Ask Denver's Day Butler to describe hip-hop and you won't get a definition; you'll get a mini-course in sociology.
"A lot of people say hip-hop is a way of life. But as far as I'm concerned, hip-hop is life," says Butler, the creator, producer, editor, publicist and host of the local public-access show Hip-Hop Madness. "It's the attitude. The music. The dress. The graffiti. The beats and the lyrics. Hip-hop ties into everyday happenings."
Butler has been documenting these musical and social elements on Madness, which airs each Saturday from 11 to 11:30 p.m. on DCTV/ Channel 57. (Reruns appear on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.) But changes are in the offing: To mark the series' first anniversary, Butler is expanding Madness to a full hour in length--a move that's being celebrated during a jam session from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday, October 25, at DCTV Studio B, 2900 Welton. (Call 329-6945 for more information.)
It hasn't been easy for Butler to reach the one-year landmark. A polite yet boisterous type who seems younger than his age (28), he receives no compensation other than personal satisfaction for his efforts. "You've heard of low-budget?" he asks. "Well, our show is no-budget. I buy the tapes to air, I pay for the fliers--I do it all myself. I'm the crew. I treat people in the manner I want to be treated, and I don't try to put anything over on to anybody's chest. I say what's up and I'm pretty soft-spoken. But I'm all about the music. The music moves me."
While Butler's background makes him seem like a natural for such a project (he's been sporadically working on a business-communications degree for the past ten years), he insists that he never expected to work in the television field. "I just kind of fell into this, to be honest," he insists. "I wasn't working. I wasn't in school. I was just sitting home one night flipping through the channels, and I ran across cable access. It got me to thinking about what I would do if I were to do a show. See, back in about '92, I really started vibing off of video. I watched MTV, BET and all the hip-hop videos. And what really amazed me was how bad the commercial aspect of it was. For one thing, the hosts talked too much. So I decided that if I ever did something, I wouldn't run my mouth--and I wouldn't show commercials at all. And more importantly, I'd play the real videos as opposed to the ones that are most popular.
"All the major labels seem to put out is stuff with sixteen bars and a hook--that's all they want," he goes on. "The videos are lame. They've got the naked women, guys going to pick up their homeboys and going off to do some kind of shit. Lots of anger and violence. But now that's over. I guess it had its moment when it first came out--maybe the negative stuff was fresh at one time. But I didn't want that on my show. I wanted to keep it real. See, you're either keeping it real or you're not. You're either making moves or faking moves. There's no middle ground."
With these thoughts in mind, Butler signed up for classes at DCTV and learned how to produce and edit. But when it came time to put together the show itself, he ran into a roadblock. He needed videos--but representatives from the music industry had little interest in sending him any.
"I got the numbers of all the record companies that release this music, and I put together a flier and faxed it to each of them," he explains. "Then I started on a long series of phone calls. I told them about the show and asked them to hook me up with some videos. Well, that's real fine and dandy, but they want a copy of your show first--and you can't send a copy of your show if you don't have any videos. So I went back and forth with most of them like that for a while. But then a few of them finally said they'd give me something to get started with. So after I had about four or five videos, I made an air-check demo tape and sent it out. Little by little I started getting things, but I tell you, getting good quality, hardcore hip-hop videos is really hard."
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Today Butler is supplied with videos by most major hip-hop companies, even though he winds up airing only about 20 percent of the clips he receives. "A lot of them are trash," he concedes. Nonetheless, he stresses that he gives each video a serious and objective viewing. "See, I put myself in a hard place with some of the labels, because their people will call me up asking why I haven't played this or that. Well, I tell them truthfully that it's just not a true representation or whatever. I know they could cut me off for saying that, but I'm trying to stay true to hip-hop."
Videos are the main attraction on Hip-Hop Madness, but they're not the only ones. The program also features prize giveaways, "freestyle joints" in which local rappers are given the opportunity to do their thing live in the studio, and a segment in which Butler discusses issues of the day that he feels will be of interest to citizens of the hip-hop nation. "We've talked about a lot of things," he reports. "Chris Darden, how many brothers really were at the Million Man March, the O.J. trial, Mayor Webb and the DPS school board concerning the Nation of Islam thing."
Despite these efforts at consciousness raising, Butler has received very little attention from what he describes as "the two black-structured entities in this town"--the Urban Spectrum newspaper and radio station KDKO-AM/1510. He's frustrated by this media lockout, but he hasn't let the disinterest stop him from saying his piece. "Hopefully, the views of Hip-Hop Madness provoke some thought," he says. "You might not agree with the views on the show, but if you're seeing it, I hope you would understand that it is real, regardless of what you think of the issues. There's no filter on our lens. In society, people are so worried about what everybody else thinks. But as far as I'm concerned, you can think what you want about me and the show. I know what's up. I know what's in my head and my heart."
Idealism aside, Butler admits that he wouldn't mind reaching a larger audience--and perhaps even making some money off of Hip-Hop Madness. But he has no interest in compromising in order to make that happen. "I freak it all I want; I guess that's the benefit of public access. But don't take my word for it. It's pretty effortless: You can just pick up the remote on Saturday night at 11 and get 59 minutes of funk in your face.