Louder Than A Riot hosts Sidney Madden and Rodney Carmichael share insight on Season 2
In this interview, Sommer Hill sits down with Sidney Madden and Rodney Carmichael to get more insight on the ins and outs of of Louder Than a Riot Season 2!
The second season launches March 16! Check it out here.
For those of us who don't know, what does misogynoir mean?
Misogynoir is a sociological term that was coined by Moya Bailey more than 15 years ago. Basically, it's the specific combination of sexism and racism that falls on the shoulders of Black women and people read as Black women in society.
How did you all decide that this would be the topic of Season 2?
So we are obviously of the culture all the time. And as we were reporting on Season 1 of Louder, which is about the intersection of hip-hop and mass incarceration in America, one of the biggest hip-hop cultural happenings that went down in 2020. That was the shooting of Megan Thee Stallion in July of 2020. And this is when we already knew she was one of the biggest superstars in rap at the time. And then between the time of the news of her being shot came out, to her saying that it was Tory Lanez who was in the car that night and he was the one who shot her, the amount of ridicule, disbelief and vitriol that came her way told us that this was another insidious intersection in hip-hop culture that needed to be examined. That was a big flashpoint for us.
This was while we were working on season one, and if you remember, this was the same year that studies came out about COVID disproportionately affecting communities of color. This is when it came out that the workforce of the essential workers and those stressors were falling disproportionately harder on Black women. And at the same time, women were finally being awarded and rewarded and just recognized as cultural curators in hip-hop. This was also the first time that two female rap collabs were in the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time; Megan Thee Stallion's song and Doja Cat and Nicki Minaj's song. This was also the year of "WAP," which was the highest performing music video and broke a bunch of YouTube records. This was also the year that Black women were touted for "saving the presidential election" by motivating people and mobilizing people to vote for Joe Biden, even after so much disrespect and so much marginalization. Everything we do is tied to our interest and our passion for hip-hop, also our identities. So that's why it was a crucial intersection to explore this season.
Season 1 was not just an examination of the societal forces that come down on Black folks disproportionately, but it was also an examination of hip-hop to an extent, and how hip-hop, in some ways, might perpetuate a lot of stereotypes that are then turned against us. And you can't start to be real about examining our culture without thinking about other things that are perpetuated within the culture that imprison us mentally, spiritually and, for a large amount of people in the culture, in real and tangible ways. So that was a big part of inspiration.
What we really didn't want to do was continue to tell the same exact story. We didn't want to further criminalize the culture by continuing to have this hyper-focus on artists being imprisoned. Because for a lot of people, especially outside of the culture, they already probably have perceptions that are colored by a lot of those kinds of stereotypes. And we wanted to show the flexibility of our show's tagline, "rhyme and punishment." There are a lot of ways that we can interpret that theme. It doesn't have to be literal punishment in terms of the criminal justice system. We thought that this was a perfect way to expand on that, to kind of flip the lens inward.
How do you plan to deal with the responses of people who aren't active hip-hop listeners and supporters that are now getting the inside scoop?
Hip-hop is the most-consumed genre in the country and has probably been the most influential genre in the country for a couple of decades now. Let's be real about it – these conversations are already mainstream conversations at this point. Pretending as if they aren't already things that are being discussed broadly is only allowing for the worst parts of the conversations, or sometimes even the wrong voices, to be monopolizing those conversations. Hip-hop journalism is at a point right now where there's not a lot of journalism, but there's a whole lot of sensationalism. There's a whole lot of personality-driven media and gossip that is not really adding to the culture, enriching the culture, deconstructing or challenging the culture. So, hey, if all of America wants to listen, we welcome it. Because it's not like it's a secret. If anything, we want to be able to add some real journalism to the diet of hip-hop media that has become very, very junk-food heavy.
Who do you hope hears this story? Who do you hope is most impacted and touched by these stories that you all are telling?
It's a good question. We talk about where our audience is a lot. It's a hip-hop audience. It's a young audience that wants to think critically about the culture and the music they consume. It's an audience that is empathetic and used to thinking in a nuanced way about things, but also like, to Rodney's junk food point, it could be someone who feels that there is a lack in the hip-hop journalism ecosystem now. And rather than putting on a chat show where everybody's very bombastic and trying to make diatribes go viral, they're looking for some type of context and subtext. I think that's a lot of what our show provides. It provides critical context. It provides thought-provoking conclusions that are often said in corners in the culture but aren't ever said on mic. We're saying a lot of what people have said to each other, but have never put out on a platform like this.
