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The Line Between Hip-Hop Journalist & Personality Is Only Getting More Blurry
The line between hip-hop journalist and online personality continues to blur as figures ranging from DJ Akademiks to N.O.R.E. practice music journalism without adhering to its ethics or standards.
Since 2018, when this piece was first published, the line between hip-hop journalist and online personality has continued to blur. Initially, people like No Jumper's Adam22 and DJ Akademiks were the focus, the two a representation of how certain online personalities had made a name for themselves covering the more seedy and sensationalist parts of rap. The former interviewed up-and-coming rappers who would become stars — like Lil Yachty, Trippie Redd, Suicide Boys, and XXXTentacion — while the latter provided everything from projected album sales to comedic quips about rap headlines — often in a way that infused the provocateuse of fellow media personalities Charlamagne Tha God and DJ Vlad with the flamboyant tone of gossip sites like Bossip and Media Take Out. They became go-to sources for the casual rap fan. So much so that these fans began to call them music "journalists" — even though they aren't. Fast-forward four years, and the problem persists. Adam22's most recent popular interviews are primarily with non-rappers, ranging from fellow media personalities like DJ Vlad to Nation of Islam social media influencer Rizza Islam. He also has a "No Jumper News" segment (it's worth noting that Adam22 doesn't actually host these) that has some of his most viewed videos recently, likely because of the sensationalist rap stories that tend to be highlighted. (For example, one of these most viewed videos is about a sex tape that artist and influencer Chrisean Rock shared of herself and rapper Blueface). Akademiks still covers projected album sales and rap headlines on his social media account, but he also has his Off the Record podcast, which finds him speaking on timely music-related topics and interviewing artists including G Herbo, Tee Grizzley, and Tory Lanez. Then, there's figures that precede the likes of Adam22 and Akademiks like DJ Vlad — whose VladTV channel masquerades as journalism (he once said that the platform is "the only credible investigative journalists in Hip-Hop") but is just as salacious as his peers — as well as figures who've gained more prominence recently like Joe Budden and N.O.R.E., both of who have referred to themselves as "journalists."
All of these people practice a version of music journalism to varying degrees without adhering to its ethics or standards. As a result, they have had a freedom in their coverage and how they navigate the media landscape that their corporate rap media counterparts don't have. But N.O.R.E.'s recent Drink Champs interview with Kanye West has shown how disastrous that can be. It is most recent in a line of questionable and downright irresponsible instances from figures like this.
During the almost three-and-a-half hour interview with West, N.O.R.E. offered no pushback against the artist's more incendiary comments, which ranged from anti-semitic remarks — like him saying that the "Jewish owned" media is out to get him, and that everyone from "Jewish basketball team owners" to "Jewish record label bosses" are in control — to claiming that George Floyd died because of a Fentanyl overdose. In an attempt to quell some of the backlash, N.O.R.E. shared a clip from the interview where he tried — and failed — to hold West accountable for his "White Lives Matter" t-shirt, the moment coming up short not just because of N.O.R.E.'s clear reluctance to put someone he considers a friend in check, but his lack of experience as a "journalist."
Since then, the Drink Champs host has taken to both Ebro in the Morning and The Breakfast Club to apologize for the interview. In both, but particularly the former, it was notable how he was still referring to himself as a journalist, telling Peter Rosenberg, Laura Stylez, Shani Kulture, and DJ Kast One: "I felt I could control the situation. I felt like I can control the interview. And I learned early on that I didn’t. As a Black man I feel like I failed. As a human I feel like I failed. As a journalist I feel like I succeeded."
"Because as a journalist, you’re really not supposed to have an opinion,” he added. "You’re supposed to let people talk. And my biggest critique on Drink Champs is 'N.O.R.E., you always cut people off!' And this is the one time I didn’t cut the people, didn’t cut ’em off, and everyone’s mad."
This is interesting because it shows how N.O.R.E. views the role of a journalist, which partially informs why he navigated this interview how he did. But also, it was evident from the very beginning what he hoped to accomplish with this episode: virality. Prior to the outrage, he had bragged in now-deleted tweets about the numbers the interview was pulling, even tweeting at one point: "My Ye interview got more views [than] football haha!!!" It's clear that N.O.R.E.'s intent wasn't to counter West's propaganda but to exploit it, and by the time he attempted to even try and rebuff that, it was too late.
The want for virality is a common thread among most of these online personalities practicing music journalism, which is understandable considering it's the quantitative that often takes precedent over the qualitative — the actual quality of the work. Because of this, the results are messy. This is why Akademiks haphazardly delivers his opinions on rap gossip and news with unfiltered bravado, and Adam22, Vlad, and N.O.R.E. practically allow their interviewees to say what they want with little to no pushback. It's what works, and without abiding by any journalistic protocol, many of these personalities have been able to monetize their online brands in other ways while simultaneously blurring the line between their media and personal personas. This has been most apparent with Akademiks who, for a time, had an alter ego by the name of Lil AK (a parody of contemporary rap that’s basically an extension of his online satirical persona), and found himself wrapped up in Tekashi 6ix9ine‘s federal indictment because of his proximity to the rapper.
After first interviewing 6ix9ine in November 2017 (where the rapper offered his account of his 2015 sexual misconduct case, which he was charged with the use of a child in a sexual performance and plead guilty to the charge as well), the two’s relationship seemed to transform into a friendship. From IG live videos of the pair dancing to Soulja Boy and BlocBoy JBto their parodying of 6ix9ine’s viral interview onThe Breakfast Club in March 2018, two of rap’s most notorious trolls had banded together.
Akademiks’ satirical persona became distorted as he seemed to transform into 6ix9ine’s PR machine, creating videos about anything pertaining to the rapper. His jewelry purchases; his feuds in Los Angeles, Minnesota, and San Antonio; his feuds with other rappers like Trippie Redd, Vic Mensa, and YG. 6ix9ine was already an omnipresent force on the internet but Akademiks only proliferated that, adding to the chaotic and unruly mythos surrounding the rapper.
Toward the end of 2018, when 6ix9ine was arrested on federal racketeering and firearms charges — including conspiracy to murder and armed robbery — reports came up claiming that Akademiks was a confidential informant in the case against 6ix9ine (which he denied), and videos from his social media profiles were used by prosecutors during the case. Nowadays, Akademiks is really the only figure offering 6ix9ine a platform following his case, having had him on his Off the Record podcast in April this year. (It's worth noting that he essentially has a similar relationship with Tory Lanez now, also having him appear on Off the Record.)
What has happened with N.O.R.E. has been the culmination of the line between rap journalists and online personalities blurring more and more. A general misunderstanding of who and what a journalist is, paired with these figures creating successful platforms for themselves in rap, has led to them being perceived as music journalists, and are considered sources for news people want to know about. It's a problem that's indicative of a much larger issue of where people are going to get their news, whether that be tabloid websites like TMZ or social media accounts like The Shade Room. As that line continues to blur, not only will there likely be more instances of what recently happened with Drink Champs, but a continued confusion on who these figures actually are in rap media, unable to rectify the damage they've done until it's too late.