Music News

Power Failure

Early last week, I was incensed to learn that Bonneville International Corporation, a company wholly owned by the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, announced it is acquiring what I believe to be the most valuable radio station we've got here in the 'Nix, Power 92. Bonneville will be completely eliminating its format and content, replacing it with a simulcast of the AM talk radio station it already owns, 620 KTAR.

I'm not alone here in my indignation. I'm a punk rock kid by nature, and Power is my music station of choice, as it is for my editor Michele Laudig, who's pretty goddamn punk rock herself. Our food critic, Stephen Lemons, rocks the Power all the time. Even my friend Vince Ramirez, a 43-year-old dad who drums for the country outfit Flathead, has Power on in his car every time I'm in it. Even in its Top 40 incarnation, hip-hop is something that crosses all age, ethnicity and class lines.

Bonneville claims that it's attempting to sell the brand to any takers so that Power doesn't cease to exist entirely. Unfortunately, that's a real long shot. After I heard news of the sale, I called Power 92 program director Bruce St. James -- whom I like despite the fact that he doesn't drink and he's a Republican -- and he schooled me on the real deal. There's a reason the Mormons are paying $77.5 million for Power 92: The company they're buying it from, Emmis Communications, owns a grip of radio stations, including Power 106 in L.A. and Hot 97 in New York City, but only owned one station here, Power 92. That made it an easy grab for the Mormons -- since it's Emmis' only station, that makes it the only single high-wattage frequency in town that's not owned by a company with multiple stations here, like Clear Channel or Infinity.

But there's not another high-wattage frequency on the market, and even if Clear Channel or Infinity wanted to replace one of its underperforming stations with Power 92's format and personalities, the undertaking would be immense. "The reality is that around September 1, Power 92 will likely cease to exist," St. James told me.

"Everything has its price," he continued. Despite the fact that Power 92 had record billing -- $13 million last year -- along with the ability to boast 400,000 listeners per week (putting it in seventh place for revenue out of 40 local stations), Bonneville offered Emmis a deal it couldn't refuse. "It's not a conspiracy," St. James went on. "It's the only single standing frequency with the wattage."

St. James doesn't believe that the Mormons are attempting to eliminate the only real hip-hop station in the 'Nix. He explained that it's simply the most obvious business decision to get KTAR, which actually used to be a cool talk radio station before Bonneville acquired it from Emmis a while back, onto the FM airwaves. Personally, I don't care what Bonneville's intentions are. I'm no religion-basher, but it certainly comes across as a church-owned company eliminating an element of street culture to promote a conservative agenda.

Consider this: Before Bonneville's acquisition of KTAR, the station's motto was "live, local, first," and had all local personalities. After the acquisition, my old friend David Leibowitz, the morning host, was replaced with Fox News' syndicated conservative commentator Tony Snow, whom President Bush just named as his new press secretary.

To put it in very simple terms, it's completely fucked that the fifth biggest city in America will be without a hip-hop station, thanks to the Mormon Church. "A lot can happen in four months," St. James told me, but he's not hopeful that the station will survive. I don't know what any of us can do to prevent Power from disappearing, but if you've got a cell phone with free long distance, you ought to call Bonneville at 801-575-7500, or call KTAR at 602-274-6200. Let them know what a goddamn travesty this situation is.

Affront Man

Cinco de Mayo's never meant a hell of a lot to me, but this year, when it fell on a Friday, I ventured into the foreign environs of Dos Gringos in Scottsdale for Corona's copyrighted holiday.

Naw, I'm not looking for fights with Scottsdale jocks -- I went because I'd heard that this local rapper kid Carolina Cracker would be doing his "tomato insult" show. The parking lot was barricaded off to accommodate the hundreds of damn bro's and Snottsdale sluts, and off to the right, after my friends and I paid five bucks for the privilege of their company, there was a plywood wall with holes cut out for Cracker's head and arms. About 40 feet closer to us, there was a table with cardboard flats of tomatoes to chuck at Cracker for another five bucks.

He looked like an emaciated Eminem, with a tomato-stained white doo-rag on his head and white wristbands. As some meathead threw the fruit at mach speed toward his head, Cracker told him, "You know what the difference between a jock and a homo is? Nothing. Why don't you go pat your homeboy on the ass, mommy's little champion?"

Dudes were pissed. More than one thought about going around the tables to whup this skinny kid's ass -- you could see it in their faces. At one point, Cracker actually had to remind the crowd that it was an insult show. That's what they were paying for.

My homeboy Mikey paid his money and started at it. As he neared the end of his tomato ration, Cracker told him, "We've come to an impasse -- you've got one of two choices. You can throw that tomato at my face or you can feed your fat ass." I nearly pissed myself laughing.

"That's one of my favorite ones," Cracker, a.k.a. Mike Higgins, tells me a few days later. "Sometimes the best ones come off the top of your head. That was brand-new."

I'd gotten my hands on his five-song CD since I'd seen the tomato show, and the kid's rapping is no joke. He represents his North Carolina roots with country "barnyard style" raps, skills that he honed as a teenager with a karaoke machine in the barn outside his family's house. He's made a few appearances on the mic around town, including at Blunt Club, but as a new father, he hasn't had many chances to be out busting his rhymes.

Carolina Cracker's mostly given up the traveling life that was the genesis of his career as a tomato insult comic. After getting in trouble with the law back in his hometown of Burnsville, North Carolina, and spending 60 days in jail for intent to sell and deliver weed, he hooked up with the Renaissance fair out there, where his uncle was the groundskeeper.

He started doing the tomato insult routine at the Renaissance fairs while in faux stocks, and ended up traveling on the circuit all over the nation -- much like a carny, but Cracker informs me the appropriate term is "Renny."

Once he was out here in the 'Nix (which he tells me has one of his favorite Renaissance fairs), Cracker hooked up with Dos Gringos and started doing the tomato insult routine in clubs instead, which moved his act from PG-13 to R-rated.

Despite the fact that he can make damn good money for a few hours of taking tomatoes to the dome (he tells me it stings good when his insult victims hit their mark), hip-hop is his true love.

"I started rappin' 'cause I was writing since I was 13; I didn't realize I was writing rap songs 'til I got older. That's how I got known, like a local celebrity back in Carolina. The town was a trap -- drugs, killin', robbin'. Totally a country town. Once the cops figure you're gonna do that, they've got your number. I had to get outta town," he says. The Renaissance circuit let him not only get out of town, but it let him bring his MC skills around the nation.

He cites 2Pac, Johnny Cash, and Jesus as elements in his music, and he's totally correct when he says that it's not like anything else out there. "I keep it totally hip-hop, no acting like I'm gangsta gangsta. I keep it country barnyard, exactly where I'm from."

And he raps with a heavy drawl, more so than any of the Hotlanta or Houston sounds that are dominating hip-hop these days. Some tracks, like "Pay Dirt," are slightly sinister, while "Leave" has a slowed-down emotional backbone.

Carolina Cracker is headed back out on the Renaissance circuit for a month pretty soon, but he promises me he'll be out on local stages spitting rhymes once he's back and settled in again. I can't wait to see how the rap show contrasts with the tomato show. Nevertheless, this Carolina Cracker kid is one of the biggest anomalies I've come across recently, and it makes me goddamned stoked that a talented weirdo like him chooses to call the 'Nix home.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Brendan Joel Kelley