I think this season specifically is a conversation we need to have and that we've been needing to have for damn near 50 years. Because just like everything in America, hip-hop as a commercial force, there's inequality built in. But the people that never have the scales tipped in their favor, the people who are most marginalized, who are actually the ones who are driving new ideas, new influences, new creative paths and driving the culture forward. We obviously want our Season 1 audience to feel spoken to and reflected, but we also want to expand that audience out to people who maybe have had an inkling of this connection in their mind, but didn't have anywhere to listen to confirm or interrogate their ideas of what it is. I think the tent pole of what we wanted to do in Season 1 still stands. We're trying to tap into a real cultural conversation that will hopefully create cultural change, that will have cultural impact and that will shift the paradigm.
After people have listened to the whole thing, what do you want them to walk away with?
I want listeners to walk away with many different things. The stories we're telling this season, similar to last season, some of these stories have been told, but not told with the same type of care, nuance, investigative prowess that we're giving it, the attention we're giving it. We're telling you a lot of the story-behind-the-story, and shedding new light on big hip-hop urban legends. And in some cases, we're telling stories that the loudest voices in hip-hop right now would prefer not be told. So I would think that someone coming out of listening to all ten episodes of this season will feel like they've either learned something new about a piece of hip-hop, about the power dynamics of hip-hop, or that their eyes are open to something they thought they knew about.
Before even talking about what they come away with, I hope people bring their full selves to the listening experience this season. And I would love if people come away with a personal charge or a desire, a willingness, to think about how, as individuals, we can begin to confront not only how we've contributed to how hip-hop has gotten to this place, but how we can start to change it. How do we start to be really honest about misogynoir? Because you can't talk about misogynoir in hip-hop without talking about misogyny in America and how it's built into every American institution. It's capitalistic at its core, and hip-hop is all about capitalism, right? All of our biggest hip-hop stars are capitalists to the bone. So hip-hop ends up perpetuating all of that. There's always this kind of push and pull going on within the music, though, about what ideals we want to be upholding. Do we want to be upholding the most American of ideals that say, each person is for themselves, and by any means necessary get the money, dollar dollar bill, y'all? Or, do we want to think more communally and make sure that we are protecting all of our own and and make sure that The Black Ass Lie, which is an essay from Jamilah Lemieux that we reference in the season, is not something that we're continuing to perpetuate within the culture? I do hope that there'll be some personal inventory that people will be willing to take after this.
You mentioned that the loudest voices in hip-hop prefer this story not to be told. Since you are somewhat of a driving force of this conversation, I want to know if you have any expectations on the positive or negative consequences that will come from this conversation, within rap and within people's own exploration of rap.
Some people might find this to be an ill-timed conversation to have in the 50th year of hip-hop's birth. We're supposed to be all about celebration. But that's exactly what makes it a perfect time to have this conversation. It's overdue, which is a point that we make time and again. And I think there's no better time than this benchmark year for us to be looking back on hip-hop and thinking about the future of the culture. This season is very much about celebrating hip-hop, celebrating the people who are saving hip-hop, which in large part is Black women and queer artists, because the expansion of the culture and opening it up for new voices and new folks to be on top and driving it, that's always going to keep it alive and vital.
A lot of the 50-year anniversary celebrations, showboating, patting on the back, is completely erasing the stories of sacrifice where misogynoir prevented a legacy, [prevented someone from] being a great, being an icon, being a first. That's revisionist history. For example, The Funky 4+1 More is a crew right out of The Bronx, one of the first groups signed to Sugar Hill Records, which is the first hip-hop record label, in the late seventies, early eighties. They made history as the first hip-hop group to ever perform on SNL, which was one of the biggest platforms hip-hop had ever had at that moment. It was the first time that hip-hop was transmitted from The Bronx to the rest of America. But again, the subtext of that story was within the Funky Four, the secret weapon of the Funky Four that actually got them booked on SNL was MC Sha-Rock, who was the first prominent female MC, one of the first MCs ever signed to a label, one of the most innovative MCs for her time. They didn't know she was carrying a secret; She was pregnant with her first child. Her group members didn't even know at the time. She was scared to tell her group members because she knew she would get ostracized by them. She would be given the cold shoulder, which they did.
There's a saying, "Normalize changing your opinion when you're presented with new information." And I think part of the ethos of hip-hop is being stubborn, being the toughest in the room, the biggest, the winner of the competition by any means. But when you love Sha-Rock and you hear the story and you hear what it costs her, you're allowed to be like, "Damn, how did I uphold misogyny in my own daily life by disregarding all the sacrifices Black women around me make?" Similar to Season 1, there are so many examples of so many stories we could tell. But we only have a ten-episode run. We want to give you the most robust and deeply reported material we can, and just have the listeners think critically about, 'Where else has this happened and how have I upheld it before?' And like Rodney said, 'How can I change my behavior?'
So now that you all are telling the story, what is the next step for hip-hop, in your opinion?
