Has anyone else noticed all the rappers becoming interviewers? Miki Hellerbach sure has – below, he taps into the why, the how, and the nature of their successes.
The date is May 29, 2020. On his new radio show on Apple Music, Young Money Radio, Lil Wayne interviewed two doctors. One was legendary west coast producer Dr. Dre, and the other was director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Co-aligning these two voices into one radio / podcast episode is a remarkable feat, especially through the lens of video journalism. Lil Wayne’s accomplishment comes as an extension of a new trend, seemingly accelerated by the pandemic, of rappers diving into the field of media.
Leader and Originator
While through the pandemic we’ve seen the emergence of Young Money Radio by Lil Wayne and Quarantine Radio by Tory Lanez, it would be remiss not to mention the spearhead of this career move: Joe Budden. At this point, Budden has solidified his name as one of the sharpest interviewers and analysts in hip-hop media. While he initially got his start co-hosting a few months of Hot 97 in 2004, his media career really took off in 2017. Co-hosting Everyday Struggle for Complex grew his reputation as a brazen critic of particular artists’ industry moves.
Budden created tension with artists from Lil Yachty to Migos. He even stood up and left in the middle of an interview with the latter at the 2017 BET Awards. Frustrated with the lack of engagement with their interview as well as his co-host Akademics’ tactics, he stormed off, causing a mini awkward scuffle that resulted in many a meme. This was just the beginning. Everyday Struggle renewed Budden’s relevancy and established him as a media voice with a deep bag of attention-grabbing hot takes. Currently, Budden is involved in shows for several media platforms – most notably, he co-hosts The Joe Budden Podcast on Spotify, as well as State Of The Culture for Revolt. He also does a solo conversational interview series, Pull-Up, on YouTube.
Budden left Everyday Struggle because he became frustrated with the bureaucracy inherent at a company as big as Complex. This frustration had been building since his rollercoaster music deal with Def Jam that saw him dropped from the label during the lead up to his sophomore album. Similarly, Budden felt the existing system wasn’t working for him, a sentiment shared with many major label artists. The frustration continued within the dynamics of the Eminem-lead supergroup, Slaughterhouse, that Budden was a member of before their breakup. Though Budden’s confrontational personality caused friction in systems where he felt he lacked agency, his journey gifted him a unique point of view as a former artist. He knows about something other journalists inherently don’t have first-hand experience with: direct navigating through the, at times, treacherous music industry.
Budden’s time in the business as a rapper gives him an absolute leg up on anyone else in hip-hop media when it comes to perspective. When he engages with artists, he can ask questions that co-align his experience to theirs. This not only allows him to get artists to open up more about themselves, but also enables Budden to dissect what he views as ‘smoke and mirrors’ from artists about their label situations. One of the most memorable Joe Budden podcast episodes was an interview with Chance The Rapper. Chance self-promoted as an independent artist, though Budden questioned his true independence due to his contractual deal with Apple Music. The argument resulted in an incredible discussion dissecting artist-label relations from someone with a dicey history in the system and someone who was trying to redefine how the system can work for him. There is no way that discussion could have occurred in an in-depth way without Budden’s background.
As a former artist, Budden’s rapport grants him the ability to interview guests at times when it would potentially be challenging to get access. In these vulnerable times, through his honesty and understanding, he knows how to ask questions that lead to wild answers. Budden was the only person who interviewed Pusha T in the aftermath of his beef with Drake. Right off the bat, you could tell that Pusha had a heightened level of comfort with Budden. Budden also happened to have had a previous mini-beef with Drake at the end of his rap career, so this made him an incredibly welcoming interviewer to Pusha. Not only did Push reveal the details of Drake’s attempts to find faults in his character by paying people for info, but he also dove into his relationship with Kanye and his unwillingness to be cool with Drake, even when Kanye had him around.
Budden seemed to always have easy-flowing follow-ups to Pusha’s retorts, as he is so experienced in the discontentment between fellow artists. He knew how situations might have felt to Pusha based on his understanding of collaborative relationships within the industry. That interview was an unforgettable piece of journalism. Budden can make even the most dicey interviews conversational. He leads the movement of rappers in media as his knowledge, understanding, and quest for independence has landed him in his ideal lane.
