In 1996, the internet was a wide open lane for exclusive content, and that went double for anything that included video. With VIBE Magazine having a strong year long web space presence with it’s www.VIBE.com online property, its New Media Creative Director at the time, Maureen Carter found a way to get the wildest interview possible. If the term “going viral” was popular back then, her candid conversation with a hyped up, super passionate Tupac Shakur would have been just that.
Carter’s intense on camera interview sparked much discussion within the music industry circles, as ‘Pac let it all out on topics of the East – West war, loyalty and what he was reading at the time. Read on how Carter, now a top executive at BET Networks, secured the greatest get to spark the VIBE brand’s internet boom.
VIBE: How and when did your career begin at VIBE, and what was your title?
Maureen Carter: I was hired to add “graphics” to an “Internet website” in 1995. Back then, programmers could write the code but they didn’t have designers that could make the graphics. This was my first job while in grad school as a visual design major at Pratt. I remember my boss at the time saying to me to give yourself any title you want so you could look back on this and say “This is a title I would be proud of,” so I named myself the hottest title at the time, New Media Creative Director.
How did you come to do the VIBE.com video interview with Tupac Shakur, and what kind of adventures did you have making it happen?
I was attending an E3 conference in Los Angeles for work and it was my first time ever going to the West Coast. I said to myself, ‘There is no way I am going to L.A. and not see Tupac.’ I was his biggest fan. I had confidence that I would meet him somehow, someway. I asked a co-worker, [Events Director] Karla Radford, to arrange a meeting for a VIBE.com interview, and she did. I had 24 hours to get a camera crew and a script together. I asked a senior colleague, [VIBE’s Publisher] Len Burnett, for his credit card and bought a video camera in Cali. He told me not to mess it up as it will go back the next day. I reached out to my intern at the time, Larry “Blackspot” Hester, and he faxed, yes, faxed me some questions. I remember staying up all night writing more and rehearsing them.
What was your relationship to hip-hop at that point, and why did you want to speak with Tupac?
I lived [and] live for hip-hop. I was the president of the LL Cool J fan club at 15-years-old of the New Jersey chapter. I knew music was my calling. From being inspired by the Sugarhill Gang with my sister as a kid memorizing all the words to “Rapper’s Delight” to seeing every Run-DMC concert I was allowed. It was my destiny. I am one of the rare individuals who got their dream job as their first job—and for me it was Vibe.
Ironically, the first question you asked, or one of the first, is where he saw himself 20 years from now. What made you ask that question?
I cannot take credit for that question, it was Blackspot’s. I delivered it well though. Looking back, I realize that there is the gift of intuitive. I knew that his kind was special and somehow he would have an impact on the world.
What were you thinking and feeling as you sat there with Tupac?
Nervous, so nervous and that I hoped he thought I was pretty. Not for the reason one may think, only to confirm for me at that time that I had the blend of what I expected a hip-hop influencer to be: the person who had the smarts and the looks. It’s only when you get a little older that you realize the looks don’t really matter.
Tupac would only be alive only four more months after you did this interview. Was there anything he said or you felt that gave you an indication he would not be with us much longer?
No, we never know that. However, when he mentioned himself as a metaphor to Jesus’ walk before the crucifixion, I knew I was dealing with someone in a different stratosphere. Someone that was wise beyond his years.
It is deep to me that Tupac lived just long enough to be interviewed in the new dot-com space for VIBE. How old was Vibe.com when you did that interview?
One year! Yikes, it was such a great time back then, we explored with various content and technologies to see what stuck. There was no wrong answer. I am thankful for that experience in my life.
What was digital media like back then, and how has it evolved through the years?
Slow. [Laughs] I remember testing different file sizes of “cover art” and seeing how long users would wait for load times. It was a great time of exploration. Since then, new terms like social media, user experience, and digital disruption have become a part of our daily language in this space. It still baffles me that you can actually major in “digital” careers in college today. It’s an exciting time and now young people can have careers in creativity that also rank high in employment demand.
Why have you decided to speak about this interview now, why is it so important for you to share your experience with Tupac?
Because it is 20 years later. As an executive at BET, we are working on Tupac content pieces and I realized how important my experience was and how it changed my life. Time to share my story.
Why do you think Tupac Shakur has become one of the great global icons of all time, not just for hip-hop, but in general?
Some people are just blessed with that “IT”—he was one of those. There are many who followed, but there will never be another Tupac, the same way there will never be another Obama.