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Public Enemy: The Devil Made ‘Em Do It

Public Enemy’s 1988 It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back opens with roiling crowd buzz from a live snippet recorded at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. Then an air raid siren cuts through the din, a keening wail that still meant something in a town where the Blitz was well within living memory.

In his review from that summer thirty years ago, Greg Tate’s prose rivals the sonic intensity of the album under discussion and informs us up front that PE’s disk “demands kitchen-sink treatment.” And we get it — every other sentence is pullquote-worthy:

Nation of Millions is a will-to-power party record by bloods who believe (like Sun Ra) that for black folk, it’s after the end of the world. Or, in PEspeak: ‘Armageddon has been in effect. Go get a late pass.’”

“Hiphop being more than a cargo cult of the microchip, it deserves being debated on more elevated terms than as jazz’s burden or successor.”

“PE producer and arranger Hank Shocklee has the ears of life, and that rare ability to extract the lyrical from the lost and found.”

Tate’s review agitates as much as the music: “PE wants to reconvene the black power movement with hiphop as the medium. From the albums and interviews, the program involves rabble-rousing rage, radical aesthetics, and bootstrap capitalism, as well as a revival of the old movement’s less than humane tendencies: revolutionary suicide, misogyny, gaybashing, Jew-baiting, and the castigation of the white man as a genetic miscreant, or per Elijah Muhammad’s infamous myth of Yacub, a ‘grafted devil.’

“To know PE is to love the agitprop (and artful noise) and to worry over they whack retarded philosophy they espouse.”

Below are the original pages as well as the full text of the article. And just for the fun of it, we’ve included the full-page ads between the Tate opener and the jump page to capture the musical flavor of the moment: Kiss at the Ritz and Stevie Wonder doing eight shows at Radio City Music Hall.

The Devil Made ’Em Do It

by Greg Tate

Granted, Charlie Parker died laughing. Choked chickenwing perched over 1950s MTV. So? No way in hell did Bird, believing there was no competition in music, will his legacy to some second-generation beboppers to rattle over the heads of the hiphop nation like a rusty sabre. But when Harry Allen comes picking fights with suckers adducing hiphop the new jazz, like hiphop needs a jazz crutch to stand erect, I’m reminded of Pithecanthropus erectus, and not the Charles Mingus version. B-boys devolved to the missing link between jazzmen and a lower order species out of Joseph Conrad. “Perhaps you will think it passing strange, this regret for a savage who was of no more account than a grain of sand in a black Sahara. Well, don’t you see, he had done something, he had steered; for months I had him at my back — a help — an instrument. It was a kind of partnership.” Page 87.

Hiphop being more than a cargo cult of the microchip, it deserves being debated on more elevated terms than as jazz’s burden or successor. Given the near absence of interdisciplinary scholarship on the music, the conceptual straits of jazz journalism, and hiphop’s cross-referential complexity, the hiphop historian must cast a wider net for critical models. Certainly Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (Def Jam) demands kitchen-sink treatment. More than a hiphop record it’s an ill worldview.

Nation of Millions is a will-to-power party record by bloods who believe (like Sun Ra) that for black folk, it’s after the end of the world. Or, in PEspeak: “Armageddon has been in effect. Go get a late pass.” In Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, Eugene Genovese offers that the failure of mainland blacks to sustain a revolutionary tradition during slavery was due to a lack of faith in prophets of the apocalypse. This lack, he says, derived from Africa’s stolen children having no memories of a paradise lost that revolution might regain. Machiavellian thinking might have found its way into the quarters: “All armed prophets have conquered while all unarmed prophets have failed.” But the observation that blacks were unable to envision a world beyond the plantation, or of a justice beyond massa’s dispensation, still resonates through our politics. Four decades after Garvey, the cultural nationalists of the ’60s sought to remedy our Motherland amnesia and nationhood aversions through dithyrambs, demagoguery, and a counter-supremacist doctrine that pressed for utopia over reform pragmatism. Its noblest aim was total self-determination for the black community. For PE, that, not King’s, is the dream that died.

