Wrap Up Episode

Wrap Up Episode

Photo credit: Abraham Galindo



This episode is a little different. We wanted to talk to each other about what’s transpired since February of 2018, which was when we began our partnership with Spotify. We wanted to talk about the subtext of some of our interviews, and the context in which all our conversations were had. For us that means what happened in hip-hop culture and the world at large over the last year, but also it’s about our dynamic and how we see our roles. This is a dialogue about what we wish was different, what we’re not sure how to change and the ways we appreciate each other. It’s very Microphone Check, and it’s where we are now.

FRANNIE KELLEY: What do you remember the most about this year, or the last year?

ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Wow. That's – man. That question is a bad question for me personally, because –

FRANNIE: I know.

ALI: – I've been so focused on my specific work more and less of the, I was going to say, chaos in the world of hip-hop. And that might be an unfair kind of paintbrush, because there have also been some wonderful things that has happened in the world, but I've really – what do I remember most? The first thing is that A Tribe Called Quest got looked over for a Grammy. So that's a memorable moment.

FRANNIE: I remember that. Yeah.

ALI: Not to be narcissistic about it.

FRANNIE: I don't think that's what that is.

ALI: Nah, I'm just trying to spread the love of memories.

FRANNIE: Yeah, it feels like every month something good happened and something really bad happened.

ALI: Well, what are some of the things that sticks out in your mind.

FRANNIE: The Grammys were in February last year, right?

ALI: Yes.

FRANNIE: So Black Panther came out. That was good.

ALI: That was great. Did you see Black Panther?

FRANNIE: Yeah, on the day, on the Thursday.

ALI: Do you remember which theater?

FRANNIE: Yeah, I went to the dome.

ALI: The dome?

FRANNIE: What is that placed called? On Sunset.

ALI: The ArcLight?

FRANNIE: Yeah. The dome at the ArcLight. And everybody was super dressed up.

ALI: That's a nice theater. I don't know if they have ArcLight theaters in New York City or any other areas of the world, but in case they don't, the ArcLight is very old school, because you'll have, I guess, a representative of the theater come out and have a small discussion –

FRANNIE: Yeah, that's true.

ALI: – about, I guess, what you're going to see. I don't know. That's just different.

FRANNIE: I mean, it's a big occasion. And so we went and it was like, people had dressed up and we're taking it seriously. I had bought tickets way in advance, and I saw, far enough away that I didn't feel right sort of getting up and going over to bother him and everything, but I saw Franklin Leonard there, with a big group of people. 

ALI: Wow.

FRANNIE: Yeah. And I don't know if people will remember from our conversation with him, how excited he was about Black Panther and what it would mean for this conversation that a lot of people have been having, which is the commercial potential of black-led film. And also the way in which an embrace of – that is an embrace of hip-hop culture and an expression of it, and its potential hasn't been explored. But Black Panther is irrefutable evidence that something that specifically steeped in the culture performs worldwide.

From our interview with Franklin Leonard.

FRANKLIN LEONARD: People are like, "You can't sell black people abroad." I've been asking for as long as I've been in the business, which is almost 15 years, for anyone to show me any analytical evidence of that claim whatsoever, and no one has shown it. And anybody listening, if you have it, hit me up on Twitter. Show me the numbers, but they don't exist. Coming To America made something like 200 million dollars foreign when it came out. Big Momma's House 2 made 70 million dollars abroad, like in 2007. You can't tell me that you can't sell black movies abroad or people of color abroad, because the evidence just isn't there. But assumptions like that are what slow certain things from getting made.

ALI: It would be nice to see other notable studios really wholly support the black experience and stories of African-Americans, and ideas of directors and great writers, really go for it in the way that Marvel did. I guess time will tell, cause sometimes it takes a minute for everyone to catch on.

FRANNIE: Right. There is always that danger that people will be like, "Oh, it happened. It's good. Problem solved. We can take our foot off the gas now."

ALI: Yeah, but for those who kind of feel like they want to pat themselves on the back like that and keep it moving, the fact that other areas in life haven't really caught up, it'll be kind of a tap on the chin to be like, "Uh-uh, not so fast. Show and prove." So what other memorable moments in hip-hop do you have?

FRANNIE: Kendrick won a Pulitzer.

ALI: Yeah, OK.


ALI: No, that's a big deal. Don't underestimate the OK. That's a – this is your memory also, so I'm saying OK to, like, wanting to hear anything more you have to say about that.

FRANNIE: I thought that that was one of those long overdue things that also I had some complicated feelings about, the embrace of Kendrick by the powers that be, and particularly with embracing DAMN. as opposed to his previous works. It's interesting and I don't feel fully qualified to talk about it. It's something I'd really like to talk about with more people. 

