Ebro Darden is as passionate about music as a French sculptor is about art. The veteran host of the influential (and at times provocative) New York-based Hot 97 radio show Ebro in the Morning has worn many hats in his beloved chosen field from operations manager to programming director. When Darden isn’t making Kodak Black storm out of an interview, getting political, breaking new artists or jokingly calling out his cohorts Peter Rosenberg and DJ Juanyto for not allowing him to play Lady Gaga’s Oscar award-winning Star Is Born anthem “Shallow,” he’s stepping up in his role as Apple Music’s Global Head of Editorial for Hip-Hop and R&B.
Throughout the month of February, Ebro and Apple Music have teamed up to recruit some of the most respected names in hip-hop, Hollywood, politics, sports and all in between to curate special Black History Month playlists. They include such notables as Mahershala Ali, Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe, Angela Rye, Virgil Abloh, Victor Cruz. Tyler Mitchell, Ibtihaj Muhammad, and Young MA. On his Beats 1 show, Darden not only unveils the dizzyingly diverse compilation of acts—which includes Prince, Mahalia Jackson, 50 Cent, Cardi B, Erykah Badu, J. Cole, Miles Davis, Solange, Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, J Dilla, Sister Nancy, and Novalima—he dissects the themes of the various playlists.
VIBE caught up with Ebro to discuss the Black History-inspired track listings, why he was taken aback after his interview with Young M.A, his thoughts on Jussie Smollett and why Trump is Trump.
VIBE: As Apple Music’s Global Head of Editorial for Hip Hop and R&B, what is the underlining impact being made by having such an eclectic range of music artists, actors, athletes, and intellectuals unveiling their personal playlists during this Black History Month?
Ebro: The impact is to go deeper culturally and connect with the people that are also the voices of the culture. This is a way for them to speak through music. Ava DuVernay, Angela Rye, Amanda Seales, Lena Waithe, Ibtihaj Muhammed, and others all have voices and express themselves. So we thought it would be awesome to have them show their musical tastes as well as to add to their personality and profile. That’s what we do with artists when we have them up for interviews. So to do that with people who are not in the music world [as well] it’s our desire to have those worlds and disciplines together.
On your Beats 1 show, you’ve been discussing the specific themes of the various playlists throughout the month while live on the air. What are some of the playlists that have surprised you the most?
There are some playlists that I have seen from some notable individuals that I don’t know if I was surprised, but let’s call it pleasantly surprised at the depth, the range, and their musical taste. Obviously, I’ve known Amanda Seales for a while so I know she’s a hip-hop head. Lena [Waithe], who I’ve known for a while, she’s a hip-hop head. But to see Ava DuVernay’s selection [was great]. And Victor Cruz is a New York guy, so I knew his zone. It was just really fun to see what they were into.
Your interview with Young M.A is pretty illuminating. She spoke of not limiting black history to just one month and that it’s her goal to make black history every day. What separates M.A from her peers and what did you learn from her “Queens” playlist considering she included everyone from 50 Cent to Sade?
Her range is amazing. I also thought her response to the question about black history was thoughtful because, for Young MA, who is an openly gay rapper and has had significant success in hip-hop, she’s walking black history. So for her, she is literally making black history every day. For anyone in our game, we are doing things that black people have never done before every day.
Let’s segue into some current events. It’s already being reported that Jussie Smollett is facing some pretty serious felony charges after allegedly fabricating an attack. Why do you think the black and LBGTQ+ communities were so adamant in their support of Jussie early on and what effect will this scandal have on the fight against hate crimes?
Because we all know that these crimes happen. There’s history to support that not only these crimes happened, but also the victims never got justice in many cases. I can only speak for myself…I’m always going to believe the victim especially a black gay person who is oppressed in so many ways. I’m always going to be there to say, “Yo, what happened? Tell me your story.” Until there’s evidence to support the contrary, I’m going to believe the victims. I believe the reason this story has been made so big is because you have a significant population of people that want to discredit the history of abuse and crimes against the LGBTQ+ community and black people. So now they are using Jussie Smollett as the poster boy to say, “See! It ain’t that bad…stop blowing it out of proportion!” You have people running around here that are supporting this political mantra of “Make America Great Again” and antagonizing people and being abusive both verbally and physically. And there’s video evidence of that. It’s terrible that Jussie lied. These are very sensitive times. And I do believe we could all exercise a little bit of pause when we hear things and not just go into complete outrage. But I’m not going to let that distract me because they want that to distract you. They want you to question everything you hear. They want you to say, “Aw, that’s just another Jussie Smollett situation…I’m not falling for that!”
But also I don’t think it helps when Trump is quick to use Twitter to attack Smollett and other black celebrities, politicians, and athletes, often times questioning their intelligence.
He’s always looking for a way to get a W because Trump knows he’s a scumbag. He’s looking for a way to promote himself and to be right as frequently as possible and that’s because he’s classless and tasteless. And so are many of his followers.
So let’s go back to our playlist discussion. You are the classic radioman. What makes a great playlist?
I think it’s about balance, first. It’s about flow and also about discovery. I always look at playlists as giving me the thing I expect from the title of the playlist. Just like when we use to make mixtapes back in the day and give it a title like if we were dedicating it to a girl or a certain date or a certain season like Summer 1995…it all represents a vibe. The reason I use the word balance is because you want to take people on a journey. Sh*t, in some cases, the music shouldn’t all just be one tempo or one type of music. The most dynamic playlist takes you on a journey, shows you how multiple genres can flow together and gives you a nice overall vibe.