The lofty but lolling saxophone sample that lures us into the LP’s “Black Side” could be a wake up call, a call to prayer, or an imitation Coltrane cocktease. Since we’re not only dealing with regenerated sound here but regenerated meaning, what was heard 20 years ago as expression has now become a rhetorical device, a trope. Making old records talk via scratching or sampling is fundamental to hiphop. But where we’ve heard rare grooves recycled for parodic effect or shock value ad nauseam, on “Show Em Whatcha Got” PE manages something more sublime, enfolding, and subsuming the Coltrane mystique, among others, within their own. The martial thump that kicks in after the obligatto owes its bones to Funkadelic’s baby years and Miles Davis’s urban bush music. But the war chants from Chuck D and Flavor Flav that blurt through the mix like station identification also say, What was hip yesterday we save from becoming passé. Since three avant-gardes overlap here — free jazz, funk, hip hop — the desired effect might seem a salvage mission. Not until Sister Ava Muhammad’s tribute-to-the-martyrs speech fragments begin their cycle do you realize Public Enemy are offering themselves up as next in line for major black prophet, missionary, or martyrdom status. Give them this much: PE paragon Farrakhan excepted, nobody gives you more for your entertainment dollar while cold playing that colored man’s messiah role.

PE wants to reconvene that black power movement with hiphop as the medium. From the albums and interviews, the program involves rabble-rousing rage, radical aesthetics, and bootstrap capitalism, as well as a revival of the old movement’s less than humane tendencies: revolutionary suicide, misogyny, gaybashing, Jew-baiting, and the castigation of the white man as a genetic miscreant, or per Elijah Muhammad’s infamous myth of Yacub, a “grafted devil.”

To know PE is to love the agitprop (and artful noise) and to worry over the whack retarded philosophy they espouse. Like: “The black woman has always been kept up by the white male because the white male has always wanted the black woman.” Like “Gays aren’t doing what’s needed to build the black nation.” Like: “White people are actually monkey’s uncles because that’s who they made it with in the Caucasian hills.” Like : “If the Palestinians took up arms, went into Israel, and killed all the Jews it’d be alright.” From this idiot blather, PE are obviously making it up as they go along. Since PE show sound reasoning when they focus on racism as a tool of the U.S. power structure, they should be intelligent enough to realize that dehumanizing gays, women, and Jews isn’t going to set black people free. As their prophet Mr. Farrakhan hasn’t overcome one or another of these moral lapses, PE might not either. For now swallowing the PE pill means taking the bitter with the sweet, and if they don’t grow up, later for they asses.

Nation of Millions is a declaration of war on the federal government, and on that unholy trinity — black radio programmers, crack dealers, and rock critics. (“Suckers! Liars! Get me a shovel. Some writers I know are damn devils. From them I say I don’t believe the hype. Yo Chuck, they must be on the pipe, right?”) For sheer audacity and specificity Chuck D’s enemies list rivals anything produced by the Black Liberation Army or punk — rallying retribution against the Feds for the Panthers’ fall (“Party For Your Right To Fight”), slapping murder charges on the FBI and CIA for the assassinations of MLK and Malcolm X (“Louder Than a Bomb”), condoning cop-killing in the name of liberation (“Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”), assailing copyright law and the court system (“Caught, Can We Get a Witness?”). As America’s black teen population are the core audience for these APBs to terrorize the state, PE are bucking for first rap act to get taken out by Washington, by any means necessary.

