Photo Credit: Ryder.
Drake, Please Accept Elliott Wilson's Apology
Amid the release of his new Elliott Wilson Experience podcast, the well-known hip-hop journalist spoke about the series, apologizing to Drake, and why he’s so passionate about what he does.
Elliott Wilson’s affinity for hip-hop and his competitive nature is what he believes have kept him relevant during his 30-plus years career in journalism. His resume is highly respected and his name holds weight, having served as editor-in-chief at XXL Magazine (where he became known for his “YN” editorials and launching their website) and, more recently, co-hosting the popular Rap Radar podcast alongside Brian “B. Dot” Miller. He’s also interviewed many of rap’s most well-known artists: JAY-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Tyler, the Creator, Nicki Minaj, Big Boi, Future, and many others. The veteran is a media chameleon; he’s adaptable, never afraid to try something new, even if it’s risky.
For his latest journalism chapter, he’s launching The Elliott Wilson Experience, a video podcast series by Patreon where he’ll interview rappers like Scarface, T.I., and DJ Khaled, as well as rising rappers, music executives, and creatives. In a preview of his first episode, which features Big Boi, there’s a warmth that’s on full display between the Outkast rapper and Wilson. Their camaraderie is a part of the charm, the cadence of their conversation slowed down and personal as they discuss everything from Speakerboxx/The Love Below winning Album of the Year at the Grammys to Billboard naming Outkast the greatest rap group of all time. Describing the show as a fly-on-the-wall experience for subscribers, the veteran journalist said each episode of the series will have this intimate feel because of the relationships he’s built with talent throughout his career. The Big Boi episode is one example of the candid conversations that Patreon subscribers will be able to access along with different tiers, depending on how much they’re willing to pay.
“There's a lot of different tier points,” he said when touching on what viewers can expect. “I [can] do members-only chats with them. I could take some information from them about upcoming guests and questions.” Wilson added there will also be exclusive ticket releases for events he has coming up, and that merch is also on the horizon.
Elliott Wilson and Big Boi. Photo Credit: Ryder.
Despite becoming a well-known name in hip-hop media, Wilson initially thought he was going to be a sports writer. But after seeing The Source in the ‘90s, things clicked for him and he set out to become a hip-hop writer.
“I saw a magazine that was devoted to hip-hop. I was like, ‘That could be a place that I could work,’” he said. “I didn't realize there's a music industry involved early back then and you'd have to know certain people, so I couldn't really get through that door.”
Fortunately, Wilson found his entrance, serving as the music editor for fellow hip-hop journalist (and, more recently, filmmaker) Sacha Jenkins’ Beat Down hip-hop zine in the ‘90s, and co-founding the short-lived Ego Trip magazine with Jenkins as well. After that, he became an editor at The Source before going on to work at XXL from 1999 to 2008. Now, he’s all about embracing platforms like Patreon, X (formerly known as Twitter), and Instagram to continue his work as a figure in hip-hop media.
“I think I've always been in a position where, coming from hip-hop culture, I've always been protective of us getting the stories to our community and our culture,” Wilson said.
Below, we spoke with Wilson about The Elliott Wilson Experience, his career in hip-hop journalism, and more. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Elliott Wilson Experience | Patreonwww.youtube.com
Why are you launching your new podcast The Elliott Wilson Experience with Patreon?
Elliott Wilson: Well, it's not a traditional podcast. It's an interview series where I'm profiling hip-hop's biggest artists, rising MCs, music executives, and creatives that catch my attention. It's more of a loose format than even what we have now with Rap Radar. This gives me more freedom to run around with one camera, [and] have these sort of really cool, impromptu conversations. Most episodes are probably going to be from 10 to 20 minutes, so it's definitely a different format for me.
What can subscribers expect?
