kris ex, Part 2
Photo credit: Dimplez
To situate you in this episode, we left off last week when kris asked Ali how it would feel for his work today to be criticized and Ali’s response began with him saying he’s not worried about it because he’s right with himself, brought it back to Kendrick and "DNA." and ended in him saying Fox News is meaningless.
ALI: They don't really matter.
KRIS EX: The thing with that kind of criticism, that reverse criticism going at Fox, I feel is totally unnecessary and a waste of time. I think it means something to his listeners of a certain age, because to them it shows a sense of defiance, and it shows that he's not scared and that he's willing to speak "truth to power." But specifically with those Fox talking heads, I think you're wasting your time talking to them because you could go on YouTube and you'll find clips of each and every one of them being handed their tails by guests where the guests came in and just tore them to shreds. And the next day, these guys are back saying the same thing, collecting the same check. They never change.
I don't believe in — I wouldn't make criticism or critique music if I felt like the artist would never change. There's a certain extent to which I would critique Future's music. Because I love Future's music, personally — even though there's a lot of conflict within it, there's something genuine and raw about the experience that he's sharing. But everything about Future tells me that he doesn't give a flying one about what I would have to say. So why would I try to get into a dialogue with him when it's kind of like, he's on what he's on? And that's how I feel about those Fox people. You're not ever gonna change their minds.
In that sense, it always makes me cringe when people respond to them because it's like, you're actually giving them what they want by making them think — you're validating them, in a sense, when no one's thinking about them. No one cares what Geraldo has to say about it, because Geraldo doesn't get it. If you could talk to their listeners, to their followers, to the people who watch Fox News — that I would do all day everyday because those people are just being guided down a certain road and if you guide them down a different road — you're not gonna get all of them, you may not even get some of them, you might just get a few of them — but that's a few less people that might try to kill you.
FRANNIE: Yeah. I mean, it's not the first time Kendrick has used — when he used the Pac interview on "Mortal Man," he's consuming — it seems clear to me that his understanding of his work is that it exists with all these other things, and it's a part of a conversation. So maybe it's not a one-to-one dialogue between him and Geraldo. But he's showing an understanding of how his work interacts with everything else that's happening, as opposed to somebody like Future who doesn't demonstrate that understanding of the context of him, or at least of his production.
KRIS EX: I think Future demonstrates an understanding of that dynamic. At the same time, showcasing a total disregard for it.
FRANNIE: That's funny. I would actually say that about Kendrick and his specific use of that clip on the song.
KRIS EX: Well, I just feel like the first time I heard it, it sounded like a compliment. Cause he just went off and then Geraldo comes in like, "And this is why I'm saying that hip-hop has done more damage to black minds than racism has." Cause Kendrick just destroyed everyone's mind, so it sort of felt like he repurposed it in a positive way, which I love that he did. Then he went back to it and started griping with him, I was like, "Now you're doing a little too much."
Future, he makes whole albums responding to the conversations that's going on. Those mixtapes, Monster, is a total response to everything. But it's sort of like he wrote the response without even reading anything that was said about him. It's just like, "I know what you're saying — I'm just gonna respond to the headlines. I'm not even caring about what's going on." That's a beautiful thing in a sense, it's a genuine thing. It's not for everyone. If every artist took that approach, we'd be in trouble. Just like if every artist took Kendrick's approach, we'd be in trouble.
We need all of these different types of artists to exist in order to showcase what our humanity really is, who we really are, what our hopes are, what our fears are, what our addictions are, what our lives are, what our secrets are. All of these things. If art isn't talking about that, then it's worthless. And if we as journalists, as critics, as people writing about the music, aren't acknowledging that these conversations are taking place, and acknowledging that there are different types of conversations taking place, then we're useless. We're not necessary.
Even if — at the beginning he was saying that the media is not necessary — we're really not necessary in terms of selling records in a very big way, especially when artists have platforms directly to speak to their fans. But what we are necessary for is helping people make sense of these conversations, of guiding people to deeper understandings that they might not know. Until you start reading in — whether it's the 15 producers who worked on this album or the 10 hottest lines, until you start reading all that stuff, you don't necessarily have a context for where this art comes from. And you don't understand its place in the world, unless you're just super-duper smart. Or, like you said, unless you're in the studio with the person while they created it, you don't know what their intent is.
So you kind of try to lay out the blueprint so people can go and create their own art, or they can go and create their own metaphors for how that person handled something in their own life. You listen to "Easy Like Sunday Morning" and everyone's like, "Yo, that's a dope love song." And Lionel Richie's like, "I wrote that song in the midst of my divorce and she was taking everything from me." That song was basically like an F you letter to his ex-wife. Then that kind of puts it through like, "Hey: I'm going through a divorce right now and I'm having all this trouble. And I'm about to tear — Oh, wait! I could just be easy like Sunday morning, cause that's how Lionel Richie did it. That could probably save me the summer house in the Hamptons because I decided to take it like Lionel Richie did." Or what's the Philip Bailey, Earth Wind and Fire song, is it "Devotion?" "Devotion" is about a one-night stand. He's like, "People play this song at weddings all the time, but it's actually a song about a one-night stand." Because people are listening to the melody and not the lyrics.
