If you’ve ever found yourself spinning through the radio dials on a Sunday night, or have attended a hip-hop concert, open mic, or rap-battle competition here in the Twin Cities, you’re probably familiar with Go 95.3’s on-air radio DJ & Editor-in-Chief of GoRadioMN.com, Chaz Kangas.
Born and raised here in Minnesota, Chaz left in 2004 to attend college in New York where he made a name for himself as a hip-hop artist and ruthless battle-rapper who would, among other things, become roommates at NYU with a kid named Donald Glover and work with him on his early projects like “My Hoodie” after he began performing under the name Childish Gambino.
Chaz lived in New York for eleven years and spent time contributing to outlets such as The New York Times, Complex, Village Voice, and LA Weekly, but eventually made it back here to the Twin Cities in 2016 and started working at Minneapolis’s Go 95.3 as the Editor of the station’s website as well as an on-air DJ.
Of all the work he does at Go Radio, the most notable would be his hosting of ‘First Impressions with Chaz Kangas,’ a show which has hit #1 in the ratings and landed him two City Pages Readers Choice Best Radio Personality Finalist nominations.
There are very few people in the industry, or in the world in general, as kind and passionate about up and coming music as Chaz Kangas. I’m just one of many people who can point back to the feeling they get listening to their music on his show. – Nur-D
Since it’s inception, ‘First Impressions’ has become a weekly one-stop-shop for anything and everything in the Twin Cities hip-hop scene and has been the first place you can hear countless records before they blow up all over the country.
Over the course of the show’s history, Chaz has played songs from hundreds of Twin Cities-based artists, oftentimes giving them the only chance they’ll get to hear their song played on the radio in this market. He’ll also follow up to chat with them regularly, offering guidance and advice to assist the artists he feels have the skills and initiative to make a living doing what they love.
In preparation for another milestone in the show’s history, and while still respecting social-distancing rules, I sat down with Chaz to chat with him about his favorite memories from over the years and what we can expect from Episode #200 and beyond.
In addition to chatting with him for this article, I also talked to a few artists who have been in regular rotation on ‘First Impressions’ over the years to share their thoughts, which you’ll see sprinkled throughout this article.
— Chaz Kangas (@Chazraps) April 27, 2020
For anybody who has never listened to the show, tell us what we could expect to hear on a typical episode of First Impressions?
Chaz: First Impressions is the ideal two hours to cap off a weekend featuring the best in hip-hop’s indieground, underground, local, international, bootlegs, and deep cuts. All corners of the hip-hop map are represented and presented with a proper playlist and context, alongside updates on everything happening in the community and culture. All your favorites, artists you didn’t know you loved yet, and the stars of tomorrow.
What are some of your favorite interviews or most memorable episodes in the show’s history?
Chaz: The very first guest was Slug from Atmosphere, and that really helped set the tone for the show. He stopped by the station for an interview with Mr. Peter Parker, had some extra time and we spontaneously had a great conversation that started with discussing his latest video and wound up covering our Prince collections. I’d known him about a decade at that point and interviewed him in the past for Village Voice and LA Weekly. Getting to take our conversations from print to radio really set the bar for what I wanted to do with the show and give listeners a chance to appreciate exactly what I find so compelling about so many artists.
I was very fortunate to get to speak to Nipsey Hussle when he stopped by the station, he was so thoughtful and I treasure getting to play the drop he did for me. Getting to talk to such a diverse array of hip-hop innovators like Sammus, Open Mike Eagle, Lil Flip, Shad, Tech N9ne, Sage Francis and B. Dolan, Dounia, Mega Ran, and so many more is a dream come true.
Arsenio Hall was a great interview, it was great hearing his perspective of bringing so many hip-hop artists nationwide and bringing such a different vision to the late-night talk show format. Joel Hodgson, the creator & star of Mystery Science Theater 3000, has always been a hero of mine, and getting to help spotlight such a Minnesota institution during the rise of its revival was really cool.
Plus, being able to put a spotlight on wrestlers and tap into the Twin Cities wrestling scene has been a nice added bonus. Current favorites like F1rst Wrestling’s Arik Cannon, legends like Scott “Flash” Norton, icons like Chris Jericho and former Governors like Jesse Ventura have been a lot of fun.