Same Cloth, Different Style
Budden’s fellow Slaughterhouse group member, Crooked I, has also recently followed the media pathway Budden established with a YouTube interview show of his own called Crook’s Corner. His recent interview with Eminem could be considered a rap nerds dream. You hear two relentless craftsmen break down how they think about rap and who they admire. It’s a specific type of journalism that won’t reach everyone, but for ultra lyrical rap fans, it’s a treasure chest of rhyme scheme analysis.
There is an especially exciting moment where Crooked I gets Eminem to openly speak about being a guest in hip-hop as a white rapper. Due to their mutual respect, Eminem, without any hesitancy, speaks on knowing he is a guest and potentially makes his clearest statement on it. The conversation swiftly moves to more rap banter without any weird energy, and Eminem continues with personal stories, like the time he didn’t write raps for a whole summer after he heard a Treach verse. Like Budden, Crooked I consistently uses his first-hand understanding to connect with his guests in a more fluid way. However, Crooked I specifically uses his forté, lyrical and rhyme scheme prowess, to create a space for fellow rap purists to get interviewed, and for fans of this style to hear from their favorites.
Tidal, being the only rapper-founded streaming service, has also become a place where rappers can be journalists. In 2018, Fat Joe flexed his media muscle with the interview series Coca Vision on Tidal. He did interviews with artists from Remy Ma to Eric B. to Spike Lee. However, Joe’s most significant interview was with Tekashi 6ix9ine amid his initial explosion before all the snitching. Given what we know now, it is quite an incredible interview to watch. Joe tells 6ix9ine that there are police and others trying to come after him, and if he isn’t careful, he could end up trapped in the system.
Due to Joe’s experience as a Spanish rapper from New York who talks about moving recklessly in his youth, he got 6ix9ine to listen more than anyone else who tried to school him on the game. It reads just like a genuine conversation. Joe comes across as an OG, and 6ix9ine doesn’t try to troll him at all in the interview. It is also maybe the only time during that period 6ix9ine didn’t try to take over an interview. Joe tells a wild story about missing an opportunity at a two million dollar beer sponsorship when he used to be viewed as “unapproachable.” It seems like 6ix9ine takes it all in at that moment, yet it couldn’t translate to a lifestyle change. I wouldn’t be surprised if his mind replayed Joe’s warning while he navigated the court system. The interview humanizes the enigma that is Tekashi 6ix9ine in a way that only another Spanish NY rapper could accomplish.
The most prominent rapper turned journalist on Tidal, however, is N.O.R.E., with his video podcast Drink Champs. N.O.R.E. truly has elevated the game of former artists transitioning to media personalities. He brings not only the relatability factor of his peers but also a unique and clever concept. One could call N.O.R.E a heavyweight – in other words, he can hold his liquor. During his show alongside co-host DJ EFN, he gets his guests progressively more and more drunk as he interviews them. This tactic works perfectly in garnering open and enticing interviews, and N.O.R.E. always helps the guests stay comfortable by going shot-for-shot and drink-for-drink with them. One of the most captivating episodes is a semi-recent interview with former NBA player Lamar Odom.
N.O.R.E. and Odom, like Fat Joe and 6ix9ine, are both New York guys, so he creates comfortability through an understanding of culture. They even both grew up in Queens, NY in the ‘80s,only three years apart. As they continue to drink more, Odom eventually opens up about an insane range of personal topics. He goes into everything from life being affiliated with the Kardashians as a black man, his rough NY upbringing, and even his state of depression and being drugged, which caused intense media coverage. N.O.R.E’s composure is his most impressive attribute. He teeters on the edge with Odom, getting a bit vulnerable multiple times, but never transitions into a place of total discomfort. N.O.R.E. seems to know exactly when it’s okay to push and when he should back off. He is incredibly patient with Odom and anytime it seems it may go a bit left another shot appears with perfect ease.
