Rap Radar Podcast's Elliott Wilson & Brian 'B. Dot' Miller Talk Mastering Hip-Hop Journalism
(L-R): Elliott Wilson, Brian "B. Dot" Miller, rapper Ab-Soul
Over the past few years, gossip and misinformation have weakened Hip-Hop journalism's credibility and dependable coverage is becoming more scarce. However, platforms like Rap Radar Podcast and its hosts Elliott Wilson and Brian "B. Dot" Miller have maintained the integrity and essence of the culture with era-defining interviews of Jay-Z, Drake, Nipsey Hussle, and countless others. We sat in on their interview with TDE artist Ab-Soul (released December 15th) and grabbed a quick conversation with the legendary duo about their partnership, their love of the culture, and the importance of Rap Radar as a safe haven for artists.
What is it about hip-hop that made you have to participate instead of just being a fan?
Elliott Wilson: I heard, saw, and felt how "Rapper's Delight" changed the world, but the reception from the culture was lukewarm because it didn't represent the core principles of Hip-Hop. Kurtis Blow put out "The Breaks," which was incredible. I heard my cousin from The Bronx play music from The Cold Crush Brothers, and then you heard about Grandmaster Caz penning "Rapper's Delight," so I was drawn to the music and the stories. Also, Run-D.M.C. were like superheroes when they came out because they were the greatest thing I'd seen to that point, and they gave me confidence that people from Queens could be a part of this beautiful culture.
The genre wasn't always thought of as beautiful.
EW: Back then? [laughs] Hip-Hop was looked at as a fad like Disco. That's the importance of Run-D.M.C. because they stamped Hip-Hop as a force to be reckoned with by being rock stars in their own right.
Speaking of rap groups. You guys play off each other like Nas and AZ of The Firm. Where does that chemistry stem from?
B. Dot: I'd say from our days working at XXL Magazine. And correct me if I'm wrong, Elliott, but I've been working with you professionally longer than anyone else.
EW: God bless you! [laughs]
B: [laughs] We've worked closely together for over a decade, and maybe it's a Queens connection, but some things are just kismet.
EW: Like meeting in a diner and discussing doing the Rap Radar website together before fully understanding the power of blogging, but what we were doing felt right, regardless of how crowded the space was because we were able to establish the brand. I give B. Dot credit for the foresight of us stepping into the podcasting arena.
How would you describe the transition from traditional journalism to media personalities?
EW: I remember when B. Dot didn't want anyone to know what he looked like.
EW: I went through that before; I had a whole career where you didn't know what writers looked like because if you were ever looking for who they were, it was probably because you didn't like something they wrote and wanted to put hands on them. [laughs] Rap Radar, as a website, helped us both show the world who we are, and social media also amplified that.
B: I didn't get into this to be known or have any celebrity and notoriety; I was cool being behind the scenes, and there were a lot of people that pushed me to step out of my comfort zone.
BTS of Rap Radar's Ab-Soul interview
Why were you so reluctant to be in front of the camera?
B: It's just not who I am, but with the advent of social media, it's adapt or die, and I didn't want to die. [laughs] Sure, I can be a game show host (Complex Brackets), but it took some time to get used to.
Now that people know your faces, do you get vitriol from artists—especially with B. Dot's annual Best of lists?
B: Of course! The calls, texts, tweets, and DMs! But it's coming from a genuine place because my list isn't malicious. Whether you love it or hate it, there's a conversation to be had, and that's a healthy cornerstone of Hip-Hop.
EW: I would see the reaction B. Dot's list would get and wonder why people had such strong emotions towards it, but it goes to show how respected his voice is in this game, and I'm blessed to be partnered with him.
You have interviewed everyone from Jay-Z to Drake. Is there any artist out there who you haven't had a chance to interview that's on your radar?
B: There's a lot!
Both: BEYONCÉ! Come on, Beyoncé!
B: Rihanna. All the big dogs!
B: We've interviewed Kendrick separately but not together on this platform.
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As I'm sitting in on this Ab-Soul interview, it felt more therapeutic than a podcast. How does it feel when an artist pours out their soul that way? No pun intended.
B: It feels good! It feels like we did our job because you have to be a good listener to get that. Also, you want to know who you're talking to more than a quick scan of their Wikipedia page.
EW: In the case of Ab-Soul, loss is such a part of his life and defines his art, but more than that, he has his first new album (HERBERT) in 6 years, and I felt like we had a great opportunity to have a pure conversation as opposed to a traditional Q&A. The conversation we just finished conducted literally minutes ago is strong and represents us. We never go into it thinking we'll have a super-emotional interview, but if that's the direction it ends up going, we give the artist the respect they deserve and roll with it. Three Black men having a really tough conversation about trauma and loss is something that's necessary because we can all relate to it. We just lost a good friend in this business by the name of Hovain Hylton, so grief is, unfortunately, something that brings Black people together.
Artists opening up to you guys speaks to how credible your voices are within the culture. How important is empathy as an interviewer?
BM: We're all human, right? We never want to overstep our bounds or make an artist uncomfortable with the nature of a conversation by steering it in a direction they're not trying to go. It's important to have relatability with our guests because, on some level, we all go through the same things, and it's cool to come to a platform where people know who you are, and where you come from, and you trust our experiences.
Sincerely appreciate that answer and a safe space within Hip-Hop for artists to show their vulnerability outside of the booth. Let's shift to something lighter. What song or album do you wish you were in the studio for when it was created?
EW: I was actually there when RZA was looping up "Can It Be All So Simple"
EW: [laughs] Yeah, I was dropping off copies of this independent magazine I was working on at the time called Beat Down, and Wu-Tang was on the cover.
B: I was there when J. Cole made “Can't Get Enough" [from 2011's Cole World: The Sideline Story] and I remember watching him hand his CDs out to people after shows, so to hear that song become his first hit was dope.
Hip-Hop is turning 50 years old in 2023. What can we expect from Rap Radar?
EW: 50 podcasts! [laughs] I love the 50-year concept and expect brands to do great things with it. It's funny because 2003-2005 was my ascension of running XXL Magazine. 2013-2015 was me doing CRWN and front-facing work where you see Elliott Wilson has a fro-hawk, I'm talking to Tyler, the Creator, etc. I've had great luck with the 3's and 5's, so I'm looking forward to Hip-Hop at 50!