have been accepted in commercial arenas without compromising their integrity. There are thousands who have not been so fortunate, but continue to do what they do out of love for hiphop.
In “Air Waived,” Coates has a clear and biased agenda—to rally support for The Soul Controller Mixshow and to attack the radio stations that do not wish to include the show in their programming. He poses a very personal attack against WPFW Program Director Lou Hankins. In telling the story of how Hankins “exploded into an expletive-laden attack against rap,” Coates fails to inform readers that he approached Hankins in an informal environment. Instead of calling and asking Hankins for an interview, the reporter approached him on the parking ramp, where he was taking a break from work. He also failed to inform readers that he intentionally antagonized Hankins and printed an embellished response.
In addition, on the morning it occurred, I heard Coates bragging to another gentleman about the whole incident. I was walking to work, and he had no clue who I was. Among other braggadocio, Coates (referring to Hankins) boasted, “I told him, ‘You don’t know me!’” Evidently, Coates does not know Lou Hankins, either. If he did, he would not have printed the sarcastic response to Coates’ antagonism as representative of Hankins’ “cultural taste.” He also forgot to tell the readers how he attempted to physically intimidate Hankins.
As programming assistant, I arrange Hankins’ appointments as well as review submissions of demo tapes and volunteer applications. I have been working at WPFW for over a year and have seen no volunteer applications or demo tapes from the members of The Soul Controller Mixshow. They, just like all others, must follow proper procedure. WPFW is a community radio station, but we also have protocol and aim to adhere to professional standards.
There seems to be a trend prevalent in the media. If a story is not edgy, tragic, or scandalous, then it is not news. WPFW staff, programmers, and volunteers have done several positive things in the Washington area that could have been reported by the City Paper. We invited your staff to our “Great Day at WPFW,” which was covered by the Washington Post and the Afro American.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, in an effort to conform to this pattern of sensationalism, compromised his journalistic integrity and attempted to mislead City Paper readers. I believe he owes Hankins, WPFW, and City Paper readers an apology. Furthermore, he owes an apology to himself. Such yellow journalism could be damaging to his career. In ending, I urge you to advise Coates to be careful what he talks about in public….A City Paper reader just might be listening.
Mid-Day Jazz, WPFW 89.3FM