Dissing rappers unapologetically, building a multi-media empire, posing in high-profile clothing ads, and championing competitionâ€”these are all part of a rapperâ€™s M.O. But all of the above comes directly from the resume of the esteemed and controversial O.G. hip-hop journalist, Elliott â€œYNâ€ Wilson. YN has essentially authored the â€œ10 Crack Commandmentsâ€ on how to document hip-hop culture. Wilson has done it all, from books (Ego Tripâ€™s Big Book of Racism and Book of Rap Lists) to TV shows (Ego Tripâ€™s â€˜The (White) Rapper Showâ€™ and â€˜Miss Rap Supremeâ€™) to heading up XXL, hip-hopâ€™s undisputed bible. Now, heâ€™s trying his hand in a young manâ€™s game, the internet.
I donâ€™t care how rich you are. You canâ€™t ignore this recession.
Format: When you left your post as Editor-in-Chief at XXL, it kind of shook things up in the game. The hip-hop community was pretty shocked about how it all went down, but was your departure from XXL magazine a blessing in disguise?
Elliott Wilson: [Laughs] I donâ€™t know, man. Who knows? I will say weâ€™re in a tough economic time right now and itâ€™s tough for everybody. I donâ€™t care how rich you are. You canâ€™t ignore this recession. But Iâ€™ve always had the belief that everything Iâ€™ve done has had an independent spirit. Being an entrepreneur and having this new brand that Iâ€™m creating and have ownership of, I just feel like I have to do it by myself this time. I feel like Iâ€™m doing the right thing at the right time.
Format: A lot of magazines are getting hit in the pockets right now. How soon do you think it will be before print mags fold up and become completely obsolete?
Elliott Wilson: I donâ€™t think that will ever happen. I mean Iâ€™m not anti-print. I do think a lot of books will get eradicated but I think the good books will survive and weâ€™ll get through these hard times and, economically, things will get back to the way they need to be. I think the spirit is dying because everyone is so stressed out about the lack of advertising. So now, you donâ€™t see as much great content in magazines. Itâ€™s kind of like a big cloud hanging over the industry, but I think the sun will come out. RapRadarâ€™s plan is to be really supportive of magazines. A lot of times the kids donâ€™t know about what the mags are putting up unless it goes up on a site first, so that can serve as a conduit. And if I see something cool in the magazine I can pick it up on RapRadar. I always want to support magazines. Maybe one day RapRadar will become a magazine. Right now weâ€™re just trying to build a brand, get some different avenues and see what happens in the future.
Format: Iâ€™ve heard you speak about the blogosphere and you described it like a community. Say one day your business partner, Paul Rosenberg (the financial muscle behind RapRadar), calls and says, â€˜Cut the friendly shit and just focus on the competition.â€™ Would you be comfortable competing with some of the other established hip-hop blogs?
Elliott Wilson: Iâ€™ll go toe-to-toe with anybody [laughs]. Donâ€™t get it twisted! What Iâ€™m saying is that no one really benefits. At the end of the day, all of these sites are linked to each other. Itâ€™s real different from the magazine scope. That side of it is not competitive, but the crazy thing about the Internet is itâ€™s community-based, but itâ€™s still competitive. Itâ€™s still hip-hop! Everyone thinks theyâ€™re number one. Thatâ€™s hip-hop. You shouldnâ€™t be like â€œmy siteâ€™s cool but this site is way better than mine.â€ You wouldnâ€™t say that out loud even if you thought that, and if you thought that it would be motivation for you to get your shit together. So, thereâ€™s always that competitive spirit. But I think what Iâ€™m trying to say more importantly is that Iâ€™m not trying to dead anybody. I think people expect that from me. Iâ€™m not trying to start any beef, but if someone wants to beef with me then Iâ€™ll respond and it is what it is. But, Iâ€™ll take on all challengers [laughs].
Format: What can hip-hop fans get from RapRadar that they cannot get from any of the other hip-hop blogs?
