There are several things I can appreciate as a hip-hop listener, going from records, live performances, radio freestyles… But a good interview is something very important as well. And that applies to all other genres as well, I can appreciate any artist talking about interesting topics to journalists, but it is true that often, hip-hop artists carry a strong message that they try to convey through their music, and the media often helps to reveal that message to the people.
I tend to gain a good bit of respect when watching good interviews from hip-hop artists, sometimes even reconsidering my initial ideas and opinions about these artists. Artists reveal another side of themselves when sitting in front of a journalist, that isn’t always there when in the studio or in front of a crowd of fans.
Hip hop has a tradition of creating a strong image for the artist, bragging and boasting is a huge part of the art form, probably in an effort to put the light the unrecognized cultural values coming from the modest environments it was born in. So the artists tend to exaggerate, use strong words, raw language, the punch lines shock and upset, the artist is an entertainer and he advertises himself as such. There is a whole image of the artist that is formed and that gets people to love or to hate them, depending on their tastes, ages, values and opinions.
Since it is the most efficient image to advertise, or at least the most popular side of the artist, this is what is put under the lights, on the cover of the magazines and in the music videos. Some artists like to play with that image more than others. But it is definitely the one that the most people see, which contributes highly to how hip hop is hated and often misperceived or misunderstood.
But behind that façade, behind all the flashing effects of the music and the mainstream media, there are individuals with serious things to say, people representing a young movement, leaders of opinion with a message and often a different character than what can be interpreted or assumed through their music. This is the side they reveal when they sit down for interviews.
The journalist’s job is to try to get the artist to come out of his entertainer’s skin and be genuine, explaining their music, making it more accessible to people who do not understand it, based on that celebrated image that is thrown out there for everybody to see. Good interviews allow people to see that side of the artists, and I have sometimes found myself surprised at how well spoken, opinionated and interesting individuals certain artists are behind the curtain, and am really thankful for the journalists out there who are able to get us to see this character.
The down side to this topic is when the media is not using its power for in a positive way. That is, when feeding that façade aspect of the artist in order to generate a buzz, or when encouraging beef between different artists, overall just bringing out the worst in artists and degrading the image of the movement, instead of trying to find out interesting facets of an artist’s personality and history. A lot of today’s top artists embrace this side of the media, leading the hip hop movement in the wrong direction and conveying the image that gets outsiders to not understand it or simply hate it.
Fortunately, it is not the case with everyone, and there actually more good interviews out there than bad ones, although they do not always get as many views on YouTube because Such and such did not insult such and such, but was rather busy explaining the issues of the music industry and the place of race in the history of hip hop.
Check out this interview of Immortal Technique, Latino rapper and major figure of the ‘conscious’ hip hop, who delivered rhymes about social issues and highly controversial subjects for years. His lyrics are often rough and denounce various people and institutions with anger and strong speech. However, in every interview he has given of my knowledge, he proved himself to be an extremely knowledgeable and well-spoken individual, which is does not clash with his entertainer side, but rather completes it.
I have always appreciated Technique’s music with a good bit of moderation. His revolutionary stance and his constant anger towards conspiracy theories and other subjects can get excessive and even sometimes ridiculous. (check out Beef & Broccoli, that’s where he completely crosses the line for me). I don’t always agree with his political claims etc. But my point is that through these kinds of interviews, the rapper proves himself to be more than what he portrays in his music, when the man comes off stage, puts the microphone down and tones down the anger, we find a very well self-educated man that is deeply dedicated to his cause and to defending it with the tools that he has.
There are plenty of other examples, although lots of them may not incorporate such an effort to show a work of research and education, as this is not what hip-hop is about, and a lot of artists stick to the attitude that comes with the music they are making, but still proving to be intelligent individuals with important values and a message, going against the wrong image that is repeatedly made of the hip-hop as a simple movement of young, pointless arrogance.