Outside of the interviews, I do have a few episodes that have become annual traditions. The week of the anniversary of Prince’s death I play two hours of nothing but Prince B-Sides and bootlegs – being a huge Prince fan I love getting to share some outstanding work of his to listeners who may have never heard it, including live recordings from my personal collection.
Chaz is one of the funniest and nicest guys he has always been open about helping others and using his voice and status to help other artist. He is a big part of this scene and I want to say thank you for everything he has done. – Dwynell Roland
Thanksgiving weekend I also have fun playing “Second Helpings” where I play an artist’s current single back-to-back with something from their catalog. Plus, the night of Soundset essentially getting to host an on-air afterparty is always a blast as I make a playlist of my favorite selections from all the artists who performed that day.
A favorite memory of the show was helping a high school senior ask his girlfriend to prom. Their song was Wiz Khalifa’s “Something New,” so I got DJ Bonics on-air to ask her on behalf of him to go to the prom with him, and she heard it unsuspectingly as they both were driving together. They’re never going to forget that, and it feels really special to be a part of someone’s prom memory.
Where do you think the Twin Cities ranks nationally in terms of the music that comes out of here, and who are a few of your favorite local up-and-comers?
Chaz: We, at the very very least, have a top-five music scene in the country. Being so close to it, I’m not sure how many artists and listeners here realize that, not just nationally, but internationally the Twin Cities music scene is so revered.
I was in Tokyo for New Years not too long ago and seeing shirts that said “Minneapolis” on them in purple for sale all over was surreal. We have so many decades of artists across so many genres with so many unique sounds.
Not once have I seen him without a smile. He’s not your run-of-the-mill radio personality. He’s our friend! – LVNDSCVPES
Personally speaking, moving to New York in 2004 from Minneapolis gave me an advantage over other transplants from other cities. NYC is a tough nut to crack for outsiders, but being able to say “Minneapolis” gave me at least two or three different topics of conversation to bond with the artists out there and get presented opportunities sooner than it seems it would have otherwise taken me.
Right now there are so many different artists going in so many different directions that I’m glad I have two hours a week to attempt to keep track of it all on air. Lizea Harper’s “Cherry” was my favorite song made by anybody, not just locally, but anybody last year. Nur-D is making one outstanding project after another with an amazing live show to back it up.
Ka Lia Universe is bringing such a refreshing different vibe with an excellent voice and high concept material. Nyasia exhibits such a fresh avant-garde fearlessness that brings a real unpredictability to the dance floor. And then you have artists like Solana, Soda Supreme, Just Wulf who have a strong very consistent body of work who it seems more people are just now realizing how excellent their music is.
You’re a huge advocate for inclusion within the music industry, and have made mental health a recurring topic on the show; why are these topics so important to you and what kind of progress have you seen within the industry since you began the show?
Chaz: I appreciate you mentioning that. What I recall initially drawing me to hip-hop back when I was still in single-digit age and seeing the videos, were all these over-the-top personalities that were all so different.
Back in the day, having television as a window to the world and seeing these larger-than-life characters like Busta Rhymes back to back with Mobb Deep back to back with Redman back to back with UGK back to back with Outkast, it really felt like hip-hop was a culture that could and would embrace all as long as you weren’t trying to diss someone else unprovoked. It, by its very existence, champions and thrives on self-confidence in individuality.
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You may not enjoy every new voice or style or trend, but that voice/style/trend may be what inspires that next artist who you absolutely love so there’s an ultimate benefit is having such a diverse array of perspectives in the medium.
Hip-hop can be for everyone, and I’ve tried to use this two hour Sunday night block to show how great that can be. My first year on-air was 2016, and that was such a particularly outstanding year for women in hip-hop, it set the tone ever since. I listen to every song I get sent, and man/woman/non-binary, if someone’s making a great song, I want to hear it and then I want to share it.