But I had seen perform at the Kennedy Center a few years ago, and while he did an amazing job and what he kept talking about on stage was how he was playing the stage that Marvin Gaye had played before, there was a lot of sort of disconnect between people in the crowd and the way that the music was arranged with the symphony and the band that he had that night. So I don't know. 

I think it's – it's an undeniable achievement that he should've got a long time ago, that a lot of people should've got a long time ago. But I'm not totally sure what that means for his work's movement through the world. You know what I mean?

ALI: Yeah, I know what you mean, but I think that something like that, the importance of it and its impact, might not be realized for another 30, 40 years. And that's for – and I think more of internationally than domestically, and I think when you have people in other corners of the world, doesn't matter if it's South America or far east Europe, or Asia, that that's a bookmark in the history of hip-hop and it will be discussed. And through that, I think there will be more of a dissection of what was happening in America at that time, and why is that so important and why was it so important.

FRANNIE: Yeah, I feel you.

ALI: Right now we might not wholly feel the impacts of it, but I think that's a great thing for hip-hop, and just the continuing conversation of African-Americans, obviously it's through a musical perspective, but it's more – it's bigger than that. It's our lives in America. And so, yeah, I think that's a good thing. I understand the conflict aspect of it, but it's not really for us at this time, I don't think.

FRANNIE: Interesting. Yeah. Quick moment to also recognize Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah winning the Pulitzer this year for her article about the shootings in Charleston. She's amazing. In all fairness, I've edited her, and I consider her a friend. But that was another huge achievement, and congratulations to her.

ALI: Yeah.

FRANNIE: As a kind of corollary, I would really love for Rachel and Kendrick to get a MacArthur. I feel like what is really lacking in both journalism and in music is the funding to kind of step away from the commercial model, from anything ad-based, and to have time, to just have time to work on something that you're not sure about and develop it, throw it away if it doesn't work. Start something new. I don't know. I can't wait for that day.

ALI: Amen, sister.

FRANNIE: Also, in April, and in fairness, this is not off the top of my head. I did remind myself. Meek was released from prison.

ALI: Yeah, I was just thinking about that.

FRANNIE: Yeah, so to have all that happen in the same – I mean, and also, the Cardi album. That month was – that month was a lot of emotions. Meek coming home and doing the work that he's done, taking the public stances and involving the names and power that he has, I think that some people doubted him, that he would take advantage of that spotlight and turn it not only on other people but on concrete action. I think that's a big deal.

ALI: One hundred percent. I think that – well, I was thinking about that, and I wanted to mention that as well. That was definitely a memorable moment, and I think that his work is more important and more valuable – his art, I should say, is more valuable now after going through that situation, and he's living up to it. 

And the thing that I really love about it, he's calling people to – he's calling out names, in a certain regard, I guess to step up. And I think more artists need to take a stance like that. I was having a conversation with – I don't remember, speaking of memory – recently, in the past couple of weeks, and I was sitting here trying to think who of the now generation carries the voice, the impact, the wisdom that a Chuck D did when Public Enemy was out, like a KRS-One when Boogie Down Productions was out. 

And I'm trying to think like who's that of this now generation, and there were a couple of names that came up, and I felt that, yeah, OK, but I think from a musical perspective, there's conflicts. And I think that Meek is stepping up, and I feel like the music is and will continue to be a representation of him being a freedom fighter and turning the spotlight on what's really happening to young blacks in America, disenfranchised by ethnicity and economics, and how unfair the system really is. So that's huge, not just for hip-hop, but just for America.

FRANNIE: And then even this week, in the week that we're speaking, with 21 Savage finally getting released and giving the interview that he gave to the New York Times, connecting what happened with his situation to other people, in his words, to poor black families and immigrant families. 

It has felt that in the past that – we've spoken to a lot of people who on and off the record have said they are worried about speaking up because – I mean, some people are worried because they might lose some form of endorsement deal or whatever, some form of institutional corporate support, but more people are worried about screwing up, accidentally saying the wrong thing, or accidentally saying something that could be used against their cause or their family or their people. And it seems to me that a significant amount of the hesitancy to take public stands is more care rather than less. 

But I think that the examples of 21 and Meek in the time that we've been with Spotify has been hopefully bolstering to people, to say that you don't even have to say it perfectly. You don't have to use the perfect language every time. The fact that you say it truthfully and that you say it out loud, that's what people respond to. And it's also heartening to see the way that people, big names, again, supported Meek and 21. All the people that came out and said, "Don't make fun of 21. This is a serious situation. This is – we're going to help him. We want to put money toward his legal fight and create funds to help other people in a similar situation." That's a big deal. 