Were it not for the fact that Nation is the most hellacious and hilarious dance record of the decade, nobody but the converted would give two hoots about PE’s millenary desires. Of the many differences between Nation and their first, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, is that Nation is funkier. As George Clinton learned, you got to free Negroes’ asses if you want their minds to bug. Having seen Yo! Bum Rush move the crowd off the floor, it’s a pleasure to say only zealot wallflowers will fade into the blackground when Nation cues up. Premiered at a Sugar Hill gala, several Nation cuts received applause from the down but bupwardly mobile — fulfilling Chuck D’s prediction on “Don’t Believe The Hype” that by treating the hard jams like a seminar Nation would “reach the bourgeois and rock the boulevard.” But PE’s shotgun wedding of black militancy and musical pleasure ensures that Nation is going to move music junkies of all genotypes. “They claim we’re products from the bottom of hell because the blackest record is bound to sell.”

PE producer and arranger Hank Shocklee has the ears of life, and that rare ability to extract the lyrical from the lost and found. Every particle of sound on Nation has got a working mojo, a compelling something other-ness and that swing thang to boot. Shocklee’s reconstructive composition of new works from archival bites advances sampling to the level of microsurgery. Ditto for cyborg DJ Terminator X, who cuts incisively enough to turn a decaying kazoo into a dopebeat on “Bring the Noise.” Putting into effect Borges’s rule that “The most fleeting thought obeys an invisible design and can crown or inaugurate, a secret form,” PE have evolved a songcraft from chipped flecks of near-forgotten soul gold. On Nation a guitar vamp from Funkadelic, a moan from Sly, a growl abducted from Bobby Byrd aren’t just rhythmically spliced-in but melodically sequenced into colorful narratives. Think of Romare Bearden.

One cut-up who understands the collage-form is PE’s Flavor Flav. Misconstrued as mere aide-de-camp to rap’s angriest man after Yo! Bum Rush he emerges here as a duck-soup stirrer in his own right. Flav’s solo tip, “Cold Lampin With Flavor,” is incantatory shamanism on a par with any of the greats: Beefheart, Koch, Khomeini. “You pick your teeth with tombstone chips, candy-colored flips, dead women hips you do the bump with. Bones. Nuthin’ but love bones.”

Those who dismiss Chuck D as a bullshit artist because he’s loud, pro-black, and proud, will likely miss out on gifts for blues pathos and black comedy. When he’s on, his rhymes can stun-gun your heart and militarize your funnybone. As a people’s poet and pedagogue of the oppressed, Chuck hits his peak on the jail-house toast/prison break movie, “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” The scenario finds Chuck unjustly under the justice (“Innocent/ Because I’m militant/Posing a threat/ You bet it’s fucking up the government”). Chuck and “52 Brothers bruised, battered, and scarred but hard” bust out the joint with the aid of PE’s plastic Uzi protection, “the S1Ws” (Security for the First World). Inside the fantasy, Chuck crafts verse of poignant sympathy for all doing hard time. (“I’m on a tier where no tear should ever fall/Cell blocked and locked I never clock it y’all.”) His allusion to the Middle Passage as the first penal colony for blacks is cold chillin’ for real. Chuck’s idea of a lifer, or career soldier, is also at odds with convention: “Nevertheless they could not understand that I’m a black man and I could never be a veteran.”

As much as I love this kind of talk, I got to wonder about PE’s thing against black women. And my dogass ain’t the only one wondering — several sisters I know who otherwise like the mugs wonder whassup with that too. Last album PE dissed half the race as “Sophisticated Bitches.” This time around, “She Watch Channel Zero!?” a headbanger about how brainless the bitch is for watching the soaps, keeping the race down. “I know she don’t know/Her brain be trained by 24-inch remote/Revolution a solution for all of our children/But her children don’t mean as much as the show.” Whoa! S.T.F.O.!* Would you say that to your mother, motherfucker? Got to say, though, the thrash is deadly. One of those riffs makes you want to stomp somebody into an early grave, as Flav goes on and on insinuating that women are garbage for watching garbage. In light of Chuck’s plea for crack dealers to be good to the neighborhood on “Night of the Living Baseheads,” it appears PE believe the dealers more capable of penance than the sistuhs. Remember The Mack? Where the pimp figures it cool to make crazy dollar off his skeezes but uncool for the white man for sell scag to the little brothers? This is from that same mentality. And dig that in “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” the one time on the album Chuck talks about firing a piece, it’s to a pop a female corrections officer. By my homegirl’s reckoning all the misogyny is the result of PE suffering from LOP: lack of pussy. She might have a point.
* Step the Fuck Off!