Elliott Wilson: First and foremost, you get me, somebodyâ€™s who experienced, someone who has a voice, knowledge of the past, present, and future. And because of the way I put things together, it will be better than most peopleâ€™s sites. Iâ€™ll also aggregate with the best of them. Thereâ€™s no website thatâ€™s balancing aggregating content and creating original content, and I think thatâ€™s our bread and butter. Itâ€™s just going to be quality work in and of itself. In some ways, the work Iâ€™ve done in the past means a lot but in some ways it doesnâ€™t mean shit. So I would just say to anyone whoâ€™s wondering, go to RapRadar.com and see what you think and Iâ€™ll keep doing things to bring you back.
Format: You have a respected voice in hip-hop so I wanted to ask you about the future of hip-hop and this new wave of rappers. Who do you think is going to snatch the ball and run with it?
Elliott Wilson: Well out of the new guys with potential, the names that come to mind are Asher Roth, Charles Hamilton, B.o.B, Wale, and cats like that; the cats who were on the XXL cover. Iâ€™m not familiar with all of the music. I canâ€™t say Iâ€™ve downloaded all of their mixtapes. I know thereâ€™s a lot of talent there. You still have this old guard sticking around. You get an Eminem album, a Jay album, but [out of those new guys] whoâ€™s going to break out? Whoâ€™s going to be the one? I donâ€™t know yet. I have a rapport with some of them. With Charles [Hamilton], I have a little rapport. Wale Iâ€™m developing a rapport with. I donâ€™t know Asher too well but I think heâ€™s talented. Obviously heâ€™s bringing a different perspective to the game. Heâ€™s going to have to deal with being a white emcee like how Eminem had to deal with it. But, I think the lane is open. The hip-hop world and the community are really ready for one of these guys to take the ball. Itâ€™s going to take one of them to really do it. Which one out of that batch is going to be the one? I canâ€™t call it yet but hopefully Iâ€™ll know at least a couple months before everyone else does [laughs].
“But at the end of the day, Iâ€™m trying to leave a legacy. Iâ€™m trying to leave a mark.”
Format: Imagine if a few years from now, you wake up and get a call from Harris Publications, your ex-employer, and they want to offer you a really big check, like a fat check, for RapRadar.com. Would you take that check?
Elliott Wilson: I mean Iâ€™d take that meeting [laughs]. I take all meetings. This is business, man. EPMD told me business is never personal. I mean I take all meetings. Iâ€™m open-minded. Itâ€™s a business. I try to approach things straight up and honest. Itâ€™s a business game and you have to be smart. Iâ€™m always willing to sit down if thereâ€™s something higher level there.
Format: When itâ€™s all said and done, is YN the greatest to ever do it? Something like the Hov (Jay-Z) of journalism?
Elliott Wilson: Yeah, thatâ€™s my goal. Before, I think I wouldâ€™ve been too shy to say it but Iâ€™ve been feeling it more lately. Just in the sense of Hov as an artist, he has a tremendous track record like I do in my profession. And like him, Iâ€™m going to continue on and continue doing it and compete with this new generation. I have two goals and one of them is real selfish and one is on this really kind of warm and fuzzy shit. The selfish one is to be recognized as the greatest of all time at documenting this culture. The mushy one is to also do what no one in hip-hop has successfully done, which is to pass the torch and also to develop other voices and to develop the next generation, because Iâ€™m not going to be 50 years old running RapRadar on the 24/7 day-to-day grind. Itâ€™s my job to connect with and build voices and teach the next generation. Some of voices out there like Noah Callahan-Bever with Complex, Vanessa Satten of XXL and people like that Iâ€™ve obviously helped develop but itâ€™s that continuing thing and that joy; thatâ€™s what hip-hop is about because I have a lot to teach and a lot to learn. But at the end of the day, Iâ€™m trying to leave a legacy. Iâ€™m trying to leave a mark.