You kind of learn through things like that, there are ways to get your message across, maybe to your boss. Like, your boss is pissing you off, and you want to — if you don't understand that there are different ways of communicating, that don't necessarily mirror how you feel, but express the sentiments of how you feel in a way that gets over the way you need it to, you're gonna have to find that out on your own. Art helps, TV helps, books help. All of these different things that you start to figure out how to navigate through life. And that's where I feel the media comes in, where it's like you're translating stuff for people, you're helping people figure out different meanings. And sometimes you hear a song and then someone tells you what one of the easter eggs mean, you now become a person who now looks at the world closer, because you didn't know that there was a double meaning in this Jay Z lyric and now that you do, you're listening to every Jay Z song in a very different way. Or you're treating every drug dealer in a very different way because you thought drug dealers were stupid, but here's one that was actually smart.
So all of these things are just very, very important. And they can only be as important as the art that makes them, which is why it kind of goes back to this thing of, I'm trying to push you to make better music, so I have something better to respond to. Because it's ultimately not about my relationship to you, as an artist, or your relationship to me as a journalist, it's about our relationship to the world, and to the fans. That's who we're both here for. Those are ultimately who our real bosses are. Not out editors or our executive producers or the vice president of the label or the publisher. It's really the people that we're here talking to.
FRANNIE: OK, but even within all that, everybody in this room, individually, is keeping somebody's secret. I guarantee you everybody in this room has a story that if they were to tell it, would drastically affect regular people's perception of a very successful, very influential artist. Why are we not telling those stories? Who are we protecting?
KRIS EX: Well, I would say that we're protecting ourselves because I think everyone in this room has a secret or story that would drastically impact how our families and our loved ones look at us. You kind of get to that point where you're like, some stuff —
FRANNIE: People are people.
KRIS EX: Yeah. But it's also — my thing is, there are a lot of times when, earlier on when I was faced with that situation where it's like, "Oh, this really great, sensational stuff happened that may have been illicit, almost definitely illegal, immoral. You know, just questionable things that you happened to be a part of — especially when artists are younger and they don't realize that you shouldn't be doing or saying certain things on camera, you shouldn't be having some conversations — even if you're having a conversation on a phone, I'm in the room and the recorder's going. Like, you shouldn't be having that conversation.”
If it's a really great conversation, I would say, for me the thing was always like, I can only justify not putting this thing in if I have something better. Like, if I have 1,500 words to do this thing in, I need — I will put that up for consideration, but I have to find 1,500 words that are more exciting and better than that stuff in order for me to justify not including it. And that forces me to write a better story as opposed to exposing someone.
And we've all — I think not only have we seen things in interviews, we've done things in interviews that we don't necessarily want people to know. We've imbibed, we've been to the strip club, we've partaken in certain things. We've wet our beak, as journalists. We've taken part, and it goes to the same thing. It's like, at the end of the day, do I feel good about myself? Do I feel like a good person? And if I don't feel like a good person, how can I write something to right those wrongs that I did during that time? Like, how can I contribute to the world through this piece, to make the world a better place? Because I participated in making the world a less better place while conducting this interview by partaking in something.
And I don't know how that works for Frannie as a woman, because it's a little different. Or it's very different how — the evils that men do versus the evils that women do are gonna be very different. So...
FRANNIE: Yeah. In the secrets that I have kept, they're not all that exciting, in a weird way. It's just that people will disappoint you. You know? And I think that you have to take people off a pedestal or wherever — really, it's about lifting yourself up to be on the same level as famous people or successful people or geniuses. But I don't know. All my deepest stuff is just, don't believe the hype — like ever.
Anything that I would say — you know, if somebody is getting some value, if somebody's life is improved by a fraud, who am I to take that from them? But I don't consider that protecting myself. I consider that protecting, well, in that case I guess it's a listener or something like that, a fan. But I think it's interesting that as a — and I think this is true of all reporters, all of journalism — that you have to know more than you can ever say in order for you to be good at doing your job.
KRIS EX: I would never write a lie. That's the one thing — I wouldn't write a lie. I would try to find a better truth to write, than to write a lie. There's a fine line between telling the truth and not telling a lie. People consider certain things lies of omission, and it's like, how important are certain things? We're sitting here and we're having this conversation and someone's fly is open, someone has a booger hanging outta their nose — do we tell that person? Or do we not? And if we do or don't tell that person, do we need to make that part of this interview?
KRIS EX: And it kind of gets to like, is the point of this interview to show — unless it exemplifies some sort of human characteristic about the person, then I mean ... I don't know if it's ever our place.