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ROCK GODS

Now that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center has become the go-to event venue, given its success with the MTV VMAs, it may have been a no-brainer choice for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 2014 Induction Ceremony. With this year’s line-up of inductees, presenters, and performers, the Rock Hall is ready for an explosive event at the still fairly new arena. This year, Nirvana, Linda Ronstadt, KISS, Peter Gabriel, Hall and Oates, Cat Stevens, and the E Street Band all receive their due and are honored with tributes from the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Nicks for Ronstadt, and speeches from presenters Tom Morello, Questlove, and Michael Stipe for KISS, Hall and Oates, and Nirvana, respectively.

Thu., April 10, 7 p.m., 2014

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NOT A PROBLEM

With Nellie McKay brightening the Carlyle last month, and Stew parking himself into this tony boite for a couple of nights as the New Stew Review, could Uptown be the new Downtown? Not yet, Muffy. And in any case, the larger-than-life bandleader-playwright has already earned his Broadway bona fides with a little musical masterpiece called Passing Strange. A punk-rock Sondheim with a glorious gospel-rock voice, Stew has recently been working with a hot and horn-heavy band that turns on a dime at his sometimes salty whim. Look for new material from upcoming musicals, gems from the Negro Problem catalog, and some of the funniest between-song banter since Paul Stanley’s KISS heyday. So head north and pay the sucka, ‘cause few do the hoodoo that Stew do so well.

Fri., March 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., March 8, 8 p.m., 2014

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Octo Octa

Octo Octa’s Mike Morrison, a Brooklyn-based beatmaker signed to rising Los Angeles dance label 100% Silk, found himself musically and psychologically on Between Two Selves, his debut full-length from earlier this year. His songs have always been rich with longing and desire (as is the case with most house music) but tracks like “His Kiss” take it to another breakbeat-driven level, referencing his deep understanding of the genre and,as the album title suggests, his explorations of relationships with queerness.

Tue., Feb. 11, 8:30 p.m., 2014

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Carly Rae Jepsen

It’s been over a year, and “Call Me Maybe” is most likely still stuck in your head. The most guilt-free way to satisfy your love of catchy bubblegum pop this summer is the GMA Summer Concert Series, which will allow fans both secret and open to scream along to Carly Rae Jepsen’s massive 2012 hit amongst a sea of early-risers in the middle of Central Park. While you’re busting out your best parody of the lyrics, get acquainted with the rest of her delightful Kiss and make plans to see her at a later hour, maybe?

Fri., June 14, 7 a.m., 2013

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KISS Drummer Peter Criss Absolves Himself of All Responsibility

Gene Simmons: greedy, misogynistic, megalomaniacal bag of dicks. Paul Stanley: platitude-spewing ultra-narcissist. Also greedy. Ace Frehley: OK, sorta cool in that aloof guitar-hero way, but so whacked out on hard drugs and liquor for most of his life, kinda pathetic, really.

Peter Criss, however, has arguably been the least intolerable of the four original members of KISS: the lovable fuck-up, the “emotional one,” the heart and soul of a frequently heartless, soulless band. Never considered a particularly great drummer, his contributions were crucial nonetheless—his “Beth,” however sappy, was KISS’s biggest-ever hit, and his vocals made “Black Diamond” and “Hard Luck Woman” two of the band’s better tunes. But he seemed forever pushed around and disrespected by Gene and Paul. And his addictions and unceasing protestations of unfair treatment earned him multiple pink slips from the KISS corporation over the years.