Also in that interview, he said that he wasn't ready to put what's been going on into music yet, because he feels that what he said in music is what got him in this predicament, what he said during a performance.

ALI: Well, yeah. I think that anyone in that position – you have to make a self choice. But those people who have been reluctant to I think speak out and take a stand because, as you said, of a concern of saying something or doing something wrong – this is for me – it's in terms of just hip-hop, and I'ma be extremely candid here and if someone takes offense to it, oh well on you. But I believe in freedom of expression, and I believe in artistic license, but more than that, I believe in human responsibility, which surpasses being an artist. 

And I think at some point, your art really will have to speak up for who you are and what you're about. And in that statement – it doesn't mean that one is not inclined to change, to have a different side of life revealed to them, which wisdom settles in and gives more reason to think about your things, to becoming more responsible than maybe you were a little reluctant to do in the past. But I just think that with that statement of 21 Savage saying, you know, he's not going to put it in his music, because he feels that things in the music has gotten him to this place, I think it's responsible. It's thoughtful. I commend him for that. 

But also what do people really think is going to happen with their lives, with some of the choices that they make when they're in the studio at the sake of just being egotistical, being ignorant, intentionally being ignorant, not really caring, being ambitious for all the wrong reasons, obviously being in a position where you can change your life overnight by just saying certain things – and when I mean change your life, I mean economically, and that being the cause – all these things that go into it when people go into the studio, not really thinking – cause I speak to a lot of artists and they was, "Ah, that was just something I said; I really didn't think about it" – all those things become capsulized and immortalized, and it affects people. And so what – what honestly do you think is going to happen at some point with some of the things that you put in your lyrics? You're going to called on it at some point in your life, and if you not directly, then it could be a family member. It could be your offspring. 

So it's unfortunate that the system bullied up on 21 Savage the way that it did to try and make an example out of him, but I think because he was already in pursuit of making changes in his life and verbally stating that. He wasn't really secretive about some of these changes that he was making. So I think it's really fucked up, but I think he has already been on a path of enlightenment. And the fact that he went through this, he's going to make an example out of the system, I believe. I hope.

FRANNIE: Yeah. I think that you're probably right. That's what it feels like. I just want to be super clear. What you're saying is like: people's words have power. It comes as no surprise that if you say something against the system, the system's probably going to come after you. This has happened – we were just with Boosie in Baton Rouge. He said on stage, as he has many times in the past, that he's suffered repercussions for whenever he would talk about the police. Like "Fuck the Police" pretty directly – the daily harassment that ensued after that is why he had to leave Baton Rouge.

From our live conversation with Boosie BadAzz.

FRANNIE: And so I think an example of that also when you have a paid a cost to a certain extent is with "Fuck The Police." Right?

BOOSIE BADAZZ: Yeah, that song has stuck with me.

FRANNIE: Do you regret making it?

BOOSIE BADAZZ: At the time, I didn't. At the time, I felt everywhere –

FRANNIE: What was going on that day?

BOOSIE BADAZZ: The day before that I had got stopped by some police, and they had took some razor blades and cut out my Bentley back seats. And they had took, like, $6,000 out my pocket and threw it over the Interstate.


BOOSIE BADAZZ: So I had went made this song. I wish I wouldn't've did it now, because it haunted me in other cities. Other people –

FRANNIE: People wouldn't want to let you play?

BOOSIE BADAZZ: Baton Rouge – people besides Baton Rouge took it worser than that, so I regret making it, but not when I made it. And if that went down again, I would make it again.

FRANNIE: Right. And the way that people used it also during protests.

BOOSIE BADAZZ: Right, right. Yeah, but I meant it. It was – I meant it –

FRANNIE: You didn't make it for somebody else to use it. You just made it.

BOOSIE BADAZZ: Yeah. But I did regret it in the end, because it follows me a lot of places.

FRANNIE: And yet you also made – you made "Hands Up" too, which is –

BOOSIE BADAZZ: Yeah. I made "Hands Up" also. It's basically what's going on, you know? I got my hands up. Why you shooting me? Yeah, I made that.

FRANNIE: So there's this way in which we want people to take these risks and be vulnerable in these ways, but the repercussions come so hard and so fast right now that to me it seems like a big ask. I've said this many times before. It's a big ask that we don't make of other artists in other genres. But I understand why we make it within hip-hop.

ALI: Well, because the hip-hop has always been a voice of the people from the underground, from the street, who's – it's always been that. Yeah, it would be nice to call to task people in the alternative world and electronic music, but our culture is our culture. And we have to be more focused on our culture.