FRANNIE: Let me give an example. How about this: So, I have a friend who was debating with his friend who was working on a story: If she found out that Chance actually had a major label deal, distribution or otherwise, would she print it? What would be served by revealing that he had not in fact been 100% independent all along?
ALI: That's almost like gossip. But then again, it isn't.
FRANNIE: Right. Because people could use his example and think they could make it independent. But it was, in fact, not possible.
KRIS EX: I mean, it depends on the spirit of telling that truth. Are you telling it to help the people, or are you telling it to tear down Chance?
ALI: Right. Exactly.
FRANNIE: Right. I have zero information about this, by the way.
ALI: I have not been in any of those situations you guys have been in, from a journalist. As an artist, that's totally different. And as an artist, I guess there's some sort of an unwritten code of, you guard the people around you. It's just that simple, because at any given moment, the spotlight could be placed on you. That's one. Two: you have the liberty as an artist, or a license — I guess I should say — to maybe write about that experience or that secret in some sort of a veiled way. But it sounds like you're talking about being very direct and just saying, "Look, this is the deal, people. This is what I observed." And so for that, for me personally, I think there would be some sort of satisfaction, I guess, if I were to take a step like that, but I wouldn't. I would feel more satisfied — if it was something I felt compelled to talk about, like it was getting me to that point, that I'm like, "I'm gonna expose this situation," that just brings a lot of attention and I wouldn't be doing it for some self-gratifying, like, "Yo, I just ripped the lid off." I would rather just go to that person and say what I feel bothered me about whatever that thing is, and just leave it there. That's just me.
KRIS EX: There's this one example that I have, where I was interviewing this artist and it was his first album, and this artist went on to become one of the bigger, more successful people in rap in the past 10 years or so. And on his first album, there was a lot of stuff that he was saying in the interview that wasn't really ringing true to me. One of the things, he was saying about how much money he made, which was sort of like, a mathematical impossibility, with the amount of money he said he was making and how much money he was spending. Just a lot of different things that weren't ringing true.
And the person was like, "Oh, the album's done. We got all the songs. We're just gonna make a few more songs," whatever. I'm hanging with this person all day. We go to the studio, the person starts recording in the studio, and the guy does three songs in one night. Like, literally, right on the spot, does these three songs. All three of these songs wind up on the album, so I'm like, I don't understand how your album was finished, when the three songs you did in that one night, were on the album.
But one of the songs he did, he goes in — like, I never saw this guy with a pad and pen or anything — then they're like, playing the song back, and there's a guy in his crew who is singing along to every word of the song better than the guy who just made the verse. Knows everything about the song. So it's obvious to me this dude ghostwrote the song for you. It's totally obvious. And I remember when I wrote the story, I didn't say that, but I kind of wrote — I didn't even allude to it, I just kind of put it in a very interesting way, that if you're paying attention, you'll be like, "Wait, how does this guy know a song that was just recorded?" I kind of placed one of his claims about his wealth — I was like, "This is so absurd, I'm not even gonna challenge it. I'm just gonna let the quote live." And I remember there were so many letters about that quote of his, cause everyone was just like, "What? Wait, how much money? You would have to have — you would be a billionaire if that's the kind of lifestyle you're living. And you wouldn't be trying to put out a rap record."
I remember just kind of being — and I actually stopped writing for a while after this interview, just because I was like, I'm just kind of through with these rappers, it's too much artifice and too much phoniness. But I still remember that I went and I wrote a really great interview. But I never put my personal stuff, as to how I felt, in that piece. I challenged myself to find out so many more interesting things about this artist. And the artist, like I said, went on to still be criticized for the same things that I brought up, so he couldn't escape that because that was part of who he was. But he also went on to have a very successful career. And the reason he had a successful career was because he was making good music. And I recall that that was an icky one for me, to the point where it was like, I just had to step back for a while after that one.
And then another time that I stepped back was I interviewed, back-to-back, two not so-much rappers but executive moguls who were kind of lying to me the whole interview. Like, you could just tell, like, “You're lying. About everything.” Again, these guys were later exposed for their lies or whatever. At that point, I just said I had to step back again and take some time off.
Because it really gets to a point where — I never want to — as much as I want to help the reader, I never want to place myself in a position where I can't. Because if you cross a certain line, by calling someone out, it gets political. And then your ability to do any good is challenged. Which I guess is something you see a lot in politicians, where you're like, why is this person not going so hard against this other politician? Because they know that in order for me to be able to do any good in my state, I may have to just hold my nose and sign this other bill, just so the federal government doesn't pull funds from my state and really screw us over. If you care about it, you do work to kind of — like, how do you figure out not to expose someone? Or what is the worth of exposing someone?
Because if this person is signed to a major label that's taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads in a publication over the course of a year, if you ruin that relationship, that puts the publication in jeopardy, that makes you a liability. There's all of these things. So it's like you are always — it goes to the same thing with making art.
