Originally from Queens, J-Kruz grew up listening to East Coast rappers such as Nas and Mob Deep. He has grown an affinity for Southern rap since living in Dallas.
When 97.9 The Beat’s radio personality J-Kruz began an internship at Pittsburg’s WAMO radio station right out of college, he never dreamed of a career in the media. After all, he was a just hip-hop musician entering commercial traffic data on the station’s back-end, in hopes his track would one day air. That was more than a decade ago.
Through an anomalous series of promotions, Dallas now sees J-Kruz every Thursday morning on CW Network’s Eye Openermorning show playing videos from up-and-coming artists in the hip-hop and rap genres. His segment, The Underground, features little-known musicians who are making waves in a scene devoid of Earth-shattering album sales or chart-topping hits.
“They’re mainly underground artists that have a fan base of their own, who are established and respected in the independent world of music,” J-Kruz said.
The term “underground” took on a new meaning in the era of technology. The Internet vastly affected the way music is both distributed and consumed, shaping J-Kruz’s ambition to shed light on artists who may never surface on public radio but who are supported by the divine digital network.
“Ten years ago, if an artist dropped a new song, there were two ways to hear it: on the radio or if you bought the album,” he said. “[Today] if there’s a new song, chances are I can hop on YouTube and hear it for free.”
J-Kruz hit on two redefining points for the music industry — YouTube and free distribution, which undoubtedly go hand in hand.
YouTube seems to be the common medium for independent musicians. J-Kruz recently featured Hoodie Allen on his show, a Jewish rapper out of New York who has garnered more than 8 million views for a single video without being signed to a record label. Another one of Kruz’s favorites is Kid Ink, who J-Kruz said is “just getting into the game,” but cumulatively attains more than 60 million. These artists unquestionably have clout, but by unconventional standards.
While these stats pay testament to the nature of underground culture, the mainstream seems to be taking notice. In February,Billboard began factoring YouTube plays into their algorithms that determine America’s most popular songs.
J-Kruz’s second point, free music, means that the next could-be rock stars may not be have commercial support. It rescripts the role of a record label, J-Kruz said.
J-Kruz said Kid Ink has more than 60 million YouTube hits cumulatively across his channel.
“It puts the artists in the position of power now,” he explained. “If you can get the ball rolling on your own, if you got your own fan base and you got thousands of downloads, when you meet with those labels, it’s a negotiation.”
As technology makes music more accessible to listeners, it makes tools more accessible to creators, many who are rappers, J-Kruz said. He acknowledged that icons like Rick Ross and Lil Wayne will surely continue to sell millions of albums, but said they must constantly put out music to stay relevant. Music is becoming more democratic in the sense that the popular vote rules.
“Back in the day, going to jail would help most rappers’ careers,” said J-Kruz. “Nowadays, going to jail and being gone from the scene for a year and a half might kill your career, because that time you’re in there, there’s new rappers coming out everyday.”
J-Kruz’s jump into television from radio reflects a technology driven shift in the media, though he attested that radio is not dead. (J-Kruz still airs his local Raising the Bar spot on the radio.) He said it’s just not the right outlet for hardcore fans in any musical genre. J-Kruz also protested the common misconception that hip-hop is dead.
“If you’re one of those people who says hip-hop is dead, you’re listening to the wrong music,” he said.
Catch The Underground Thursday mornings on Eye Opener on CW33 at 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., as well as on Nightcap throughout the week.
This story was originally published on Pegasus News on March 27, 2013.