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Amy Coddington

Amy Coddington is the Visiting Assistant Professor of American Music at Amherst College. Her book project, How Hip Hop Became Hit Pop: Rap, Race, and Crossover on Top 40 Radio explores how hip hop broke through to the mainstream via programming on Top 40 radio stations in the late 1980s and how this radio airplay affected the genre and American racial politics more generally in the 1990s.

"For Women, But Not By Women: Playing Hip Hop for Female Audiences on Top 40 Radio in the Late 1980s"
“The female rap songs are novelties,” claimed Guy Zapoleon, program director for Phoenix’s Top 40 station KZZP. “I hope the trend continues,” he stated, claiming his affinity for Salt-N-Pepa, but he was worried about the quantity of music by female rappers that he might have to add to his station’s playlist—he didn’t want to “see a glut of product.” This statement, buried in a 1988 Billboard article about programming rap, is a clear indication that hip hop’s gender politics concerned radio professionals during the years when rap was beginning to gain regular airplay on Top 40 stations.
In this paper, I examine how considerations of gender influenced Top 40 radio programming of hip hop during the late 1980s and how this radio programming influenced the sound and identity of the genre in the 1990s. Designed for a coalition audience of mothers and daughters, Top 40 radio in the late 1980s played upbeat dance-inspired styles of hip hop, such as new jack swing and hip house, which radio programmers believed their female listeners liked. These stations made rap mainstream, introducing the sounds of hip hop to a nation of new listeners. But playing hip hop for female audiences didn’t translate to playing songs by female rappers, as radio stations replicated the sexist practices of the recording industry. Nor did it encourage the nascent hip hop community to embrace these listeners. As rappers and critics grappled with the mainstream acceptance of what had once been an underground art form, they distanced themselves from the styles of rap played on these stations and the mainstream audiences listening to these stations, marginalizing their female audiences and casting them as inauthentic accessories to real hip hop.