It has made Criss a fairly sympathetic figure, and maybe if he’d kept his mouth shut and his pen away from paper, things would have stayed that way. But Criss, who’d been threatening to write a tell-all memoir for the past 25 years, finally completed the deed with his newly published Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of KISS—co-authored by Larry “Ratso” Sloman (who helped write Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis’s Scar Tissue and Howard Stern’s Private Parts and Miss America).

Bad move. Makeup to Breakup—through which Criss clearly intended to settle scores with his erstwhile bandmates, various KISS associates, and his two ex-wives—backfires dramatically, coming off exceedingly petty, exasperating, and selfish. Criss hardly portrays himself as a saint, but even though he details his many personal and professional failings, candidly recounting them isn’t the same as owning them. In the end, his lack of genuine soul-searching—as promised in the preface—and his persistently righteous indignation and self-pity render him an unlikable, bitter, oblivious lout.

Criss plays the sympathy card from the book’s outset in the admittedly compelling opening line, “Have you ever tasted the barrel of a .357 Magnum that’s halfway down your throat?” It’s January 17, 1994—the date of the Northridge earthquake—and Criss is sitting inside his demolished Hollywood apartment, down to his last $100,000 (cash in a bag, because he doesn’t trust banks), lamenting his IRS woes and status as a washed-up rock-‘n’-roll has-been. He sticks the gun in his mouth, then, just as he’s about to pull the trigger, he spots a photo of his young daughter on the floor and decides to go on living. Nearly 400 pages later, after we’ve been taken through the ups and downs of his 66 years on the planet, he says he’s “a deeper Peter Criss” for whom “trust, honor, integrity, respect—all those were very sacred to me.” But the bulk of the book blasts that claim to pieces.

Criss’s hypocrisy and contradictions are breathtaking, even after having decades to mull this stuff over. We’re told repeatedly that Gene is “truly a pig when it comes to sex.” But elsewhere in the book, Criss looks back at his own questionable sexual escapades with virtually no shame or remorse. There’s the drunk girl he and Ace covered with food and condiments from the hospitality table, then shoved naked into the elevator. There’s the redheaded Vegas showgirl Criss picks out to be sent to his room who, years later, he learns, jumped out a hotel window over having to “service” guys like him. (“I’d kill myself, too,” Criss writes unsympathetically.) And there’s the time he stumbled across members of the KISS crew—biker guys—abusing groupies in their room at a Holiday Inn, forcing them to, among other things, snort powdered cleanser. “Some of those guys were really crazy. But I loved them,” writes Criss with the benefit of hindsight.

Elsewhere, Criss goes out of his way to suggest, in pejorative fashion, that Stanley is gay or bisexual (a long-standing KISS-related rumor). Stanley loved to doodle and would rather shop for drapes and “frilly blouses” than drink with Criss. Clearly gay. Meanwhile, Criss says that he and Frehley used to “grab each other’s dicks. It wasn’t sexual, just stupid adolescent tomfoolery.” And, in maybe the most talked-about nugget from the entire book, Criss all but confirms that Frehley (who he earlier outs as bisexual) gave him oral sex during a threesome with infamous groupie “Sweet Connie from Little Rock”: “What he did down there, I don’t know and I don’t care, but eventually he came up for air. ‘You are one sick motherfucker,’ I said, and Ace just shrugged.”

Simmons and Stanley are consistently raked over the coals for putting money ahead of decency and friendship. And yet, when the pair asks Criss to join the 1996 KISS reunion tour, he leaps for the money and ditches his bandmates in Criss, his ’90s group that he’d previously credited with helping to pull him out of the suicidal depression that opens the book.

Later, he and Frehley have a falling out when Criss finds out he’s being paid less than on the 2000 KISS “Farewell” tour. Frehley, who Criss claims was like a blood brother to him, “betrayed me like Judas for some pieces of silver.” Throughout the book, Criss slams Frehley as “lazy” and a chronic masturbator.