The show and the feed aside, I think hip-hop has infiltrated every corner of American culture. It's the biggest global force, it's the biggest global export culturally that America has. And it's gone in so many different directions. Like that Grammys 50th anniversary tribute, the fact that we jumped from like The Lox to Missy, to Lil Baby to Uzi Vert?! You can tell, it's sprawled out in the most surprising ways. I think hip-hop is going to continue to do that. I think the people that we profile are part of the reason that it's been able to evolve and grow and sprawl out. They are some of the people who are the rule breakers who've been able to think outside the box and not limit themselves to what hip-hop is supposed to be, or what sells, or what's commercialized, or what's allowed. There's an old Mos Def line, it's something like, whatever is going to get talked about in hip-hop is where we're at in Black America. And I think now the mic has been passed to so many more people in Black America who have been silenced or shunned or pushed aside, brushed to the fringes or made to feel like they were erased or told to shut up in the past. I think it's just going to continue to spread. And this season, we're respecting all the cultural nuances that go into that flow.
The future of hip-hop, if it wants to remain viable, will look a lot like our season does. As Saucy Santana put it to Sidney when she interviewed him, "Gay as f***." I just think the more space that we make for more voices, more experiences and more loudness, the better it's going to be. Wider and broader, not narrower. That would be the hope. Do I think that's what's going to happen? I don't know. It's hard to say. I think it always comes down to the battle between commerce and culture. Right now, the culture is driven a lot by the commerce. But, as that tug-of-war continues, maybe hip-hop will find the right footing and start to drive the conversation again.
What are you both most excited to share during this season?
The episode that I'm going to be working on is more of a personal essay. It's interesting, I think we went into this season with the hope and the desire to be able to include men in the conversation. But sometimes in the telling of these stories, it was hard to get the men on record or hold them to accountability so for me, as the male co-host, I felt like it was necessary to talk about my own complicity as a man who has been a part of the culture for almost as long as hip-hop has been alive. I use that episode to tell my own story about being a father now, and being at the point where I'm really excited to share hip-hop with my kids, but being confronted with a lot of those questions about what parts of the culture I really want to pass down to my kids and what parts I don't? What parts of the culture do we all need to grapple with? What parts of the music do I really need to be grappling with? That causes me to go back and look at how much the music has shaped my ideals around masculinity and the man that I once was and have become, and acknowledge how , in a lot of ways, I've perpetuated misogynoir within the culture. So that'll be an episode toward the end of the season that will hopefully try to look at how we as men could be more thoughtful and responsible and maybe even accountable.
No, thank you for sharing that. I think it takes a lot of growth and vulnerability to be able to look back and see the ways that you were complicit, and then to know that you don't want to pass that on to your kids and see what you could do differently. So I really appreciate you for adding that piece in here. Sidney, Do you want to add anything about what you're most excited to share during the season?
I definitely agree that that's going to be an essential episode, because it's going to have that "we're not just talking about it, we're trying to be about it" element. Interrogation and self-reflection is so necessary for growth. And that's what we're trying to do, we want to be part of that growth. I'm really excited for Rodney's episode too. I got the chance to interview Rodney a couple of times for that, which we rarely ever get to do. So I'm excited for people to hear that.
Also, we were one of the few media outlets that was on the ground covering the Tory Lanez assault trial, where he was found guilty for shooting Megan Thee Stallion in the foot. That was late last year, in December. And we're going to give you some exclusive reporting from that trial in the first episode, in a way that will kind of catapult us into the thesis of our season. I'm really excited for people to hear that.
I'm proud of the work we've done. Cause you know, we really reporting! And I do just want to underline how as a hip-hop fan, specifically as a hip-hop journalism fan, I think real hip-hop journalism is few and far between at this point. So I'm just excited for people to hear us coming back and really like giving you the work, showing you the work, whether it be pouring over court transcripts or doing deep dives on party fliers from back in the day, or traveling to different parts of the country to get artists in their natural element.
I'm also really excited to introduce listeners to more of our team. We did a lot of group reporting this time around. So you're going to hear the voices of our producers a lot more this season, so it'll feel much more like a collaborative piece of work. Gabby Bulgarelli, our senior producer; Soraya Shockley, our editor; all of our producers, Sam Leeds, Mano Sundaresan; our acting interns who are working on it, Jose Sandoval, Pilar Galvan, Teresa Xie; Cher Vincent, our supervising producer with production help from Rhaina Cohen and Jerusalem Truth. I am so grateful that the team we're working with is as tapped in and passionate and eager to tell these stories as we are. So I'm excited for people to hear how much of a group effort it is.
Yeah. This is like the dopest – maybe the most inclusive and definitely the most brilliant – team ever assembled. And in terms of thinking about what we want the future of NPR to sound like and look like, these makers and creators that we assembled for this season, this is the blueprint. So definitely big-up to our team.
Edited by: Kelsey Page
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