Hip Hop Interviews 101: How To Turn Any Interview Into Every Interview
On Friday night, Bill Maher interviewed Jay-Z. I took a break from working on the creative arts to watch it. Virgil and I just got back from speaking with Dres of Black Sheep, and I was looking forward to Bill Maher getting into it with Jay-Z. My relationship with Bill Maher is an interesting one, and by relationship I mean, the way I feel about his show. He’s kind of like the annoying kid that gets it right sometimes. There are episodes where he nails it, and there are others where he just seems cocky and his jokes are only funny to himself. I didn’t know which Bill Maher would show up, and unfortunately, it was the later. I stand by this assessment even though I maybe the only one. I know a lot of people liked the interview, but Bill’s questions about Jay-Z’s start in Hip Hop, his method of not writing his rhymes, and the name association game that included such surprising entries as Tupac, and the Notorious B.I.G. were all old hat, and it felt like I was watching an interview I’d already seen before, and knew the answers to. Keeping in the spirit of education, I’ve compiled some other questions that make up interviewing 101. These are all questions you’re likely to see again…and again…and again…but, hopefully this will be the only time they make their way to RubyHornet. Peep game below and see “Hip Hop Interviews 101…”
The formula for a Hip Hop interview:
Where are you from?
Since Hip Hop is so turf-centric, a rapper’s place of origin is usually listed in their bio in paragraph one, sometimes sentence one, and sometimes even word one such as “Oakland independent artist….” But since you haven’t read the bio, nor checked myspace, just ask away. It lends itself to intriguing and complex follow-ups such as “how has it influenced your sound” or the even more open-ended “how are you different than other artists from your region”. If you’re interviewing a relatively regional New York artist you can throw something in about “bringing New York back” and/or mention how it is now the South’s turn…
So, tell me how you met ________________.
Don’t you love this question? Since the co-sign is so important, most artists you’re interviewing have to have at least one person you have heard of vouch for them. Sometimes you strike lazy journalist gold and the interviewee has connections to someone like Lil’ Wayne or Kanye West. While this is also probably the question they’re asked the most, and could be easily answered if you read their bio, you didn’t read their bio, and this question is a lay up.
So, what are your thoughts on the current state of the game?
Ah, the game. That’s an easy one. Whether they’re old and bitter, or young and still somewhat wide-eyed, everyone has an opinion on “the game”, or as some may refer to it as “the hustle” (don’t get thrown off by semantics). This is also a question that allows you to do some last minute planning, as they’re likely to ramble on in a non-cohesive response, saying something about “balance” and “co-signs”, things “missing” and again “bringing something back”.
How do you separate yourself from other artists?
That’s a good one. Likely responses include, “my rhymes are real” or “I make music people can relate to” or the ever-popular, “these dudes are pussies and they’re not real.”
Who influenced your style?
Lil’ Wayne, Rakim, Jay-Z, Biggie, Tupac, Eminem, Nas, Kanye are some likely responses to this question. You’ll get a couple KRS’, and perhaps some Kool G Rap’s and Big Pun’s, maybe even a Common here and there. This is a fast ball right down the middle of the plate, and you can also spin this into two questions by following up with the question on everybody’s mind, “who do you listen to now?” Some artists will give some shout outs, while another popular response is “I don’t really listen to Hip Hop anymore.”
Bring up something that was really successful or a high point in the artist’s career
Remember those Chris Farley Saturday Night Live skits where he would interview famous people like Paul McCartney and say things like, “remember when you were in the Beatles?…That was awesome.” Well, if you’re stuck with seven minutes left in your interview time, just bring up a well known and talked about event from the past, that’s good for a minute or two.
Who do you want to work with in the future?
Great way to end the interview, and good thing, cause you were drowning there. Just ask away and wait for them to name off famous people that everyone wants to work with.
Give a shout out…
This is a pretty standard ending, even good interviewers need a way to end things and let artists get their last key talking points out.
And there you have it, keep this in your pocket and anytime you were too busy to do research, or just didn’t care enough, pull this out and you’re good to go.