You may recognize TT Torrez’s lively and vibrant voice on veteran hip-hop radio station, Hot 97, where she has used her platform to deliver some of the hardest news stories to swallow. Despite the intense racial climate pervading America post-Trayvon Martin, Torrez says her job allows her to have a voice on the issues that matter most.
“Radio is humanizing. If something happens at AME church and nine people get killed for the color of their skin, you have somebody there that can talk about it, that can put you on the radio so that you can express your frustrations,” she tells VIBE. “That’s the great thing about radio.”
Starting out as a part-time radio host in Charlotte, N.C., Torrez networked her way to the top of the entertainment industry. In true go-getter fashion, the New York native became a mentee of radio DJ Russ Parr, the host of the widely successful radio show, the Russ Parr Morning Show and expanded her brand into television, traveling for Music Choice while writing and producing for television shows and conducting noteworthy interviews with big-name celebrities like Sean “Diddy” Combs, 50 Cent and Quentin Tarantino.
Here, Torrez offers her unfiltered opinions on the state of the nation, radio’s power and how she strives to make a difference.—Mawuena Sedodo
VIBE: What goes through your mind when you have to report on a story like the AME shooting?
When you’re in those difficult situations, you have to be able to report the real facts. You have to tell people the truth and you have to make sure you’re factual with everything you talk about. And then the human side of you, like when Whitney Houston died, I was distraught and I cried on the radio, as a fan. And when Michael Jackson died, I was in L.A. So when he passed away that weekend, I was in L.A., covering the BET Awards and I literally went to that site and was there to report the play-by-play about everything that was going on. When you have those moments, you have to be on point. You have to know what you’re talking about, and when you make a mistake you have to say that on the radio, like “My bad!”
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So why do you feel that black women’s representation in the media is especially important?
For various reasons. Black women face so many stereotypes and when it comes to reality television, sometimes you only see one side. My first female mentor, I fell in love with her because my first day on the job, I was in a meeting and she was running the meeting and I have never seen a female work that room how she worked that room. I was like, “How can I be like that?” I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be my own boss, my own entity, calling shots. Not the girl that fights on television and throws drinks in people’s faces. I think that’s the reason why if we have those opportunities to showcase a different side of us then we should do that.
What are you thoughts on the current state of the nation?
It’s just sad. When I continue to hear stories like Sandra Bland’s, it saddens me even more. I remember being on Hot 97 when I first came back to New York and the Eric Garner verdict came down. I remember stepping into that booth, and I’m thinking to myself, “I’m at Hot 97. The Eric Garner verdict just came down. I’m filling in for Cipha Sounds and Angie Martinez just left. The whole world is probably looking. How in the world are we going to handle this?” And I remember getting on the radio telling myself, “A lot of people feel exactly how you feel, and you should express that and you should put people on the radio that just want to be heard.”
What makes me sad about everything that’s going on in the world is that I am raising a 4-year-old black son, and I have custody of my nephew who is 16 and a black boy. So to be in America where we have the first black president and still have to deal with these issues is really disgusting and it’s really hurtful. I think as a community, we have to push ourselves to do better. We have to push ourselves to do better and we have to educate our men. It really starts with education and it starts with poverty because poverty leads to crime. When you really break it down and you think about things that happen in our community, it all relates to poverty. And so when you have those things that go on in the communities, you have to really educate. You can’t just give up on a kid because he’s not doing right or because he has an “I don’t care” mentality. It’s up to us to keep pushing. When I got custody of my nephew, I was 26 years old. I was terrified as hell to take on a kid but I knew that if I did not take that responsibility, he would just be a product of his environment and be another name on a police report and I couldn’t let that happen. So we, as women, have to take our kids from these ghettoes and expose them to things that they would have never been exposed to. We can’t save them all but if we could just touch the mind of one, you have done enough. And that goes back to why we need better black representation on television. It goes back to why each individual has to work 10 times harder to be better. It just is what it is. There’s no getting around it.
So in what ways do you think respected radio personalities and television hosts can use their platforms to help raise social consciousness and awareness, besides just reporting the news?
Really getting in the community and being a part of it. That’s the only way I can see it getting better. For me, it’s like my foundation is really based on young girls that come from the same ghettoes I come from, and it’s really about educating them to do better. We have to educate our young girls about sex, poverty and just various topics that we face in the hood, so I bring that to the forefront and really am an advocate of that. I really get my hands dirty. I’m really in the schools, I’m really in the streets because that’s important to me. I think it starts there if you really want to be for the people.