With [The Elliott Wilson Experience] you get to see things through my eyes now. I’m hitting DJ Khaled and saying, “Hey you’re having this golf tournament, I’d love to come by, and if you can just give me a quick 10-minute interview, that’d be great.” After that, I’m talking to Jalen Rose, I’m talking to Scarface, I’m talking to Ja Rule. It’s this sort of great fly-on-the-wall content that you’re getting. Seeing that here’s this guy who’s so dedicated to the culture and the relationships that he has, and how immersed he is in this world. You’ll have the juxtaposition of these really, personal intimate conversations [with people like T.I.] at his house.
What are your thoughts on hip-hop’s 50th anniversary and the genre’s growth since its earliest years?
I feel like a lot of times our pioneers get overlooked. So, I think this whole year has been a great opportunity for us to really appreciate our history, especially something like Run-DMC. I was born in 1971, so [in] 1982 or '83, Run-DMC came in and they set a new standard for hip-hop. They really were the first hip-hop group to take it worldwide and show the power of our music and culture. To see them celebrated and uplifted with a Snoop Dogg that's remained relevant from the '90s and get those looks, I think it's great.
I will say though, I want us to really get excited about the future, too. I don't want to be so stuck in the past. To me, when I think about hip-hop 50, it's like, “I wonder what the future's going to be. Who are the 50 MCs that are going to be here 10 years from now, as we grow out of a Drake, Cole, Kendrick era, in some sense?” I'm excited about the future, so I don't want us to lose sight of that. Also, I'm excited about hip-hop being in such a great place.
CRWN with Elliott Wilson Ep. 1 Pt. 1 of 4: Tyler, The Creatorwww.youtube.com
Do you have a pivotal interview or moment that’s happened during your career that you feel changed the course of your professional life?
That doesn't start until 2013, so you know what's crazy about it? How long was my career before that? I had a whole damn 20-year career before that because of what happened in my era. I always wanted to be the editor, editor-in-chief, boss, the behind-the-scenes person. I wanted to pick the best writers with the best subjects. Kind of be a coach and put the magazine together and make all the big decisions about who's on the cover and what every cover line says.
I started with Tyler, the Creator, and we sold tickets to it — CRWN. People were saying, "Who's going to pay to see an interview?" I remember it was at the Highline Ballroom and they put on the ticket at the bottom, “This is not a performance, this is a live conversation.” The promoters were worried, so they put an advisory thing at the bottom of the ticket. Tyler helped sell it and it sold out in one day. Just the excitement of that, of me sitting with this new generation of artists. Then we did J. Cole, Drake, Wale and all the stars that were developing at that time. I think that's when I really was like, "Oh, I'm onto something, and people like my interviews, and I'm getting more comfortable being in front of the camera." That's when this sort of new era of my career began.
How do you feel about the line blurring between hip-hop journalist and hip-hop media personality, especially as someone who has worn both hats and has been a part of hip-hop media’s evolution for over three decades?
Well, I think that the consumers look at us all as one thing. It's all about the quality of what you're creating, your content. I'm fascinated by the Kai Cenat kid, the streamer. I finally met him at Rolling Loud. He had great respect for me and I have great respect for him. I think if it's quality and it's connected to our culture, I embrace it. I'm not like, "It has to be the old way." We're not going back to the old way, we're going to build a new way. But also, I think the new way can be rooted in some of the things of where I come from and I could teach, and there's that exchange. I think at its best, I'm still teaching and I'm also still learning, and there's that exchange.
I think the audience themselves, they determine if somebody's the real deal and deserves the attention or not. Some people will have a shorter run, some people will be around. It [also] really depends on what your dedication is to it, and I think ultimately it will always show itself. I know for me, I've been in it 31 years, and I still feel as excited about it and hungry as I've ever been, and I feel like this is a new chapter for me.
Do you feel like you get your due as an influential figure in hip-hop media?
I do, but I am also very competitive and have gone out of my way to brand myself as the greatest. I'm excited to create content this year that'll continue to show that. I'm very proud of the Tyler, the Creator interview. Doing that CRWN with him 10 years ago, it really took me another 10 years to get him to sit down with me again, but I was determined as ever. When I got that call that Tyler was ready to do the Rap Radar podcast, it kind of boosted something in me. It brought a new drive to me. That's part of why I wanted to do something like [The Elliott Wilson Experience], and really kind of go back to my roots of media journalism.
