The legendary UK tastemaker will highlight rap's biggest voices in his new podcast HIP-HOP RAISED ME
It feels impossible to talk about anything other than American politics these days.
In the wake of Wednesday's Trumpian siege of the Capitol Building, it seemed clear to everyone (except those rioters in Washington) that this explosive coup attempt was merely the inevitable boiling point of the last four years. From acidic hate speech and lynchings to police killings, irreversible climate damage, and a health crisis unlike anything ever seen before, Americans have shared a similar sentiment over the last four years: Our country has devolved into the laughing stock of the entire world.
But when I spoke to DJ Semtex post-coup attempt, he clarified that in the UK no one was laughing. The legendary Hip-Hop tastemaker was meant to be discussing the birth of his new podcast, HIP-HOP RAISED ME, but it felt impossible to do anything before we aired our grievances.
"The frightening thing about yesterday is you could look at it as a warning shot," the DJ said. "Trump is a martyr now for what he's done. He's a 'cause,' and when you become a 'cause' for an organization it connects you to people that are going to try and be more dangerous and more daring."
But the release of HIP-HOP RAISED ME – which revolves around interviewing rap's biggest voices in order to help further illuminate Black culture – couldn't have arrived at a more pivotal political moment in our history. But that's Semtex's gift as a cultural figure: His timing is somehow always just right.
Semtex was the first major UK interviewer to reach out to Drake back in 2009, right before So Far Gone took over the world, and he spoke with him in what is now a forever memorialized interview in Hyde Park. He spoke to J. Cole a year later on the eve of his own groundbreaking debut, and then in 2013 he caught up with a young, anxious Travis Scott on a Los Angeles rooftop mere months before Owl Pharaoh established him as a groundbreaking voice in rap.
His knack for recognizing potential has awarded him such accolades as a "generator of generations," but Semtex merely calls himself a fan. In his eyes, the timing is always right when it comes to highlighting Black culture. "Hip-Hop is such an important voice of the youth that it is the way the community and the culture speak out. The success and the size of it all is undeniable. It's always the right time to write a book or start a podcast about hip-hop because of how vocal it is."
Your timing on when to cover artists is so impeccable, tell me about how you remain so deeply in tune with the culture all these years later.
It's simple: being a fan. That's it. There's no agenda, there's no timing to it. All it is for me is I'm a fan of the culture and of the music. I've got my own pace, I've got my own interests, and I'm genuinely enthused by the ways hip-hop unfolds. Some people grow out of it, or they become disengaged because of the different routes the music follows, but the thing about Hip-Hop is it's so big. If your preference is for certain sounds, there's always someone delivering that kind of vibe or lyricism.
These days I'm excited by the sonics and by the idea of moving crowds. It's about finding the best music and making exciting moments; it's about looking for the great stories. When I first interviewed Drake, I had no idea how big he was gonna be. I was just a fan, so I just gravitated to him. Same thing with Travis Scott. There's always a new voice, but I've never done anything like: "Oh, I got to talk to him 'cause he might blow up."
With all that in mind, tell me about the roster you have lined up for this podcast. Your first episode is with the legendary Chuck D, but then you have newer artists like French Montana and Sheff G lined up as well. What factors did you consider when putting together your interviews?
It's not a situation where I'm going out to try and find a specific person; it's what comes up at that time. With Sheff G, there is a deep connection between him and the UK because of his music. The whole BK Drill sound was influenced by UK Drill, UK Drill was influenced by Chicago Drill, and it's just a fascinating dynamic. We've got sounds now that are really uniting cultures. Sheff G is an artist who grew up with UK music and UK artists. Pop Smoke led the way with it, but it's very interesting to see this new level of collaboration between US and UK artists.
So in your eyes, Sheff G is someone who is unifying these two cultures.
It's a special moment in the UK. The rap community is bigger than it's ever been, and this cultural link, we've never had that before. That's why I wanted to do Sheff G straight on.
Hip Hop Raised Me, The Book by DJ Semtex www.youtube.com
What has changed for you in these last four years between your book release and this podcast? How has your relationship to the culture changed?
I mean, it's constantly evolving, and in the last few years, the process has been more prominent. People are speaking out in these last four years more than they've ever done. If you look at someone like Killer Mike, he's got a certain kind of sound with Run The Jewels, but when you see him speak out on civil rights issues, it's like he's a different person. He's saying all the things politicians should be saying, all the same things activists have been saying. But [Mike] can really get out there because of his position as an artist.
The same thing [is happening] if you're paying attention to what Lupe Fiasco has been doing on Insta Live, where he's looking into the science of what's going on; it's fascinating. I'm a fan of Lupe's music, but I didn't realize how intelligent...he is[across everything]. You can ask him a question about anything, and he's got a well-informed answer. This is also because of the arrival of all these new platforms. One of the most significant ones right now being Clubhouse.
Do you see any drawbacks to platforms like Clubhouse and how accessible these artists are now? I'm thinking mostly about the Meek Mill situation recently. Do you think celebrities need to be careful at all?
I was in an amazing room on Clubhouse once with Lupe Fiasco where he was dismissing a lot of the fears surrounding the vaccine and breaking down different conspiracy theories, and I didn't expect that a rapper would be offering so much clarity for these issues.
I was getting more clarity from Lupe Fiasco than I was from any politician or news outlet. Rappers have become more amplified, and they're more open to speaking out because of social media and the ability to put content out quickly. Their voices have just gotten bigger, and I think it's incredible. It doesn't matter if it's Clubhouse, Twitter, or Snapchat: Just be cool.
How have these new social platforms impacted the culture?
In regards to the Meek Mill situation, I was in a room where 21 Savage was mediating a situation between DJ Akademiks and Meek, and it was almost like a Hip-Hop intervention in real-time. It was incredible! You're never gonna witness that anywhere else, you can't do that on the radio or in a newspaper or magazine, and it is the one platform where something like that could happen in the middle of a pandemic, and it was a healthy moment for the culture. This type of thing is their calling, they're the voices of the youth, the voices of generations.
Do you kind of hope your podcast will do the same thing in terms of being a healthy platform for artists to speak out and illuminate black art?
I just wanna do my part and document the culture. I just wanna do my bit. It's about holding the mirror and get stories out that might not be out there, and get artists to speak on things they may not have spoken about before. There's a duty to do things right with being a DJ, and I think this podcast gives me the ability to document this culture in the right way.
Episode 1 of HIP-HOP RAISED ME with Chuck D goes live on January 11th. Listeners can subscribe on all major podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.