What We’ve Learned: The Rules Of Rap Journalism

Journalism ain’t dead—these writers just scared. As a public service, VIBE offers up a primer on interviewing rappers. It’s a classic!

I interviewed Young Jeezy twice in December 2011. In New York, Jeezy laughed a lot; he offered to buy me an AK-47 for Christmas. When I sat down with him in Chicago on the 24th, I reminded him of his promise. He looked me in the eye, unsmiling: “I don’t have one on me, but my man over there does.” His friend began to pull up his shirt. And then Jeezy laughed, again.

It’s amazing I get to talk to rappers for a living, holding candid conversations and gaining access to some incredible minds. You can’t help but be in awe as Busta Rhymes spins wistful memories about Public Enemy, or as Eminem relives a near-death experience from the filming of 8 Mile, or as Jay-Z disputes searing rumors that he’s never played Jenga. (He has, he’s just not good at it.) Then again, you hear a lot of “I’m bringing a movement. My album’s dropping next year, look out for that. It’s a classic. But at the end of the day, I’m just doing me. My man over here’s next, though!” That’s when you wish Jeezy had given you a gun, so you could blow your own brains out. (Cue Jeezy laugh.)

I’ve learned, though, that from great questions come great answers. Don’t pull from the 106 & Park stack of cards; show that you’ve put the work in. There’s at least one interview in which the Clipse was asked, “How did you two meet?” They’re brothers. —Jeff Rosenthal