Aside from one or two generic “Boy, I was an asshole” mea culpas, Criss rarely takes responsibility for any of his own failures. Crappy record companies—or the meddling of Simmons and Stanley—are to blame for his post-KISS records tanking. Others foisted drugs upon him.

The final two chapters of Makeup to Breakup detail Criss’s recent bout with breast cancer and his deep religious faith. He uses the cancer episode to get in one last shot at Simmons, Stanley, and Frehley: “Every year I do a walkathon for breast cancer to raise money. My dentist sent in a grand one year. Did the band send anything? Not a fucking dime. They didn’t even call me after I went public with my cancer.”

At the end of the book, Criss writes what’s already obvious: He’s still harboring plenty of bitterness toward his former bandmates. Evidently, this revenge memoir didn’t provide quite the catharsis he’d imagined, and it hardly provides the reader with any notion of goodwill toward the Catman. “I hope that I don’t take these feelings to my grave,” Criss writes of his anger.

He should have kept his feelings to himself.

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TEEN CHOICE

After conquering the pop charts, the box office, and the hearts of millions of fans around the world, a slightly tougher Justin Bieber dons the black leather jacket debuted in his recent “Boyfriend” video and comes to Brooklyn. As much as we love his albums—June’s Believe is about as good any pop album 2012 has yet to offer (the possible exception being opener Carly Rae Jepsen’s Kiss)—18-year-old Bieber is just as strong live, moving across the stage with nearly as much grace as his mentor Usher. Always a showman, he’ll pull someone from the audience when the set reaches “One Less Lonely Girl” and prove the title correct. Maybe tonight that could you be you.

Mon., Nov. 12, 7 p.m., 2012

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ALL HAIL PRINCE

Tonight, slip into some skinny jeans and button up a white puffy shirt in homage to Prince, not in celebration of his birthday (that’s next month), but because Prince is rock royalty and should be honored every day. The Prince Sing-Along includes subtitled songs from Purple Rain, including “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” and music videos such as “Little Red Corvette,” “Kiss,” “Raspberry Beret,” and “1999.” Arrive early to catch hilarious and rare Prince-related clips from television, movies, interviews, live concerts, and more. Later, prove that “U got the look” by entering the Prince costume contest and sexy dance off.

Wed., May 23, 8 p.m., 2012

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Kiss-FM, RIP

On Thursday, Kiss-FM announced that after 30 years, it would stop broadcasting on 98.7 FM and join forces with WBLS, its longtime rival in the “adult urban contemporary” radio format in New York City. The stations have merged under the motto “One Family, One Station, Our Voice,” with several Kiss-FM personalities migrating to WBLS’s roster of hosts.

Although all the talk of “merging” and “coming together” sounds nice, here’s what’s really happening: Kiss-FM is dead. Parent company Emmis Communications, which also owns Hot 97 and 18 other stations around the country, leased Kiss-FM’s frequency to ESPN in a deal worth $96 million. Emmis executives say that the ratings show there simply isn’t room in the market anymore for two “adult urban” stations.

In recent years, Kiss-FM was the kind of station that played O’Jays’s “For the Love of Money,” Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” and a new Beyoncé track, back to back. Its mix of soul, funk, r&b, and disco catered primarily to older black listeners. But Kiss-FM’s importance in radio history goes beyond today’s throwback programming: Decades ago, it was the first station in the U.S. to give the fringe genre known as hip-hop a chance in prime time.

Kiss-FM was born in 1981; the rock station WXLO, located at 98.7 FM, decided to reinvent itself as a Black Top 40 station under the call letters WRKS, which it branded with big red pair of lips. The station’s ratings slumped until a young African-American program director named Barry Mayo began to go off-script by experimenting with playing hip-hop, at that time still an underground sound not thought to have much commercial potential. He gave a weekend mix show slot to DJ Red Alert, a member of Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation crew.