What you were talking about, like Kendrick with "Keisha's Song" or whatever. Sometimes you have to sit back and gauge like, I want to tell this true story of what happened in my neighborhood, but do I want to actually place people's lives in jeopardy? Or do I want to get to that place where I'm actually dry snitching and then placing myself in jeopardy and no longer able to record music because I'm not safe on the block or I've lost all my credibility?
You juggle so many things that I don't know if — I think it's hard to juggle all that, it's very, very hard. It leads you to dark places in yourself sometimes. It leads you to self-medication, it leads you to acting out, it leads you to very unhealthy ways of coping with that.
And when I look at some of the people who aren't wrestling with those questions, who are just kind of basically throwing up press releases and very cheerleading, positive puff pieces, part of me is very angry with them. But also, I kind of get why you don't want to have that discussion with yourself. You're going to have to face yourself in a really deep way, if you're — if I'm going to confront you, because you're a married rapper and we're at a strip club and you're doing something — if I'm going to confront you on that, then I have to look at my own infidelities. Am I willing to do that much and say that? Or if I'm going to criticize you for your own financial sloppiness, am I willing to do that in my own life? Anything I'm going to criticize someone for, I can't fully and properly do it — no one can — without somehow looking at themselves and then dealing with how they're not looking at themselves and breaking themselves against themselves.
FRANNIE: At the same time though, that feeling when somebody is just lying to you? Just like, sitting across from you and essentially challenging you, daring you to say something.
KRIS EX: Right.
FRANNIE: Or, making you complicit in their lie. It's a terrible feeling. It makes you feel — it's incredibly disrespectful. That's like, some of the most disrespect I've ever felt. Fuck all that shit that men do and positions they put women in in the industry, in the interview room, studio, whatever. It's when people lie to my fucking face and think I'm just gonna take it. That's like, Top 3.
KRIS EX: I think that takes us back to the Kendrick and Drake conversation. And it takes us back to who's part of the community and who's not. Because if you really understand street dudes, if you really understand crack dealers, if you really understand murderers, if you really understand people who walk around with felonies waiting to happen to them, them lying to your face is really not a big deal. It's sort of like, on the list of things that these people do, you kind of get to the point where it's like, yeah, that's sort of what it is.
FRANNIE: It's not the lying. It's the expectation that I can be bent to their will.
KRIS EX: Well, when these two people were lying to me, it's not that they were — it was not that I could be bent to their will, it was just like, these two people were like, heavy and notorious. Dudes that — one of them basically has bodies on him, and the other one has bodies on him by proxy. So it's sort of like, for me it was like about being in this really weird power dynamic where it's like, I can't even call BS on this right now, because it's sort of like, I know who you are. I don't have a lie detector test except my gut. These are lies that you've probably told a million times to a million different people, and that part of it is what made me uncomfortable, was that it forces you to realize that everyone in this game is lying, to an extent. Either by exaggeration or by lying to themselves.
It was just that it was two of them back-to-back and because they were both not artists themselves. Like, I like talking to artists. I consider myself an artist, I consider myself a writer moreso than a critic or a journalist. So to me, I understand artists and I want to understand artists. I like knowing about people's processes, I like the idiosyncrasies of it all. But when you have people on the executive side, it's sort of like they're just the money counters and it's just like —
FRANNIE: Have you ever interviewed an executive and had them offer you a job in the middle of the interview?
KRIS EX: No. I've expected it to happen many times, like it's still always a dream. I think there's been a lot of feelings of that — wanting stuff. But I think that — I'm kind of under the gun right now, in a sense, because I'm being interviewed and I don't feel in my zone, as when I'm controlling the conversation and I'm not worried about what the recording sounds like. When I get into that zone, I'm a lot freer. And I think what comes across is that no matter how beneficial I can be, there's an untamed horse thing about me that people pick up on, that I would be a liability sooner or later. Because I'm not going to play the game.
I see my peers, or my former peers — like, I'm the only one writing still that was writing when I came in. Maybe Michael Gonzales, maybe Amy Linden? I don't know anyone else who was writing when I came in the game that is still writing. I don't know anyone else in the game who has been writing for as long as I have without selling out or cashing in or trading lanes or coming out here to LA and doing the Hollywood thing or becoming a teacher, becoming a lawyer, getting a regular job, having children and leaving stuff behind, or going to a label, going to a streaming service. Everybody kind of branches off because they had different goals or a different love for this stuff. And I think that's why — I don't have that.
I think if you are an executive and you're a head-hunter and you're looking for people, you know who the people are, who are subtly treating the interview as a job interview, or who are presenting themselves as available for certain things and people who are just like, “Nah, that person doesn't want it.” You go on a date with someone and you can tell if this person wants to be in a relationship or if this person just came for the free meal or whatever. You can kind of tell. And you will respond accordingly, I think. So I like to believe that's what's happened to me.
FRANNIE: And you're not trying to go staff anywhere either?
