For Bay Area music fans, Chuy Gomez is hip-hop.
The DJ is No. 1 among younger listeners, ages 18 to 34. What makes him so popular? It could be his boundless energy, strong local ties, longevity and an outgoing, approachable personality. But the thing that resonates with listeners is his street credibility, said Marcos Gutierrez, a lecturer in broadcasting at City College of San Francisco and a former DJ.
``He knows what happens in the street; that's his forte,'' Gutierrez said. ``He can't lose that edge, that hunger, and is very conscious about what is said and what is happening in the street and in music. Plus, he uses the proper words to reflect that.''
Gomez lives the music from sunup to sundown -- his morning show on KMEL-FM (106.1), an afternoon music video program on the California Music Channel (CMC-TV 26), gigs at nightclubs and weekend promotional appearances.
All this with four hours of sleep and a smile.
``It's the same music, but it's the people who make every day different,'' Gomez, 33, said. ``It's people that smile, that's what makes me enjoy what I do.''
Still Chuy from the block
His nearly 10-year run on KMEL is one of the longest in the Bay Area and a rarity on youth-oriented urban stations.
``He makes people feel happy over the radio,'' said John Mao, a 13-year-old San Francisco resident who has been listening to Gomez since the age of 5.
Tyronica Powell, a 28-year-old Oakland resident, said, ``He's like talking to one of the homies on the radio.''
That's because he is from the block.
``He was born and raised here, has a good personality and brings that all onto the radio,'' said Sana G, one of the newer members of the KMEL on-air team. ``He's an inspiration for everyone.''
Gomez grew up in South San Francisco, where he got hooked on radio at age 5, requesting songs on local Spanish-language stations. As a teenager, he began spinning at house parties, then interned with KSOL and moved on to KMEL.
His listeners joke about towering over this DJ, who is ``5-foot-4 with heels,'' Gomez said. Along with hip-hop T-shirts, Gomez sports a rocker's edge -- a fascination with skulls, complete with skull tattoos and big silver skull rings, including one that was a gift from his 10-year-old son Darius. But Gomez is anything but intimidating.
Walking down the street, Gomez is mobbed by children and parents alike and stops to give hugs to strangers.
``I'd like to see him and pinch his cheek,'' said Mancow Muller, who worked with Gomez on KSOL. ``Like the doughboy, where you'd just like to hug him, Chuy's a cute guy. You just want to pinch his cheek.''
Muller and Gomez made headlines in 1993, stopping commute traffic on the Bay Bridge to cut Gomez's hair. The prank made fun of President Clinton's haircut on Air Force One, which blocked traffic on the Los Angeles International Airport runway. It also got Muller suspended from the station.
``We were just yin and yang,'' said Muller, who can now be heard on WKQX-FM in Chicago. ``It was good chemistry. I have been with hundreds of people on the radio since Chuy, but very few have chemistry like me and Chuy had.''
In the years he's worked in Bay Area radio, Gomez said he has watched a change from independently owned stations to pre-programmed conglomerates.
Keeping up with change
He has also seen hip-hop change from an idea to an accepted genre with its own sub-genres.
``I think it's a great thing. It makes it grow,'' said Gomez, whose earliest influences in hip-hop were the Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash. ``Everything gets mainstreamed after it gets popular. . . . It comes in phases.'' He predicts that rock-rap will continue and that conscious rap will increase because of the nation's political state. Happy gangsta rap will still be needed though, he said.
``I don't listen to a lot of current stuff unless I'm playing the video,'' said Gomez, who's morning rotation is pre-programmed. ``I get real tired of stuff real easy.''
Lately, Gomez has been listening to hard-core rapper 50 Cent and Mexican group Raza Obrera.
``I see how a song makes people react, like if people go crazy while hearing it, saying, `Oh, my God! That's the song,' and I see them throwing their hands up,'' Gomez said. ``If it puts a smile on your face and makes you feel good, that makes it a good song.''
Even his favorite groups can be overplayed. Lately, ``Don't Change'' by Musiq Soulchild has been driving him nuts, Gomez said.
``I play it too much, but it's what people want to hear, and it's not my job to not play it if it's what people want to hear,'' Gomez said. ``I put it on and turn down the speakers.''
Gomez said he prefers groups that feature real instruments rather than samples, like his all-time favorites Santana, Tony! Toni! Toné! and the Roots.
``Now, Tony! Toni! Toné! is a great band because they sing, dance and play instruments,'' Gomez said of the Oakland trio that included Raphael Saadiq, who was recently nominated for five Grammys. ``They are the full package. P. Diddy has only turntables and explosions, but it's a bonus if Tony! Toni! Toné! has explosions.''
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