FRANNIE: Right. And then the other part of what you're saying is people need to stop acting surprised when they say nihilistic things and very little light comes their way.

ALI: Yeah, for real. Look at 6ix9ine.

FRANNIE: Yeah, I knew this was happening.

ALI: I mean, everyone saw it coming, and people tried to talk to him. I did not personally, so there's a limitation to what I can say in terms of direct contact with him. But just from looking outside in, it was inevitable that something was going to happen. Thankfully no one was murdered behind the music. But at the same time, that's the path that eventually – it's going to come to that sort of a conclusion, or you're going to get locked up. 

So what I'm saying is you're going to be a musician, you're going to be an artist, be an artist. But in terms of all this other areas of life, if you want to use the art as a means to teach and talk about where you come from, then do that, but as a means to glorify it without – from a sense of being callous and having no care for life, that's when it's no longer art. And it's not cool. 

I think of – it's funny in having these conversations outside of Spotify. But I think of artists like ScHoolboy Q and what he's come from and how I think he in a very witty way takes those experiences and places it in the music, but I don't get a sense of glorification from ScHoolboy Q. I get a sense of someone's telling a story. That to me is the equivalent of a Martin Scorsese. And to me, that's the difference. It still retains the value of art to me. Someone may feel differently. Cool. I'm not a debater. But that's just the way I see it.

FRANNIE: Yeah. I think a lot of what you're talking about, and we've talked about the last year, is value, how people – what information and criteria people use to make judgments and then decisions, how much weight people give to things that they haven't given it to in the past, things like clout or certain types of sales, the devaluing of constructive criticism, I guess. That feels pretty corny to say, but it's the relegation of any type of criticism to, "Oh, she's a hater," or whatever. And the ways that sort of value that isn't attached to – non-monetary value. The more intangible value that something has, the less monetary value the industry funnels toward it. Does that make sense? 

There's something about this year – there've been – in the time that I've been super paying attention to hip-hop as my job, the probably ten or 11 years of that, there've been bad years and good years, but this year was kind of the most disorienting year with regard to the relationship between artists and the business. It seems like everybody knows exactly what's going on, but nobody wants what's going on to be what's going on, except maybe the corporations.

ALI: Yeah. You can just look at the top dog all the way down and follow that trail. Like, and what I mean by top dog, I mean el presidente.

FRANNIE: Not the Top Dawg.

ALI: Not the Top Dawg, not Top Dawg Entertainment. 

FRANNIE: Not Anthony Tiffith. You could. You could. This other guy.

ALI: I mean, you know, el Trumpo. And so yeah, of course, there's a lot happening in our lives right now where there's – we're extremely connected and there's a disconnect. Because it's like, is all this really happening? Is it a dream? No, it's not a dream.

FRANNIE: Right, right!

ALI: We are well awake while all of this is happening. It's like falling and trying to stop yourself from falling, and you cannot. So yeah.

FRANNIE: Do you feel helpless?

ALI: Nah. Nope. Cause I have a voice, and I have peers, and when you have a voice and you have peers in America, then you can rally and protest. And when I say protest, I don't necessarily mean a physical protest, which we can assemble and do under the first amendment, but I mean just, this isn't dictatorship yet. And although there are aspects of the system that seems like no matter how well the people unite, there's a loophole that's going to fuck over the people, but we still, based off of our constitution and its ever-breathing body of a law document, are able to do something about it. So no. I don't feel helpless at all. I'm energized and charged more than ever. 

And one other thing that you said that I kind of want to – I want to address, just from an artist perspective, especially being inside the frame of Spotify, is that there is no value on the art for the artist to monetize, and to be able to make a living on. And so that also creates limitations and challenges as to what one can do. 

And what I mean by that is, and I'm not going to name drop here because he may not want me to do that, but one of my good brothers said something to me, and it was like, "Oh my god, that is the craziest statement I've heard all year, and how come I never thought about that?" He says, "You cannot stream a pair of Nikes if you want a pair of Nikes. You cannot stream your computer if you want to use a computer. You cannot stream a cup of Coca-Cola if you want to drink a cup of Coca-Cola. You stream water for free. Now that's still – that's valuable."

FRANNIE: Some places you can.

ALI: But other than that – hm?

FRANNIE: In some places you can.

ALI: In some places you can. Yeah, some places in the world, yeah, there is no source of water, which is horrible. But to the point, so everything else, if one wants it, you have to acquire it. 

And there are some people who may feel, I guess, liberated that music is one of those things that you can get for free now, but it's just, as an artist, you spend a lot of time. This is your job. You spend time away from your family. You put a lot of work into it. And it's just not you as an artist. It's the other people who are also coming together to help create this. 