KRIS EX: Um, I would love to be staff somewhere, honestly, at this point. Only because I — we were talking earlier over dinner, that one of the problems is there aren't conversations going on in a continued way with people, where everyone's writing for so many different publications, for so many different audiences. Like you said, if you're writing for NPR, you're writing differently from The Source.
I would love to be in a situation where it's like, you're speaking to these specific people and you're speaking to these people once a week, twice a week, every day, whatever the situation is. But you're getting to know them, they're giving you feedback, you're giving them information. And you're not starting every conversation over from scratch. You're not having to reintroduce yourself, you know the editorial voice, you know what the editors expect from you. All of that is in a flow and you can home that in and get better at that.
I just don't know if that place — for me, that place has to be with an editor that's going to make me a better writer, that's going to challenge me and that's going to, like, even what you're doing here with this interview. It's like, this is not something I do. People are always asking me to do podcasts and I'm like, "No, I don't do podcasts." It has to be an editor that's not gonna be like, "Hey, here's this thing you like to do. Do you want to do it?" It has to be an editor that's like, "Yeah, actually, I need you to go cover this symphony thing," and I'm like, "What?" "No, no, it's gonna be good, it's gonna be good." And they get me to go out there and then maybe explore something new.
I went to see Moonlight once and they had a live orchestra doing the score. Or when Luke Cage had the live score thing. I don't even know how to write about that, but if I was in a position where it's like, I'm on staff and I got a relationship with an editor and they're like, "This is what you're on." I'm like, OK, now I'm forced to figure out how to write about this live experience that's kind of foreign to me, to write about an orchestra playing a score. What do you talk about? Do you talk about what people are wearing?
FRANNIE: 100,000 percent.
KRIS EX: Yeah, I would love to be a staff somewhere, if given those parameters. I'm gonna turn that question around to a producer. As a producer, would you like to be an in-house producer somewhere, or would you prefer to just —
ALI: Me, in-house? Nah. I don't think that would work out. Unless it's my house. I like the freedom of the unknown. I think in-house producers tend to have to take things as a assembly line. And there are a lot of people do it really well. I just wouldn't be one of those people. I like the unknown and open-mindedness. When people even come to me and say, "We want something that sounds similarly to something else you did," I'm like, "This is not gonna work out." So, yeah.
KRIS EX: You've never done a solo album, just you with one artist doing a whole album, right?
ALI: No, not one artist. My solo record had several artists on there. I think I contributed maybe five solo songs to it. But no. I am working on something now where it's strictly me.
KRIS EX: But not with another artist?
ALI: With another artist? Actually, there is a project I worked on with another artist — her name is Merna, formerly Ayah. Now it's Merna Killed Ayah. But we worked on an album and we're trying to figure out what to do with it.
KRIS EX: So what is the difference between working — like, how do you get into the zone of saying like, "I am doing an album—” Like, “I'm responsible for this entire album." Versus, "I'm doing a solo project with other people coming in and helping out, and I get to texturize it through other people," as opposed to saying, "I'm working with this one person and I'm now responsible for the club song and the ballad and the radio single and all of that all on my own."
ALI: Well, with Merna, for an example, we were just writing songs for people. We had a whole bunch of other songs kind of left on the side. And they were really great songs, and it really embodied just us as artists, who she is and who I am and us as a collective. We liked the way that sounded and wanted to continue to finish that and complete that. There is a reasonable amount of freedom when you have other people to kind of help fill in those gaps with what you talking about.
I don't know, I just like being free. I don't have any other way to describe it. The freedom of not even having to approach music with those particular purposes other than how do we feel today? What are we talking about? What's the purpose of what we're doing today?
FRANNIE: Is there anything that you wanted to talk about that we didn't talk about? Or go back on?
KRIS EX: I don't know, anything that I thought about — I didn't know what to expect, but I think that I spoke on everything. I do think one of the most important things about this "journalism, music criticism, music writing culture" is that it's very important that the people who love it get an opportunity to do it, and that the people who are talking about this music come from the same spaces and the same communities and the same understandings as the people who are making it. I think that's the biggest gap and the biggest problem that we've had with hip-hop.
There's also some weird conspiracy theories and people say, "Oh, the labels wouldn't — they only promote stuff that's bad for our neighborhoods," and all that. And I don't know how true that is. But I do know that it's much easier for the people in the upper echelons of these labels to sign and promote this kind of music when it's not people that look like them or people that they feel their children would be taking life advice from. I think that if the presidents of these companies felt that the fiscal irresponsibility and the disrespect towards women and disrespect towards life that some of these rappers espouse was going to influence how their children interact, they wouldn't be so comfortable about promoting it.
I also think that when you get to the mid-level positions of power, it's very hard for people that do come out of these communities to turn these jobs down. Labels pay good money. I have friends at labels and they are making good money. They're driving good cars, their expense accounts are still working and, even though the labels have downsized and the music industry is not what it was in the '90s, labels still have money. And those people aren't necessarily going to turn those jobs down, even if they know that this music isn't great for their communities. They don't have veto power in these situations. They can't change the situations. They're just like, I could be broke like you, or I could not be broke like you. And that's what it boils down to.
