Q&A: HOT 97's Peter Rosenberg Talks "Minor League Rappers" and Ebro
Peter Rosenberg is doin' it in the park
As much as the general public gets the lion's share of their music off the Internet, in many ways terrestrial radio still rules the land. Which makes a dude like Peter Rosenberg's job at New York's Hot 97 (Emmis Communications) extra hard. Rosenberg has the distinct honor of being the glimmer of hope for those artists his boss, Program Director Ebro Darden, has deemed "minor league" rappers to get some airplay, albeit on a Sunday night from12am- 2am. Ten years ago the goons were posted outside Hot97's offices waiting for DJ Kay Slay for that opportunity. Now they're running up on Rosenberg. Lucky him.
His role as a gatekeeper can get messy though. On the one hand he's championed artists like Odd Future and even landed an interview with the ever-elusive Earl Sweatshirt. On the other, his strong opinions have alienated some of Hot 97's more pop oriented listeners and artists, like when he famously took a swipe at Nicki Minaj's "Starships" at Summer Jam last year. Throw in a few light squabbles with some bloggers and you start to get an idea of what a day at the office is like for Peter Rosenberg. But if you still have no idea what the man goes through then read on, rap fan, read on...
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I thought you were from New York. Maybe that's just because you're Jewish though and love hip-hop. I'm actually from Washington D.C., just outside D.C. in Maryland. I got into hip-hop by coming up here to visit my grandparents in Rockaway Beach and listening to Red Alert and Marley Marl. That's why I had a sort of New York sensibility hip-hop wise. But I'm a Washingtonian.
So what were you doing down in Washington? Listening to Go-go and shit? No. Listen, when you're a hip-hop head in D.C. you develop more of a fondness for Go-go after you leave. Once you leave you kind of identify it with home.
So you were coming up to NYC, but how did you first get introduced to rap? It was DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. It's kind of a song people don't mention for how huge it was in getting people like me into hip-hop.
You're talking about "Parents Just Don't Understand?" Yeah. Then after that my brother just got really into it. I was just following along at first because I didn't even really think of myself as a music person. I always thought of myself as a sports guy. I used to love sports. It didn't dawn on me until I was like 13, "Oh, I'm a music person." I got turntables when I was 14.
How'd you get to New York professionally? I had been doing radio in D.C. Then I was out of a job so I started making these parody videos. Ebro saw them and called me up expressing interest. Then Ebro became program director. He had me audition to be Miss Jones' producer, but he ended up giving me the Real Late Show on Sunday nights.
What's it like working with Ebro? Some people view him as old fashioned and a bit of a hater? It's great. Obviously Ebro talks a lot and has a lot of strong opinions, but I really enjoy his energy and his passion for it and as much as he loves to make fun of me about loving to debate things, so does he. He really enjoys stirring the pot. Sometimes he stirs the pot just to stir the pot and get people to talk, but it's always rooted in real feelings that he has. I think Ebro's a real interesting dude. He's a real, real hip-hop head. Really knowledgeable. He's an important person in hip-hop. And at first I thought it was weird the adjustment of him being important behind the scenes to now being in front of the cameras and microphones. But I think he generally does a service to hip-hop.
Yeah, but how did you feel when he started sitting in on the morning show? Must've been at least a little unnerving, no? Well our first reaction was like, "Are we losing our jobs?" When we realized we weren't and things were just changing a little bit I was excited about it because I thought it added energy to the show and, frankly, it revitalized us and gave us a necessary spark. I think people are checking for the show more now that he's there.
It didn't bruise your ego at all? You know what? You put your ego aside. I'm getting less mic time, but more people are listening. I mean, he's the person who discovered me, who thought that I was good. So now that I have that guy here with me he just props me up more. It was a learning experience, but fortunately I adjusted pretty quickly.
But what about the "minor league rappers" comment. That was pretty much directed at you. I think he was sort of stirring the pot there and wanting the people in the underground to be more energized and to work harder and do more. It wasn't that he was saying the music is not great. He was being realistic. A lot of people complain about lack of opportunities, but are you really ready for that opportunity? I think it was a valid conversation. Maybe some people who got accidentally swept into it felt a way about it, but in reality I know Ebro pays a lot of attention to shit. He has a lot of people he supports. He may not be supporting them by playing their song, but he's waiting for them, he's paying attention, he's seeing how they're moving.
He just won't play it though. Well it's like he said. For them to get three minutes of airtime it has to make sense for us. Every time you play a new record you're taking a risk.
I think with music, though, familiarity breeds acceptance. Play it enough and people will be drawn to it. Case in point: I feel that for a while HOT 97 was ruining New York Hip Hop by jocking the South. Yeah I think for a while inadvertently it was detrimental to New York Hip-Hop. I think the DJs started getting a little bit lazy. It's hard to say what came first, the chicken or the egg; whether [New York rap] did go away for a little while and then DJs started jocking the South a bit or vice versa. But there was a point where I would come visit and turn on the radio and it was like a lot of hype and excitement over South records that had been old in D.C. for months. It wasn't that I didn't like the songs, but they weren't even new. This isn't cutting edge anymore, this is us chasing Atlanta. And as great as a city Atlanta is, this is New York. We should have our own identity.
I think that's what led to artists like Mims trying out that formula with "This Is Why I'm Hot," and succeeding to a certain extent but failing, you know? Yeah. That's a fine song but it's like, "This is what's defining New York?"
You feel your music selection helped combat that? I do think my playing whatever I wanted and discovering New York artists to play was a bit of a kick in the ass to other DJs. That pushed DJs a little bit. The artists started realizing that they can make New York music that might get on the radio even if it's on a Sunday night and get something going. I can't take credit for it completely, but a lot of these kids out now were 17 when I was building this thing on the radio. So them hearing that played a part in New York bouncing back.
Follow J. Pablo on Twitter: @AvenueP
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