And so another thing that my friend said in that statement was, "I can have two million streams, let's say, on anyone. Pick a platform, Spotify, YouTube. But I can't buy breakfast with those two million streams. I can't buy a plate of food for just one morning." So those are the real challenges that an artist is dealing with in America, and I know that may sound like, oh well, first world problems, but in terms of the art being honest, in terms of the artist being empowered, these things have been diminished.

FRANNIE: Right, because all the ways to get money involve catering to the audience in a totally different way.

ALI: Catering to the audience in a totally different way, and also compromising your moral values. And so people then become – there's this huge disconnect. "Well, this is just entertainment. This isn't real. I'm just doing this just because. There are no consequences in my mind, because, yo, this is just fake. This isn't real." But that's not wholly true.

FRANNIE: Yeah, no, it's a totally different paradigm, and it's a different dynamic between makers and consumers, right? And I don't think that we talk enough about what that means for the music that we hear. 

I mean, one of the things that I'm always going off about is the deterioration of music journalism, which has continued over the past year. But it all starts with those fundamental disconnects. When we have these conversations, being like, "Oh, this shit was wack." Why? Why was it wack? You have to know enough, and you have to be paying enough attention to be able to explain it to people, I think. That's the kind of shit I want to read.

ALI: Absolutely. Just going on that for a moment, why do you think that journalism is deteriorating? Is it for the same factors the the music suffers?

FRANNIE: Yeah, it's related. Ad-based is the devil. This isn't – it hasn't worked out for anybody, and where we are now is that writing is so devalued that people who are really really good at it and who have years in the game are like, "I'm not going to write for that paltry amount. Get the fuck out of here." Why do you think everybody moves to L.A. and starts writing scripts and shit? It's because that's where your work can help you – can make you a living. 

And then the editors are going to go. Then there's people getting laid off. Then there's the fact that how are people even going to find your work? Everybody's attention span is kind of a disaster. The concept of sort of going viral skews the headline, which puts a lot of weird tension in between musicians and writers, I think. It actually puts them at odds.

ALI: That's – I almost want to say, "But that's always been the case."

FRANNIE: I know what you're saying. I know what you're talking about. But I think it's even – it just got to a weirdly puerile, childish place at this point.

ALI: But what do you think it will take to turn it around, to make journalism something that's respected again?

FRANNIE: I don't really have a prescription. As you know, I'm working on a project about this that is more about having these conversations out in the open in the hopes that collectively we can arrive at a better plan. But unfortunately, I think the easiest first step would be for people to write less. There should just be less crap, so that what is good can be found. We don't need the mediocre writing about music that we have. We just don't need it. 

And that's not a neutral thing. It actually has a negative effect on the world. Because of the way we share things and the way things are prioritized and promotion and marketing and funding and whatever, weaker shit around means people can't find the good shit, and the good shit is actually important. So the most concrete I have to say now is if you don't think you're very good at music writing, please stop. Just stop.

ALI: Hah! Good luck with that. That's like me saying to someone, "You're not really good at rapping," but they have a few streams on whatever platform so they're going to keep going. I'm sorry. I'm not trying to discourage you from trying to get people to not be wack, but – you know what else I was just thinking about, that I thought was another – I'm glad we're picking good and delightful things that happened –

FRANNIE: I thought it was going to be cheerful, yeah.

ALI: – over the past year to talk about. Noname releasing an album, and I mean, been waiting for her. And we've been waiting for her to come speak with us at Microphone Check. And I'm not even going to go any further with that. Just put it out there like that. I'ma leave it there, but I'm excited that she dropped another album.

FRANNIE: Yeah, me too. And I was really excited to see a lot of my friends who aren't super heads be excited and go to her shows and make an occasion out of it, not on some, "Let's support her" or whatever, but some like, "I know I'm going to have a good time at this show with my friends or my date." I was really heartened by that also. While we're telling the truth, one of the negative things for me this year was that we didn't book as many women as we both would've liked to be on the show.

ALI: It's not like we did not try.

FRANNIE: No, we definitely tried. We tried in a whole lot of different ways. I don't think that that amounts to an excuse though. I guess I just kind of wanted to say out loud that we don't like that. I would also say that quite often when I reach out to women, especially when I'm reaching out directly not through a publicist or manager or whatever, people are like, "Who me? You guys want to talk to me?" And never in my life has a dude done that. Whether that's because we don't have a great track record of talking to women or that's kind of a more pervasive problem, I think that women don't assume they're going to be all up in the rap podcast.