So I think it's very important that we — cause the conversation is the only thing we could control — we can't necessarily control the platforms. It's kind of out of our range to take over these platforms. These platforms are owned by who they're owned by. It's out of our range to take over these labels and control who they're going to sign and who they're going to promote. The only thing we have is to communicate with the artists to try to get them to maybe have different types of messages, and to control our conversations and take back out conversations.
Cause there have been a kajillion think pieces on Kendrick, and how many of the think pieces written about Kendrick were written by black people that weren't at a publication that's already dealing with black subjects? Most of the black people that have written about Kendrick are black people who are at publications that cover black topics and kind of went outside of their purview to cover Kendrick, as opposed to white publications saying, "Let's give space for black voices this week about this record, because this is a record that's speaking directly to and from their experience." I haven't seen a lot of that. I looked at the bylines and they're still the same people. That's just a very — if we don't control our conversations, we can't really control our history.
Cause whatever holographic version of the Internet exists in 20 years, that's how people are gonna figure out what happened in this era. They're going to look back, they're going to search or say Kendrick's name or whatever type of artificial intelligence, type of information retrieval system, is gonna come back and pull these things up. And if we're not here telling people about it from our point of view, then our history's just lost.
I used to have this conversation back in the mid-to-late '90s when Eminem started coming up and people were like, "Oh, you see? They're trying to do like they took jazz and rock-and-roll, they're gonna have the white people come up." And I was like, "They could never take our music from us again, because we're too aware of that. We're too self-aware. We've seen it happen." Like, we like Eminem. He's good. But we're not going to let him become like Elvis. He's not going to turn this around. And that never happened.
But while I was paying attention to that fight, what happened was, white people came in and took over the conversation about our music. Which is almost just as bad as taking over the music itself, because if we're not allowed to have our conversations — it's not like a disrespect to white people, it's just that y'all don't necessarily let us come in and write about your world. You know what I mean? It's like, you talk about your world. We're not coming in and saying like, "Hey, I'm gonna explain living in rural Kansas to you." We don't do that. We don't have the opportunities to do that. And even if we did, that's not something we would feel comfortable doing.
So it's very important that we maintain and bring up new voices, enforce the new voices, encourage new voices to continue this conversation, because I feel the smartest and sharpest minds that we have are coming out of social media now, because no one's giving them a chance, these outlets aren't giving them a chance. But if you look at Black Twitter whenever something happens, when there was the N-word Navy — who messed up? And someone tweeted about, they were supposed to say Donald Trump wanted a bigger Navy and they tweeted the wrong word and they just like, went off. And I'm like, "Yo, these are smart, sharp people." They need to be encouraged, they need to feel like — representation matters. They have to see someone doing it to be like, "Oh, I could actually do that," or, "I want to do that."
Part of the reason I became a writer was because of Kevin Powell. And I don't know if he knows this. It happened very quickly, cause I could always write, but it was like, 1992, I think. '91 or '92, and there was a feature in Rap Pages and it was about different writers and it had pictures of the writers and then I saw Kevin Powell. And it said he was like, a writer and a teacher or something. But it was, "Oh hey, it's a black guy." He was wearing, like, a jean shirt with a tie and club shoes and he had little funky hair. It was just like, "Oh, wow, it's a young black guy." And it was like, "Kevin Powell, writer for Rap Pages." Me seeing that, I actually said, "Oh wow, I could do this." I didn't know I could do that before I actually saw that photo and been like, "Wow, someone that looks like me can actually do this." I thought everyone was like Barbara Walters or something.
So I think it's very important that we — not only the jokey podcast stuff and the other stuff, but we are consistently pushing this line of intellectual rigor and inquiry and analysis, in a respectful way. And trying to just be out there so that — like I said, I don't know when the last time I worked with a black editor is. I don't know who the black, young writers are that aren't identified as black writers.
FRANNIE: Would you feel comfortable naming some writers that inform you, make you a better writer? Thinker?
KRIS EX: Right now? Wow. Kiese.
FRANNIE: I knew you were gonna say that.
KRIS EX: Yeah, Kiese is like, oh man. It's weird cause I was trying to think of music writers and there aren't that many. I mean Kiese is like, he's that dude. Kiese Laymon. He's just amazing, phenomenal, brave, incredible. Kirsten West Savali over at The Root, she's amazing, phenomenal. Clover Hope, amazing. I feel like I haven't seen her as much since she got swallowed into the Jezebel machine. I mean, I'm sure I'll think of a dozen names in the car, but right now, I'm drawing a serious blank on who is that person, or those people.
FRANNIE: It's fine, you did a good job. Don't worry. So I just want end on this last question, which is — you and I argue a lot.
KRIS EX: Do we?