As for mental health, that’s a topic where it seems just now very, very recently the stigma is starting to loosen up. There’s an outstanding battle rapper named Carter Deems, who is now a cast member on MTV’s ‘Wild ‘N Out,’ and I’ve known him for the lion’s share of a decade. He made a social media post in 2016 about his own mental health efforts, and it really struck me and was kind of the last push I needed to look deeper into seeking out my own assistance. It’s been a tremendous help to me, and I’ve tried to pay Carter’s enlightenment forward by openly advocating for mental health on-air.
If this world had more people like Chaz Kangas in it we would all be better for it. – Nur-D
It especially felt pressing in 2018 when there was an unfortunate amount of misrepresentation about mental health and outright bad toxic “advice” coming from one of the genre’s loudest voices, so I really wanted to balance that out as much as possible. Anxiety sucks, OCD sucks, depression sucks – sometimes it can just feel really validating to hear another voice openly acknowledge that. It’s real, and I’m by no means a mental health expert, but I am someone who can listen and hopefully help point someone in the right direction.
You’ve continued to host live shows every Sunday throughout the COVID-19 pandemic; how has this impacted the show and what can we do to help support some of these local artists who might be struggling right now?
Chaz: I do the show in a mask and gloves now. I don’t set foot outside of the front door of my apartment without them, so aesthetically the first few weeks I looked and felt like I was preparing for Mortal Kombat.
In all seriousness, the hardest parts personally about COVID-19 for me have been the isolation (I have no roommates, no pets, and am doing this thing alone) and the lack of control over coming to terms with my old world/routine/life being wholly disrupted. Having ‘First Impressions,’ I realized that every week no matter what happens the rest of those six days (and some have really, really been tough), I still have these two hours on a Sunday night that I have absolute control of and that at a time where everything once thought consistent has been disrupted, I can still maintain doing these two hours of new music and shared intimate presence every Sunday night.
I’m very grateful Go 95.3 has allowed me to continue to have these two hours and to provide a voice both of comfort and of representation to those of us who may feel overlooked by the bulk of mainstream COVID-19 coverage.
I’d like to encourage people to buy music or merch from your favorite artists. Even if you have a streaming subscription, it’s awesome you want to support, but buying an album is such a direct way to give them money when they need it.
A one time purchase makes a big deal, and then you have their music forever without your listening habits being contingent on the whims of whoever is running the streaming service. It’s a win-win! Digital copies are cheaper than ever and the bigger distributors like Bandcamp and CDBaby are hosting days where the artists get even more of the money from the releases.
Any exciting plans for the 200th Episode?
Chaz: I’m going to be playing some Childish Gambino music that has never been broadcast before anywhere. I have some of my NYU dormmate Donald Glover’s earlier material that seems to somehow have still never made its way to the internet, so getting to finally share that will be fun.
I also have some new music of my own that I’ve been looking forward to sharing. Plus, some of my favorite songs of the past four years and three or four throwbacks that capture everything I like about hip-hop. I’d say there’s going to be some surprise guests too, but that might by definition make it no longer a surprise, so I’m not going to say that.
What can we expect out of the next 200 episodes of First Impressions?
Chaz: I really want to do more conceptual shows and spotlights. Doing more shows live on location has been an idea for a while, and when #StayAtHome ends I’m going to explore some fun areas. I also tested the waters a few months ago and asked on social media if anyone would like to hear a chopped-and-screwed episode and that was met with an overwhelmingly positive response, so if I can find enough Screwtapes that are broadcast quality I’ll definitely be looking into that.
Really, the one thing I can promise is that as long as artists are continuing to push the envelope and make hip-hop, I’ll have two ears, a heart and my finger on the play button to give them a listen and a platform.
Oh, and I’d also love to interview Jean-Claude Van Damme, so hopefully putting this out into the universe will help that happen.
Chaz Kangas is one of the most interesting and inspirational people I’ve ever had the chance to encounter, as well as one of the most generous and caring individuals to call the Twin Cities their home. It was a pleasure to work alongside him at Go Radio, and an even bigger one to still be able to call him a friend.
Make sure to tune in to a very special episode of ‘First Impressions with Chaz Kangas’ on Sunday night at 10:00 PM!