ALI: Well, if anyone out there listening who's attached to the culture as an artist or a writer or a publisher or a manager or a representative of artists, as a professor in a university, I'm not sure what the hesitation or reservations is, but when we reach out, we really want to talk to people, period. We just want to have great conversations that wholly represent the culture in a way that some of the other ad-based, mass-marketed platforms do not. In no way – we're not making any excuse, but I just wanted to also put it out there. It's not like we have not been trying, cause we have been. 

And it's such a thing that Frannie and I talk about. It's probably one of the points that we discuss more frequently than any other things that we talk about with regards to what we want to do with Microphone Check, is having more women representation of this culture. This culture does not move forward without women. And we want to have those stories. If you're listening, just say yes.

FRANNIE: The email address is frannieandali@gmail.com. And not to get too meta about our show or whatever, but when we speak to women it's a different conversation. The dynamics – I'm so happy that there's another woman in the room. I think you interact with women a little bit differently. I think we're aware that it's possible that a female guest might be a little bit more unsure about the situation. I think to be perfectly honest, we should talk about the fact that I'm a white woman and you're a black man, and when we invite a black woman onto the show, she may be understandably not sure that she's going to get a fair hearing or that she's in a safe place or that it's going to be a good use of her time. 

So yeah, that's a thing that I think about with our show a lot. I think that that's something that's happening under the surface of almost all of our episodes, usually to really good effect. Sometimes things sort of come out more in the open, but I think that's a real thing that's happening with our show, is who we are individually, who we sort of represent when we just – or how we – the assumptions that people might have about us when we walk into the room and they don't know us at all. 

I was trying to figure out a way to ask you about some of of this, and I was thinking maybe one way would be, do you ever think about what Microphone Check would be if I weren't a part of it and you were doing it with somebody else, or if you weren't a part of it and I was doing it with somebody else?

ALI: I have thought about it, what Microphone Check would be if I wasn't a part of it. But I have not thought about it if you were not a part of it. Yeah, I have. I don't have any answers. I think often I'm so –

FRANNIE: Nobody has any answers in 2019. There are no answers to be had.

ALI: Well, what I mean by that is I know that I'm extremely quiet, and when we're having these conversations I tend to really absorb what's being spoken, and I listen, and I really reflect on it. And I'll say it like this. I liken it to when sometimes when A Tribe Called Quest is performing and Tip and Phife would just be going at it, and I would feel like I have the best seat in the house. We could be playing to like 20 people. We could be playing to 50,000 people, but I feel like, "Yo, oh my god. Yo, look at this happening, the chemistry!" And I have all these internal thoughts, and I'm like – and then Q-Tip will give me a look, because I'm so mesmerized and so – it's like, "Oh shoot! I'm working. Oh, I'm supposed to be – oh! I just missed the cue!" I was just so gone and lost in it. 

So what I mean by that is, often when I'm sitting in my seat, I don't have a quick comeback off of what was said, because I'm really thinking about what our guest is saying, and I'm not a journalist. And a normal conversation, I'm often just listening to people and absorbing what is said. So I think of what Microphone Check would be with someone else who probably would not get lost in the conversation – not get lost, but be so absorbed with the conversation. Because this is supposed to be a conversation. It's like, well, OK, someone says something, and you take that and ask another question to maybe unfold, or have one elaborate a bit more, or just for the sake of conversing will throw it back. So I think of it like that.

FRANNIE: I don't know. One of the other things I'm constantly going off about is the way that basically podcast – there are only three types of podcasts, and people keep making the same things over and over again. It's not totally clear that what should be happening is some witty repartee TV-style sound bite-type interview. I don't know. I don't know that that's true. I think the most special moments on the show are when an artist says something, and I'm like, "OK." In my head, I'm kind of going to a practical question, and then you will stop and take it to a more familial or personal place, because you hear what the person said differently.

ALI: Yeah, yeah.

FRANNIE: I think that's the value. And also sometimes I worry that my missing things holds you back in the show. Because there are often things happening that I don't understand. That's not totally fair. There are sometimes things happening that I understand more deeply later or after you have sort of probed further. There are shorthand things that I'm not sure about. There's experiential things that I'm not sure about. These are limitations because I'm a white girl. I'm ten years younger. I'm not a musician. I've never toured the world. I've never been on stage with Phife and Tip. There are – that's sort of what I think about, is for you – is if you were doing a show that was – or if you were having conversations with people where everybody spoke the same language, what would that be like?

ALI: No, cause – I don't ever think of it that way, because one, I admire your passion for the culture. I admire your passion for journalism. And I don't see the fact that you're a white girl, and you're – did you say 21 years younger than me?

FRANNIE: I said ten, but now we know some things.