FRANNIE: Well, depending. Yeah. Yeah, we argue a lot. And you and I don't argue that much, but we talk about other people's arguments. Sure, hip-hop is competitive, and whatever. And we talked about Kendrick going back and forth with Fox on whatever level that's happening. Is that arguing productive in some way? Or is it just, like, how we spend time with each other? Is it just code for hanging out and talking about ourselves?
ALI: I feel like you almost answered your own question. I think it's productive, depending on the purpose of the argument and where it's going to carry on after whatever has been spoken. But I don't know if I'm smart enough to really answer that question. I think it's natural for human beings to have ideas, opinions and opposing opinions and to talk about them. That's just being human. But other than that, I don't know how to answer that question.
KRIS EX: I think if everyone is in agreement, if you're not arguing, I think you're just becoming weaker. Because to not argue is to kind of infer that you're perfect, or that there aren't things that you can't be better at. There's always something that we could all be better at. And there's just different points of view, we don't have to see things the same way. It's like, what is the tenor of our argument? Are we arguing about ideas? Are we arguing to tear each other down? Are we going ad hominem real quick? Are we sticking to a debate about ideas? Do you, thinking that Kendrick Lamar is the best MC, take away from someone else thinking that J. Cole is the best MC? Or does that conversation make you have a better understanding of both people at the end of it?
So, I think the arguments are what — people say beef in rap is corny. I think beef in rap is good. I just think there's not enough beef in rap. I think there's not any real beef in rap. When Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma had it, everyone had an opinion on that. And when you saw on social media, the social media response was very quick. Like, wow. The response and conversation was very quick and wild. But the response from the rap community was very muted and reserved because, at the end of the day, it's not about who makes a better song, it's about, how much power does Nicki Minaj have? And do I want to alienate Nicki Minaj and all of her relationships by saying, "I actually like this song."
That happens a lot. Even with the Drake and Meek Mill thing, a lot of people that you know ideologically had to be rolling with Meek, but didn't say anything because, "Do I want to piss off Cash Money, Young Money, OVO, YMCMB, We Da Best, Universal ..." Like, there's a whole machinery tied into it. Some people just kind stay out of it because of that. And I think that makes the music weaker, I think that makes the people weaker. It's like, you should be cool to like — I could think your album's not great. That doesn't mean I don't like you. There are, how many millions of people are in this country — like, 40 million people in this country?
FRANNIE: No, it's like 290.
KRIS EX: Oh, it's 40 million black people. OK? Whatever, 290 million people. And you sell a million records and you're the man. So it's basically like, if you sell a very small amount of records — so there are more people that don't like your music. The most successful artists ever — you sold diamond, you sold double diamond, you sell 20 million records, there's still more people that don't like your music than do like your music, just based on the numbers. That's just the facts. Doesn't matter how many streams you got, there's still more people that didn't like your music than like your music. So why should hearing from those people be a problem? The fact of it is, there are more people that don't like your music than do. That's never gonna change. Until you sell 290 million or at least 150 million or whatever to come over that barrier of the halfway mark.
ALI: See, that very statement is one of the reasons why I'm at the "I don't really care" stage of my life. I'm just doing it for me.
KRIS EX: Right. But I'm interested to hear why it didn't work for you. Because why it didn't work for you lets me know why it works for someone else.
KRIS EX: All of that brings me to closer to homing in, to making the stuff that I could do better. Because if someone says, "Oh, I didn't like that record. It had too much bass. I don't like too —" Oh, OK. Then I actually know what's working for people is my bass, because I wasn't thinking about it, but now that I know that the bass is what turned you off, I know that the bass has to be what's attracting other people. So maybe I add more bass, maybe I pay more attention to my bass. You find those things out. It doesn't need to be like, you're a wack person. Except for maybe with MCs because it's like, literally the stuff that's coming out of your mouth is wack. So people take it a way.
Rappers, musicians, artists, celebrities can live in such bubbles, and I'm like, if being outside of the bubble gets too much, you can always go back to the bubble. You can always get back on the tour bus, surround yourself with your weed carriers and your assistants and get out on stage and be in front of people who love you because they paid money to see you — no one's gonna be booing there. You're gonna go to radio stations that aren't gonna challenge you because they're here helping you promote your stuff. So you can get back into that groove really easily. So why not sit there and be challenged for like, an hour or 10 minutes or however long it takes to be challenged.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I think people need to argue so that they can learn how to defend themselves and understand themselves as a person who needs to be defended, a person whose opinion is valuable. I think that people cede that ground way too much right now. And I think it's also a good idea to get used to being unpopular, to having an unpopular opinion.
KRIS EX: I also think that's why this country's in the state that it's in, is because, like you said, people don't know how to defend their positions and people don't know how to — people haven't been working their critical, analytical muscles. So that you can get this guy who just says all of this really weird stuff, you know, get enough people to vote for him that he wins the electoral college. Because people aren't used to looking at things critically.
FRANNIE: Or they're so used to being lied to, it doesn't bother them very much anymore. They don't even take it personal.
KRIS EX: Or the lie is just confirming what they believe and what they believe and how they what to feel is more important than the actual truth.
