BHF11: Rappin' With Chairman Mao Part 1

It was an all an accident for Jefferson “Chairman” Mao. The Source cover pieces, the Vibe Magazine features, the XXL “Chairman’s Choice” column, the nine year DJ residency at APT in Manhattan’s posh Meatpacking District -- an entire two decade legacy forever etched in the talisman of Hip-Hop culture was little more than a product of circumstance. Then, he was just an NYU film student with a jones for crate digging and a chance meeting with a couple other future journalistic luminaries, Sacha Jenkins and Elliot Wilson.

Word is, Jenkins invited Mao to contribute to his current endeavor, Beat-Down Newspaper, where Elliot Wilson was already a contributor. When the publication folded after a falling out between Jenkins and his partner (Haji Akhigbade), he and Wilson founded the seminal, Ego Trip Magazine in 1992 and brought Mao along from day one. Ego Trip’s subversive tone and geeked-out attention to detail spawned 13 issues, two books (Book Of Rap Lists and The Big Book Of Racism) and two television shows (The White Rapper Show and Miss Rap Supreme) of unforgettable Hip-Hop reverence.

“I was interested in music and I used to read a lot of music magazines when I was a kid,” Mao told during this feature interview for his upcoming set at Salute The DJ as part of the 2011 Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. “I got into it just to get the free records.”

CM: The thing about [music journalism] is, even when we were doing it -- and I guess you could argue this from the beginning -- it’s never really been respected by the industry as a necessary sort of thing. It’s always just been seen as something used for promotion.

When you look at how The Source started, it was really like kind of a ‘zine and then it was a champion for Hip-Hop because Hip-Hop was an underdog. That was really necessary at the time, but then at a certain point, I remember when we were doing Beat-Down, people started to feel like they needed other sources of information. People would complain about the record reviews in The Source or something like that. Even though The Source was like The Bible as far as the magazine documenting the music and the culture, we started to move past the point where Hip-Hop needed a cheerleader on it’s side. It needed some critical distance as well and that’s when you had sort of this gene explosion with Beat-Down, Ego Trip and a ton of other homemade sort of ‘zines sort of done through a lot of blood sweat and tears. And then Vibe really stepped up the professionalism and managing editors and writers and a lot of journalistic integrity and became very slick but there was always an element of that.

Now everything’s changed. The way media is dictated. I guess you could look at it like it was subversive in that respect as far as Ego Trip because we were contributing to these publications. They were putting food on our table and paying our bills and we sort of had an outlet to do our own thing and be an independent voice so it’s kind of an interesting dichotomy, I guess. But it was a unique situation, especially when some of the guys had pretty important positions at Vibe and The Source but that was how Ego Trip was able to survive: because it was something we were just doing because we wanted the outlet. Really in the entire time of it’s existence, it only really existed because we wanted that creative outlet, that outlet to express ideas which you couldn’t do at these other magazines. The same for the TV shows we did and the books we did.

Brooklyn Bodega: You alluded to it now, but you’ve spoken quite a bit in previous interviews about Hip-Hop needing tough love at the same time Hip-Hop not really being able to take tough love. You’ll have different artists complaining, “How you gonna diss my record?” That to me seems extremely prevalent now with the internet and so many different online publications. It seems like there’s even less tough love now despite that you have so many different voices.

CM: I’d say yes and no. In some respects you have more “tough love” than ever because everybody has their own platform. Everybody has an opinion and a platform to express it now, so whether it’s their own blog or Tumblr or Twitter account or expressing their opinion in a comments section or a message board. It’s the sort of thing that spurs debate because people have a lot of passion and enthusiasm for it and there’s a competitive aspect to it -- it always has been -- so it’s almost like sports talk radio as far as how people offer their opinions.

Yeah, I guess you could say that because of the internet there’s less of an established bar for journalistic integrity. That’s sadly vanished. Journalistic standards, that’s definitely vanished with the internet and everyone having a platform, but I would say that, as far as people being able to be critical, to me, anybody can write a comment as dismissive or informed or ignorant or whatever so you have more critical thinking. You have more critiques than ever because everyone is a critic and everyone can be a self-styled expert without necessarily having labored or come up through the ranks and written for different publications and what not. Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one and a lot of stuff that people put out on the internet is not well thought out. But that’s the appeal and that’s the conundrum. It’s like, the gift and the curse. It’s access and people being able to have the freedom but it’s totally unregulated so you have to take the good and the bad aspect of all that together. It’s great that it’s unregulated because you can find all kinds of stuff and you can learn about all kinds of stuff. But it’s not regulated so it’s no context for anything.

Coming from a time where you’re old enough to remember before the internet -- I talk about this all with people who are into music all the time -- if you’re a music fan, you have access to so much stuff. If you wanted to hear old tapes, you had to get tapes from people you knew or get them dubbed for you. But now you can hear almost anything, so you have access to all this information. The rarest records that exist, you can download them off of where ever. You can get anything if you just Google Mediafire or Megaupload search and you can get a thousand dollar album or something someone uploaded to their blog. You can hear all sorts of stuff on YouTube. You can see things, things that shaped your mind as a child. Some TV clip from the early 70s is on Youtube now. But I think it’s overwhelming for people, too. You think like, “Oh, you have access to all this stuff. People are super educated.” But now you have the opposite problem. It was a problem for us to try to seek out information and learn about things because you were hungry for just more. You had to know somebody to know somebody. You had to know somebody to know what the sample was on that interlude on A Tribe Called Quest’s first album. Now you can just Google it. You had to know somebody who knew somebody who knew but it was all word of mouth. It was just stuff that you learned. It wasn’t like, “Oh, OK, I’ll just access all this information.” But I think now, people have too much information. There’s so much information that they’re inundated and overwhelmed and it’s easy to get discouraged. So even if you have access to it, you can’t necessarily educate yourself in the way that you would think. I don’t know. That was kind of a long and rambling answer. I don’t know if I even answered you’re question. [Laughs]

Brooklyn Bodega: [Laughs] Well, I think you touched on all the major themes. There’s two sides to the coin. There’s always been two sides to that conversation. There’s always been the critics and there’s always been people responding to the critics. The difference is now, the people responding to the critics and the people reading the critiques have a place where they can go say exactly what they think about that. You can just go to the comments section after the article you read or the album review and express your opinion publicly on whatever you just read. Before you just had that same conversation amongst a much smaller circle of people and most likely you knew them.


1 comment:

Punch Buggy said...

I find your blog interesting because I'm into music myself and reading your blog helps me to have a better understanding about the industry.