Angie Martinez’s unexpected defection from Hot 97 is official. Come July, the pioneering hip-hop radio host will take the reins of the weekday afternoon slot at NYC rival Power 105.3, with an earlier midday shift on Miami’s 103.5 The Beat.
Martinez, 43, was the station’s foremost lifeline to the biggest names in hip-hop. Funkmaster Flex may be Hot 97’s biggest personality, but Angie Martinez has been long established as the station’s most cherished. As morning co-host Peter Rosenberg put it, “If you picture a New York day, a summer afternoon, a bodega, the radio’s on, it’s Angie Martinez’s voice.” She’s not leaving the city but she’s redefining both herself and the Hot 97 brand.
This surprise shakeup hits Hot 97 at a sore moment in its own history, and in the grand scheme of rap radio. Once more, we’re forced to consider the future of hip-hop in New York.
At the forefront of such recent hand-wringing, several hip-hop veterans have formed something of a New York loyalist guard. In the weeks after Summer Jam, Chuck D, Combat Jack, Dame Dash, and Star have challenged credibility of Hot 97 hosts Ebro Darden and Peter Rosenberg, transplants from Northern California and Southern Maryland, respectively. Power 105’s foremost talent, Charlamagne Tha God, is from small-town South Carolina. In the past couple years, both stations have aggressively promoted a few upstart New York rappers, such as Joey Bada$$, Flatbush Zombies, and Troy Ave, as their best answer to listener complaints that New York’s hometown and imported DJs alike don’t play and promote enough “real” rap.
But the boundless pitting of past vs. future, and New York vs. Atlanta, is WWE farce compared to the true commercial stakes: FM radio vs. the wider broadcast world. While Power saps Hot’s audience share, hip-hop culture is circumventing the medium at various turns, largely via the Internet. Websites compete to debut new music and break artists from Soundcloud and local mixtape notoriety. Talk formats like the Combat Jack Show and Shade 45, hosted as podcasts and satellite radio programming, compete to offer lively analysis and shit-talking via on-air personalities.
As far as the rappers are concerned, it’s still a career milestone and boost to sit down with Funkmaster Flex and the morning radio crews. But those hosts are hardly the gatekeepers they once were. Last week, when the Breakfast Club’s DJ Envy and co-host Charlamagne confessed that despite Chance the Rapper’s critical acclaim and vocal fanbase, they’ve never listened to a song from dude, they hinted at their own obsolescence. While FM radio is essential listening for commuters and hardcore fanbase, there’s little offered by the radio stations that satellite and the online ecosystem don't offer faster (not to mention unedited) and without the monotony of radio’s latest Top 10.
Writing for HipHopDX in 2012, Nadine Graham summarized this new state of play: “Radio is still fairly important, but today it isn’t the only way to have a career in Hip Hop.” Graham was addressing artists’ prospects, but the same is true of the hosts. This month-plus of social media slapboxing among the broadcast squads is the inevitable result of a market that rewards charisma over taste, since consumer research and major label influence molds the programming.
Angie’s departure isn’t the end of Hot 97, and I doubt that Power 105 will be Angie’s last stop. Lucrative as her new contract probably is—Ebro hinted that she negotiated a 100 percent salary increase—there’s always the promise and autonomy of satellite, and for those so telegenic as Angie Martinez, there’s cable. There’s Hollywood. Just ask Charlamagne, whose latest fame frontiers are MTV and iTunes podcasting. There’s a glorious future beyond Hot and Power and New York drive time.
Justin Charity is a staff writer at Complex. He tweets here.