ALI: And I don't see your age and the absence of certain experiences as limitations. I, in fact, see it as an advantage. One, you're a woman, and you have your own relationship with hip-hop that is one that I don't have. And that's just not as a woman, as someone who's – you're a military daughter, right?


ALI: Right. So that meant you moved around the world, and you've had to – and even moving around, it's, I'm pretty sure, sculpted your life in a certain way where music has been a great go-to source in times where you might not know what's going on in your world. So you have, I think, a lot of value that actually helps push it along, especially in areas where I, like you, haven't thought about something. 

And you have journalistic experience, and you know how to carry a conversation outside of just a regular, "OK. I'm going to interview you. Here are the talking points and OK. Cool. We're done." You don't ever come to it with that. You really come with the wanting to have an artist show a side of them as being an artist but also being a human being. And so I don't ever look at your – as limitations, and I'm so happy to have you as a partner. 

And for any of the listeners that may be listening to this part going, "Yo, can I fast forward?" 

FRANNIE: Seriously.

ALI: For me, like for what I bring that you feel makes Microphone Check special and different, I feel the same for you. You come with this passion that helps make the conversation that we have and experience that our guests have with Microphone Check differently than anything else. And they all say it. When they leave. 

And I know when someone's just saying something for the sake of saying it. You don't have to say, "Wow, that was a great interview." You could just go, "Alright, cool. Thanks. Thank you, guys. Thanks for having me. I'm out." But very notable guests have all mentioned like, "Wow. That was a great conversation. Never had an interview like that before." So that's, you know, dynamic duo. And –

FRANNIE: I appreciate you saying all of that. I really do. I wasn't angling for a compliment. I just –

ALI: I know you weren't. I'm just saying how I feel about my perspective on what happens here.

FRANNIE: Yeah. I think about it practically for us and I think about it when I think about helping other people develop podcasts, or what I might want to see in the world in terms of podcasts and how you make something – how do you have a real conversation with people in a totally fake environment for – when your goals are different from your guests' or your subjects', which are different from your publisher or your platform or whatever. What are the things you can control? What are the things that haven't been done yet? All of that. 

And I would just love to hear more experimentation out there in the world with it, with the media, the form. And I would love for us to experiment more too, because we've doing this for almost six years.

ALI: Wow. That's amazing.

FRANNIE: It's insane.

ALI: It doesn't seem that long to me.

FRANNIE: It really doesn't.

ALI: So that's – we're still learning and discovering and figuring things out, so that's always a positive. I will say this. There are certain things I'm not going to say on the microphone. That's just – that's how it is. And maybe – I don't know – God willing I'll be 50 in a couple years, so maybe when I turn 50, cause I've spoken to a lot of 50-year-olds who all of a sudden give "I don't give a fuck" factor.

FRANNIE: I can't wait.

ALI: And it's off the charts. And I might. I don't know. We'll see, God willing, what happens. I may be more inclined after that point to just be like, "Look. Alright. Let's tear the roof off. Let's get into it." But right now, speaking as where I am now, I have my own limitations because I believe that there's certain aspects of a conversation that's just not meant for the public on a whole. And I think that's just to guard individuals from unreasonable scrutiny, and more so criticisms outside of context.

FRANNIE: Right. The lifting of stuff. Yeah, going back to what we started talking about, these fears that people have that what they meant well could be used for nefarious purposes.

ALI: I'm not buying rappers having fears with all the gun talk and all the fucking other shit they say that they don't care about. I just – to me, I'm like, "Yeah, OK."

FRANNIE: We're going to agree to disagree on this one.

ALI: I'm just going on record to just say, I just don't buy it. Cause you should've – if that's the case, then wow, going back on – hold on. Let me get this notebook on some of these lyrics. So you were fearless in this perspective and this – but here, when it really matters, oh, you have fears? Oh, OK. Well, OK. You're human. Cool. But I'm not buying it. Sorry.

FRANNIE: Well, I did want to make sure we didn't let any conversation about hip-hop, the year in hip-hop, and then tying in media, tying in audio and whatever, without letting a polarizing figure but almost certainly fearless person Nicki Minaj go unmentioned. I think that Queen Radio for all of the drama that it has instigated – that's not even fair. For all the gossipy things that kind of can come out of or have led to episodes of Queen Radio, that the way that she takes control of that medium, talks to the people that she wants to, and says what she wants to say in plain English is a giant innovation in journalism, in radio, that people refuse to acknowledge as such. I don't know if you've listened to it, or if you have any thoughts about it. I think there are –

ALI: I haven't. I have not. So I'm not informed to speak on it. But I would love to have a conversation with Nicki.