For hip-hop heads who came of age in the 1980s, Red Alert’s show was one of the only venues for discovering new tracks. “In those days, there was no hip-hop on the radio in the morning or afternoon,” says the hip-hop DJ Bobbito García. “As a young adult, I would sit there every weekend when Red’s show was on with a tape and a cassette recorder with my finger on the record button. That show, for me, was the blueprint for what a hip-hop radio show could be.”

Although Red Alert’s show remained important to hip-hop’s hardcore fans, Kiss-FM’s real innovation was to mix rap records into its playlists during peak “drive-time” hours. “It’s one thing to play it at night; it’s another thing to play it during the day,” says author Dan Charnas. “[Former general manager] Barry Mayo changed everything when he put Run-D.M.C.’s ‘Sucker MCs’ on rotation.”

In the end, Run-D.M.C. became Mayo’s secret weapon. Mayo didn’t like hip-hop, but he was willing to give anything a try in order to beat Frankie Crocker, the celebrity DJ and program director at WBLS. The first time he played Run-D.M.C.’s 1983 record “It’s Like That,” the phone lines lit up. After that, rap records became a mainstay for the station, and in the summer of 1984, Kiss-FM became the highest-rated station in New York. Mayo had won, and in the process, he proved that hip-hop could work on the radio. “Basically, this personal rivalry ended up leading to an explosion of innovation. The war between Kiss and WBLS created the golden age of hip-hop, effectively,” Charnas says.

Kiss-FM continued to sprinkle hip-hop onto the airwaves until 1994, when Hot 97 switched to an all-rap format. Owner Emmis Communications bought up Kiss and changed the programming to classic soul and r&b in order to squash the competition. After the format switch, Red Alert left for Hot 97, though in 2007, he returned to Kiss for a more old-school-oriented hip-hop show.

“I think it’s sad,” says WBLS spokesperson Deon Livingston of Kiss-FM’s demise. “A station that serviced our community for 30 years is gone. Their voice is gone.”

Whether or not that sentiment is genuine, many New Yorkers raised on a Kiss-FM diet are mourning right now.

“I’m crazy downtrodden,” says Queens rapper Homeboy Sandman. “I’ve stopped listening to the radio for a while, but when I’m in somebody’s car, or I have to listen to the radio, Kiss-FM is the last bastion that plays good tunes and not terrible, terrible music.”

“It’s truly heartbreaking to see such an important station in the annals of New York Radio be dissolved into another station,” says DJ Rich Medina. “As a DJ, my time as a child listening to Red Alert, Chuck Chillout, Jay Mixin’ Dixon, and all the other incredible radio jocks that have passed through the Kiss-FM stable were incredibly formative for me and my musical perspective, and I’m selfishly thankful that I lived through that experience.”

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One Direction, Booster Club

The male teen idol might be the most unfairly maligned type of musical act among the rock cognoscenti—not nearly as musically skilled as jam-band noodlers, fluffier than the group of guys dressing up like Kiss and playing “Rock and Roll All Nite” at outer-borough dive bars, more likely to be derided for skating by on cute-but-not-hot looks than their female peers. So much of the animosity, of course, comes from the idea that the fans of these artists are young girls, screaming their hearts out as much because of the people flailing around and singing on stage as they are because of the hormonal awakenings happening inside them.

The newest entrant into this much-maligned category: the five 20-and-unders from the British Isles who collectively go by the name One Direction. Put together as a sort of patchwork from the British edition of the televised talent show The X Factor—each member had tried out for the show separately and not made the cut, but were seen to be more than the sum of their parts by pop spark plug Nicole Scherzinger (herself no stranger to the idea of being better in a band, having had a patchy solo career here following her tenure in the brand-extending girl group the Pussycat Dolls) and X Factor figurehead Simon Cowell—the group eventually went on to place third in the competition.