FRANNIE: Yes, that's very true. So, thank you so much for doing this. It was a departure for us and I hope that our listeners can understand why we did it. But you really did what we were hoping to do, which is show why talking about hip-hop is crucial. And why these conversations need to be high quality, need to be supported, the people that instigate them need to be supported and respected. And their interactions with musicians need to be acknowledged as complicated, fraught. And the relationship is certainly imbalanced at times. So thanks for doing it, thanks for taking a chance on it and for spending all this time.
KRIS EX: Thank you for suckering me into it.
FRANNIE: That is what happened. That's true.
KRIS EX: And you know, the celebrity co-host helps.
ALI: Ha ha ha.
KRIS EX: Because I've heard — when I listen to the podcast, I notice that he's usually — he always makes me as a listener feel more comfortable. Because he's less assuming and doesn't — I always feel like if there's going to be any friction, he will come in and calm it down. Not that there's ever any hint of friction, but there's just always like, that calm vibe of the peacemaker. Which helps when you're going into a scary situation, to know that there's someone who is vocally not as comfortable with the situation as you are, who is consistently saying, "I am not a journalist, I am not here to do this," but working through it. Because you never know what people are going to ask. Frannie is trained to ask — even in regular conversation with Frannie, you could get some really smart questions that's like, "Damn, we just talking. I wasn't prepared for all of that." So it's kind of good when there's a peacemaker in the vibe.
ALI: Thank you, giving me some insight on how I'm perceived. So thanks on that. I like to be a peacemaker. I also know that I am an artist who's interviewing artists and I don't want to give my opinion because that could be hurtful. And moreso, just want people to just tell their story. Instead of what I think of their story, their experience. I don't know, I'm not into ruffling feathers.
KRIS EX: Well, she is. But that's what makes her so good. I just want to say Frannie is probably one of the best editors I've had in at least the past five, 10 years, if not longer. She's a really great editor, and she thinks like an editor, which is a very — it becomes intimidating to be like, on this side of the microphone from her, because you know how she sees the big picture, she sees movements a lot.
And again, going back to this idea of needing people who are invested in our communities, with that skill set and that dedication to things. It's just like, very important, because the things that she is able to see, just from being someone who's just kind of like, enjoying the culture, but not coming from those experiences, is like, if we had more of her on our side who came up from these experiences, I just know that the ideas and the stories and the things that person would come up with, would be phenomenal for all of our discussions.
And I've even seen people try to take blueprints of things that Frannie's done very recently, and it's sort of like, y'all changed the recipe. You could go somewhere and it's like, this ain't the same chef that made this last weekend. It's not even just the ideas, it's like, a coach. You know, a coach could give you the playbook, but if the coach isn't there on the field calling the shots and doing whatever the coach has to do in between plays to get you to play your best, it's a very different thing. And Frannie is really, really good at that. She's made me a much better writer through challenging certain things that I take for granted. And knowing how to relate to certain audiences, so yeah. It's a pleasure to be here, so thank you.
ALI: I just have one question behind that, cause I understand the context of the statement. But when you say she's enjoying the culture, that stands out to me. I'm like, "Are you enjoying the culture?" How do you take that when you hear that?
FRANNIE: I thought that he was further saying what he said a few times, which is, we need people of color in positions of decision-making, in the editor role, at the management and executive level. I think that's funny that you say you're not a journalist but you, a) set me up — I meant that in a positive way. You gave me a chance to — anyway, which is gonna further his point.
I think there are limitations to what I can do in covering and producing coverage of hip-hop music, rap music, the people who make it, the people who listen to it. I think that there are some things that I can do that other people can't do. I think there are some things that I can do with you that I can't do on my own. And I just think that what he says is true.
As far as enjoying the culture, though, I feel complicated about that. Especially in the past few years, I find less and less of the music to be — I find the whole industry to be more and more polluted. I have tried to be a booster and tried to be positive, but it has felt more and more befouled, somehow. In terms of my job, the media, New York media, music media, all that stuff, I mean, I walked away from it. That shit was poisonous. I was not able to be healthy within it.
I think it's pretty glaring that all three of us are free agents. We've been inside it, we've seen it and we have no interest in being back there. So, I love the culture and I want the best for the culture and I'll do what I can. But it's not super fun all the time. This is. Always. Being in this room is the best thing that I do, my favorite thing that I do.
And you let me bring my dog, so I appreciate that.
ALI: He's chill.
FRANNIE: He only farted twice.
ALI: He has privileges. But thank you, kris.
KRIS EX: No, thank you, thank you both for even allowing me to have this conversation. I would love to have this conversation once a week with people. Not for a podcast, not for — just to talk about these things and to learn and to get feedback from people as to, like, what makes sense and what doesn't. Also to explore these ideas because if we were to turn around and talk about this stuff tomorrow, we start off at the point we ended, we start taking it further. I don't know, but thank you. Thank you both.