You had a recent and very brief back-and-forth with Rob Markman on Twitter. What was the root of that and how were things resolved?
I have a lot of respect for Rob. He's a great journalist. We've had our competitive moments with each other and we actually had some differences in the past, and then a good friend of ours, Jonathan “Hovain” Hylton, passed away. I had a feeling that if we go to this funeral, if I see Rob, I'm going to come up to him and try to resolve this. He actually came up to me first and resolved it.
His point to me was, I'm a great, Sway's a great, Angie [Martinez]'s a great, in terms of hip-hop journalism. People look at us as sort of the OGs of that, and the gatekeepers and the original foundation. But he felt like I kind of stepped on Sway's moment. I was like, "You know what? That's fair. I can accept that. I shouldn't have made it about me so quickly." So, I regret doing that in a sense, and I have great respect for Sway. That's all it took was a phone call. That's the thing. I appreciate that, because once you say something publicly, then everybody puts energy around it. Sometimes you've got to go back to the old school, and just get on the phone and talk it out. So, I think we're in a better space.
CRWN w/ Elliott Wilson Ep. 5 Pt. 1 of 3: Drake Talks Kendrick's 'Control' Versewww.youtube.com
Drake compared you to Yes Julz in response to your "comedy shenanigans" remark about rappers going to non-hip-hop online personalities for interviews. Have you and Drake since cleared the air on this?
To take it back. I think I've always been in a position where, coming from hip-hop culture, I've always been protective of us getting the stories to our community and our culture. I remember being at XXL at the height of the whole 50 Cent versus Kanye thing. My thing is, 50 Cent and Kanye, they'll do the cover of Rolling Stone but now they won't sit with XXL. You know what I mean? If they get that outside-the-culture look, they'll do that. I think sometimes I get very protective of the culture and say, "Hey, this person needs to sit with us." But the difference with Drake is that Drake has been very good to me. I probably have more Drake interviews than anybody. I profiled and did different things with Drake about six times, I think. We did the podcast, which was legendary. The CRWN [interview], I did with him. I had him in Respect magazine. I was the first one to bring him to SiriusXM for Shade 45.
We have a great, rich history, and when I look at it, I should have afforded him the same grace as I would JAY-Z. That this person's so big, if I have this thing, I should have spoken to him about it first or at least give him the heads up that this is my feelings, before I brought it to the world. So, I regret that. I apologized to him. Hopefully, he'll forgive me. We'll see how that goes. But I would tell people that’s the thing when you're close with artists, is that you're going to do things at times that they may not like. It's really about managing relationships and it's not always easy. You're going to have your ups and downs with people. I think that all I can really do is do what I did there, express it, move forward, continue to do great work, and hopefully, our paths will cross again in a good way.
Following up on that, could you elaborate more on this issue in terms of hip-hop media? Do you feel like these exchanges, especially recently with Bobbi Althoff, are doing more harm than good?
Well, to be fair, I haven't seen it. I didn't watch it. I think I was in my initial reaction to it, so I can't really speak on that because I haven't seen the quality. I think, again, it comes down to the quality of it. I've heard good things about the content she's putting out, but I haven't seen any of it yet.
What are you most excited about for subscribers to see as a part of The Elliott Wilson Experience?What I'm most excited about with The Elliott Wilson Experience being on Patreon is to see the community. I'm really building a community. It's almost like putting out my own independent magazine in 1992. I really get to see, on the back end, who's supporting, what their email is, the level of support they're giving me. It's really building a whole new audience and community, a specific community that is into what I'm delivering. That's exciting to me. I'm excited by it and I know it's going to be a process. I don't expect it to be instant. The money's not the motivation, per se. It's the motivation of like, "These people are saying that there's no appreciation for music journalism. Let's see if that's true.” Because I'm coming with a lot of it, and I'm excited about the community aspect of it.
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