FRANNIE: Yeah, a hundred percent. Yeah, I just kind of wanted to leave that there, that Queen Radio is an evolution, and people act like it's not. But is there anything that you wanted to say this year that you did not yet say?

ALI: Well, wow.

FRANNIE: We never really talk about how you feel about prevailing trends production-wise, sound-wise, drums-wise.

ALI: You know what? I'll answer that question like this, since we are – this is the – if you've been following Microphone Check for six years from the beginning, these are the kind of conversations that we used to have, and we haven't in a long time. So I will just say to answer that question, yeah, maybe over the duration of year number seven – are we entering into –

FRANNIE: No, no. Actually our sixth anniversary is in June of this year.

ALI: OK. Well, into this next year, especially here at Spotify, that I will be more vocal, I guess, in those areas. Cause to sit here on the moment and be like, "Well, is there anything that you haven't said that you wanted to say?" I'm like, "Ugh."

FRANNIE: Many things.

ALI: Yeah, too many things, and also my first answer was, yeah, I'm going to make a – I think I'm going to put it in the record this year, so yeah.


ALI: If you're really interested, then we can – but you can look out for that record, but no.

FRANNIE: Well, stay tuned to the end of every Microphone Check episode for the bomb drop.

ALI: That's not – I guess for some people that might be a bomb, but artists say every day, "I'm making a record."

FRANNIE: Well, now you got a whole bunch of people to hold you to it.

ALI: That's cool. That's cool. 2019 will be interesting for releases of music that I have coming out.

FRANNIE: That's true.

ALI: But I just think that this is a dynamic that we haven't touched in a while, and so I'm looking forward to in between all of – having conversations with all of our guests, that you and I can have our, I don't know if it's like, a month-end review on how we feel about things?

FRANNIE: Yeah, just, "Ali, get it off your chest." That's the segment.

ALI: Oh my god. I'm picturing the animation right now.

FRANNIE: Give it to them raw.

ALI: Oh god no.

FRANNIE: Well, listen. Just trying to give the people what they want. Thank you for this year. Thank you for all the time that you put into this show. Thank you for making things work with your schedule and for traveling sometimes and for just showing up for it and caring about it and for being my partner in a lot of different ways. You support me, and help me out, and I'm forever grateful.

ALI: Aww. Well, you're welcome. And I say thank you, because you put a lot of time and you've made a lot of sacrifices and you don't ever – I'll say it this way, if anyone really knows Frannie, you are a fighter. And you let – yo, you let it be known. And I love that about you and your spirit. But when it comes to you personally, you don't say anything as to what's going on. I know that you have made a lot of sacrifices for Microphone Check. And so that goes unspoken, but I know. I read between the lines. So thank you.

And thank you for being a voice of the culture, whether people know it or not. I know how much it means to you to be able to have a forum where real conversation can be had and the spotlight can be placed in areas where those in the culture, the disenfranchised, those who don't really have people come to them who think that they're valuable. You look at people as – you look at artists and people of this culture as valued human beings. And I just want to say thank you, because you're an unsung hero, quiet as it's kept. 

And especially from journalism, because journalism is important to music. You need – people may not always be able to just get a full scope of an artist just on them alone and journalists – I guess the journalist aspect of it is more of a reveal. And when in this climate, when it's not up to the standard and it doesn't honor the person that one is writing about, it's just ugly. And you stand for standards.


ALI: You do. You really do. So as an artist, who reluctantly likes doing interviews, unless I'm in Europe, or Asia, because those journalists seem to really care and they really do diligence to discover who you are and what you're about and take the time to really ask thoughtful questions, you are of that ilk, and that's important to the art. And it's important to the story that continues. So I just say thank you. 

And thank you to the listeners of Microphone Check who's been rocking with us from the beginning. 


ALI: And if you're just discovering us, thank you. Tell a friend. Thank Spotify for partnering up with us this past year. And yo, I'm ready to get it lifted. There are a lot more stories out there, especially with the type of year we're about to go into, with this election, with the excitement of the type of representatives we have in congress right now – who definitely are of the hip-hop culture.


ALI: As this culture gets older, the representatives – the type of representatives and their stations in life are more vast. So what I mean by that is you'll have more CFOs, more CEOs, more CMOs of corporations who – they know who M.O.P. is. You know what I'm saying? You'll have a congress person who know who DMX is, who knows who Swizz Beatz is, who knows who a Noname is, who knows who a 9th Wonder is, and that means a lot in terms of transforming this great nation of ours.

So I'm looking forward to having more dialogue as this thing gets shaken up a little bit.

FRANNIE: Agreed. With you. Thanks again. I'll talk to you soon.

ALI: Alright.

Adrian Younge

Adrian Younge