N.O.R.E. orchestrates the interview for a full two and a half hours up until they both get a bit too intoxicated and Odom begins to feel paranoid. He states, “I done bared you my soul,” as he seems to come to and realize he potentially shared more than he intended. Even in this moment of potential discomfort it is captivating how N.O.R.E. has the ability to keep control due to his knowledge of the psyche of his guest. Where other interviewers would let it get out of hand, N.O.R.E. brings it all back home to their roots. He says, “I saw you play ball in my projects,” and it’s all back to being an aura of love. N.O.R.E. has invented a stellar journalistic concept that allows him to use his advantages as a former artist in the limelight and his Queens embodiment to create depth – and even at times, discomfort – that is controlled and artful in interviews. It’s different from any other show.
As the pandemic hit, it proved more difficult for video journalists to carry out their interviews in ways they had done previously. However, for Tory Lanez, this seemed an opportunity for him to become a media personality. Tory organically developed a concept which would end up becoming Quarantine Radio. He turned to social media as an outlet for creativity, by just bringing people together with Instagram Live at a time when we’ve never felt further apart.
During its conception, he did everything from having women twerk to throwing milk on themselves. As a host, Tory would act like an overdramatized sports announcer and constantly gives fans odd challenges. His natural charisma, combined with guest appearances from his friends such as Drake, Megan Thee Stallion, and Justin Bieber caused the show to garner a massive viewership. Lanez, while maybe not having quite as large of a fanbase as some of his guests, still makes music that reaches a large audience. His latest release, The New Toronto 3, went #2 on US Billboard Charts, so mixing his own pull with his guests, he was able to accumulate a huge audience easier than any regular journalist would be able to. Sometimes the transition from artist to journalist is a choice, but sometimes you just become a media personality, and you ride the wave.
Lil Wayne became the most recent member of rappers in the media movement with his Apple Music Show Young Money Radio, Weezy became the most legendary artist to join the movement, yet is towards the latter part of his rap career. Wayne, like Lanez, has a serious following which allows him to garner a large audience right off the bat. This move to doing a radio show for Wayne though was entirely unexpected. Over the years, while Wayne has done a significant amount of interviews, it has not always been his most comfortable setting. However, when you check his guest lists, you realize the answer: Wayne is one of hip-hop’s most prominent sports enthusiasts. He has appeared on ESPN more than any other rapper in recent memory. Wayne earned Fox Sports analyst Skip Bayless’ nickname “Drip Bayless,” by gifting him a chain and is an almost regular guest on his debate show with Shannon Sharpe.
With this new radio show, Wayne gets to make money discussing his two favorite topics: sports and music. He’s spoken to everyone from analysts like Stephen A. Smith to basketball players like Kevin Durant and artists / actors like Jamie Foxx. Wayne has proven he can get absolutely anyone from almost any background on the show, from a doctor of west coast production and a doctor from the department of health. He has expanded on what the possibilities are for an artist and journalist with legendary pull. Surprisingly, Wayne has also spoken to a lot of political figures. Wayne is not known as “politically active” and has many times made controversial statements on the topic. Yet he has talked to the mayor of New Orleans, the mayor of DC, and artist / activist Killer Mike. Though it is not his area of expertise, Wayne has used his platform to uplift political voices in a time of considerable uncertainty.
Lil Wayne’s move into the media field has potentially broken everything wide open, as many other household name rappers with longevity could consider a media path. The transition for these six guys – Joe Budden, Crooked I, Fat Joe, N.O.R.E., Tory Lanez, and Lil Wayne – has proven that rappers naturally have the access, relatability, inventiveness, and sheer skill to have a real impact on a new side of entertainment and content. If anything, it is wildly interesting to see artists move into a career path that many creatives have criticized. Maybe the reason they’ve done it with such ease is that, for the many artists they can now interview, there is a different level of trust they automatically offer to someone who has been in their shoes. For those of us who wish for careers in journalism, we need not fear this new development but could embrace the potential opportunities that we could create being in the same field as some of our idols. Potentially, we can be better journalists by trying to be more empathetic and understanding. Hopefully the actual content that results, along with the relationships built, will only lead to more stimulating pieces.
In 2016, Big Sean dropped a song called “No More Interviews” which seemed to align with many other rappers’ discontentment with the media. Hopefully, this new movement can create a space where the frustration that warranted that lyrical vent can become a distant memory.