Boosie Badazz is Jesus. Before the Touchdown 2 Cause Hell listening party at Atlantic Records HQ starts, the screen behind the rapper plays an episode of a documentary that details Boosie’s return from prison. Hip-hop personality Taxstone, who got invited to the listening party by an industry friend, is in the same room, but he looks like one of the few who isn’t all that impressed. Midsized but imposing, he stands stoically as a roomful of tastemakers and bloggers crowd Boosie for photos after the listening session ends. The scene represents Taxstone’s claim: He’s not an “industry nigga.”
And by most estimations, he’s not. East New York’s Taxstone, born Daryl Campbell, tends to co-sign local rappers instead of mainstream, Web-traffic-driving acts; maintains an uncensored voice on Twitter; and takes it in stride when rappers like David Banner and Mobb Deep’s Prodigy respond to his criticisms. (Taxstone’s reasoning: “A lot of things with rappers is that they follow the girls. All the bad girls follow me. When they look, they say, ‘Who’s this guy?’ ”) He’s also the host of a podcast. In March, his Tax Season premiered on the Loud Speakers Network. It’s a functional title, but not really a helpful one: The show doesn’t lend itself well to a Google search — especially during tax season.
That’s clearly not too big a deal. In addition to getting on the nerves of some artists and introducing others to the East Coast audience (he takes credit for helping break Chief Keef and Bobby Shmurda), Taxstone eventually got onto the timelines of some of the Loud Speakers Network’s hosts. Loud Speakers co-founder Reggie Ossé (known in most circles as Combat Jack) was one of them.
“He was one of the guys who I was like, ‘Why the fuck am I following this guy?’ because he’s so flagrant with his language,” Ossé said. “But something told me to keep following this guy. It was captivating. It was intriguing. It was funny.”
Kid Fury, co-host of The Read, one of the network’s most popular podcasts, recommended Taxstone to Loud Speakers CEO and co-founder Chris Morrow. After also following him on Twitter, radio host Charlamagne Tha God met Taxstone when he came with Nyemiah Supreme — for whom Taxstone also works as a “consultant” (he serves in the same capacity for fellow Brooklyn rhymer Manolo Rose) — to a recording of Charlamagne’s The Brilliant Idiots podcast, the Loud Speakers production he co-hosts with comedian Andrew Schulz. Four months after Kid Fury’s recommendation, Tax Season arrived.
Taxstone’s jump from Twitter infamy to podcast hosting duties was an immediate success, earning over 40,000 listeners in the show’s first episode. Morrow knew Tax Season would do numbers, judging from the approximately 10,000 followers Taxstone gained from his guest spot on The Brilliant Idiots. Still, 40,000 was a surprise.
“Usually, it takes months and months for a show to reach that level, unless it’s somebody who’s a celebrity with a huge online presence,” Morrow said. “Tax has a decent online presence, but he’s not a celebrity. He’s not coming with a lot of name recognition behind him.”
So Charlamagne and Kid Fury were on the money when they recommended Taxstone to Morrow. A lot of Tax Season rests on Taxstone’s charisma. The show doesn’t have much of a structure, being mostly tied together by Taxstone’s raspy but fluid on-mic presence and hip-hop sensibilities. But the formlessness gives way to unpredictability instead of haphazardness. Some of that comes from the guests: The blunt, borderline-incendiary comments from Ossé on his feud with Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg stand as an example. But most of it comes from Taxstone, whether he’s making his point through hyperbole (on the backlash against Jay Z’s Tidal: “We’re not gonna stand back and watch you come for the man that raised us and taught us how to use the bathroom”) or slipping into vivid anecdotes (he’s partially influenced by the Notorious B.I.G., who’s known for his painterly way with lyrics) and outlandish factoids (being from the ‘hood equals foot fetishes; when a woman has real hair, she’ll make sure to tell you about it).
“I think it’s just more or less me just giving my honest [opinion] about things, and people just knowing that it’s honest,” Taxstone said. “A lot of time it would be embarrassing for people to see things about themselves, I would say. I would share a story about catching an STD, while someone else would be like, ‘I never caught an STD.’ ”
At its core, Tax Season is an hour-long talk from a street perspective. Aside from his charm, Taxstone’s guest appearance on The Brilliant Idiots was memorable for that trademark bluntness and transparency.
He readily talks about growing up rough in East New York, where he lived a life that would eventually land him in jail on gun and robbery charges in 2006. Taxstone says he’s the “voice of the people” now, and as clichéd as it sounds, he has a point. The brazenness of his diction connects with an overlooked demographic — people from the East New Yorks and Brownsvilles of their cities — the way few podcast and radio hosts can.
“I hope as time progresses, the history books mark Tax Season as the show that brought podcasts to the real ‘hood,” Ossé said.
It can be argued that there’s always been that need, but it’s also worth noting that perhaps these times were made for someone like Taxstone. Radio might not be ready for his naturally explicit demeanor. And that’s fine — radio hasn’t been doing that hot anyway. Edison Research’s fall 2014 “Share of Ear” study revealed that podcast listeners spend more of their time listening to podcasts than any other audio source. In comparison, AM/FM radio gets 21 percent of listeners’ time, while podcasts earn 30 percent.
Also, the hip-hop radio landscape once dominated by Hot 97’s sharp personalities has changed into something tamer. Charlamagne Tha God is the only AM/FM radio host who comes remotely close to sharing Taxstone’s abrasiveness. Some blame the corporatization of hip-hop radio for that sort of acerbity becoming a rarity. It’s better to play it safe in order to sell.
“The [politically correct] era is taking the fangs out of the bite. Hot 97 thrived when you had radio personalities like Ed Lover…or particularly Star and Buc Wild,” Ossé said. “But in this PC age, I think they’re so concerned with making hip-hop safe for everyone.”
Plus, podcasts don’t have the same hoops (censorship, corporate ambition) to jump through, and it looks like the Loud Speakers Network, which prides itself on diversity, is taking advantage of that sort of freedom. With radio declining in influence and star power, Morrow is planning more shows that utilize a hip-hop voice. One is Lip Service, a podcast hosted by The Breakfast Club‘s Angela Yee that focuses on “unfiltered discussions on sex and relationships” and is set to feature Jadakiss and Sevyn Streeter.
It should be a hit, if successes like Taxstone and Charlamagne are any indication.
“I guesses the masses fuck with me, you know?” Taxstone said. “Just from me being myself.”
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