And now, thanks to a pump primed by the Internet (and a lead single that touches its target audience where it counts, about which more in a second), Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson seem to be poised to follow in the win-the-long-game tradition of such American-talent-show also-rans as Miranda Lambert and Jennifer Hudson, as well as that of imported idols like Justin Bieber, who is trying to grow up in the public eye by making jokes about a pet snake named “Johnson” and displaying fealty to his similarly famous other half Selena Gomez.

After a few appearances across the Northeast, One Direction made its New York debut Friday night, when they performed at Radio City Music Hall as the opening act for the Nickelodeon-borne boy band Big Time Rush. Excitement for their set was in the air from the moment the doors opened; homemade T-shirts fashioned (still!) from puffy paint and permanent marker declared which “team” the young women wearing them happened to be on, while a security guard stationed near the door checked pieces of oak tag proclaiming love and devotion. The crowd popped the moment a banner (really, a simple black sheet with the band name in what looked to be a font scavenged from a late-’90s CD-ROM of “grunge” typography) was unfurled; that moment had been preceded by a small blimp emblazoned with the headliners’ name launching itself above the crowd, and despite its aerial feats (whoever was in charge of the remote control should get some sort of bonus for the way it almost buzzed the crowd), it was the sheet that got the bigger reception by a long way.

The lights went down, and a video came up. Designed to count down the 60 seconds leading into the group’s performance, the clip has them all getting in a speeding van, with the action pausing on particularly attractive freeze-frames to outline each member’s basic personality quirks. (Harry dislikes beetroot. Zayn likes tour buses.) When they finally did hit the stage, the screams from the devoted were so loud they could almost be felt, like a pelting rain. At certain moments in order to fit all five of them into the viewfinders of the cameraphones that stayed, stubbornly, in the air for their whole set, it seemed like the members were gathering together. They didn’t dance as much as they leaned and bounced, bringing to mind the doo-wop-era groups that would congregate on brownstone steps. They thanked the audience. They covered Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” a curiously mature choice that had the mothers and daughters in the audience grabbing onto one another and singing along, like the younger women had with every other song. (I didn’t ask those around me if their knowledge of the band’s catalog, the sum total of which is an album that didn’t officially come out here until this week, was from smuggled-in CDs, or streams, or more illicit means of music-gathering.)

The seven-song set closed with the band’s current single, the peppy, slick “What Makes You Beautiful.” The track (No. 44 on the Hot 100) could be easily dismissed as a slick piece of post-Lavigne pop—just enough guitar crunch to make its sugar cereal go down a bit more grittily—if not for its lyrics. “You’re insecure/Don’t know what for,” it starts. And then it goes on: “You’re turning heads when you walk through the door/Don’t need makeup/To cover up/Being the way that you are is enough.” In the age of “It Gets Better” and those YouTube clips where young women unsure about their place in the pecking order ask the masses to weigh in on their appearance—and get crucified by the site’s anonymous, spelling-challenged hordes of commenters as a result—”What Makes You Beautiful” is an unbelievably canny move, a love song that doesn’t just glide over its intended’s imperfections, but instead transforms them into assets. It’s a rebuke not just to minor cruelties, but to the paparazzi-photo-sneering, awfulplasticsurgery.com-devouring culture as a whole—and it’s a message that, truth be told, could probably be appreciated by more than a few adults feeling isolated and hidebound as well.

Monday morning, the group performed on Today, filling Rockefeller Plaza after a weekend of suburban CD signings. The performance of “Beautiful” wasn’t by any means perfect; those familiar with Cowell’s notoriously sour reactions could have probably envisioned the face he made when the boys tried to hit some of the lower-register notes. (No charges of sweetened vocals here.) But watching individual members of the audience sing along, their mouths turned upward, it was possible to see awkward phases be not entirely shed, but at least forgotten about for a couple of minutes—an appeal that, sadly, too few of the people ridiculing haircuts and baby faces are ready to grant as not just valid, but necessary for girls on the cusp of womanhood.

mjohnston@villagevoice.com