Besides podcasts, when I want to learn more about something I’m interested, I turn to YouTube. A few years ago, my burgeoning interest in rap led me to find the channel Dead End Hip Hop, and I’ve been a devoted follower ever since. The semi-rotating group -consisting of Myke C-Town, Beezy430, Sophie, Feefo, Rod, and Ken – succinctly describe their channel on their YouTube about page: “No scripts. It’s pure unfiltered hip hop conversations and album reviews.”
Their lack of script and large group combine into a rather unique style of music discussion. In contrast to YouTube’s most popular music reviewer, Anthony Fantano, and his book report style – the hosts of Dead End Hip Hop don’t have a plan, they only each other. Because no opinions are shared before the cameras are rolling, each review is less of an artistic critique than an emotional reaction.
Everyone at Dead End ultimately respects each other’s opinions, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t roast each other mercifully when they disagree. I revel in every argument between the diametrically opposed Rod and Myke, who rarely see eye to eye on a project. The group’s energy and pluralistic perspectives is what makes their reviews so special – you never really know what’s going to happen.
When I got to interview co-host Ken, about the origins of the group, he said that the group’s animated opinions are what originally birthed Dead End Hip Hop. Ken, Rod, and Feefo “would spend hours at work debating music, sports and hip hop…much to the annoyance of [their] coworkers.” Their debates, “were lively and entertaining because [they] all felt so passionate about [their] stances.” It didn’t take long for the trio to decide to make something out of their watercooler talk, but Dead End Hip Hop was only born when in a “particularly lively email debate, someone said, ‘…here goes another dead hip hop conversation’”. Shortly after they found their name, Beezy and Myke C-Town joined and the group released their first video in 2011.
When I asked Ken what motivated the group to expand their online presence into a podcast, he said that Is the Mic Still On began as organically as the YouTube channel. “We would often get into spirited conversations that weren’t captured on video or went beyond. We had ambitions to expand into the podcasting arena but didn’t want to do the same thing we were doing on video.” Ken says that the podcasting format gave them the freedom to go, “beyond the surface and cover a broad range of what’s happening in the culture.”
When you think about it, a Is the Mic Still On Is a perfect addition to the Dead End Hip Hop repertoire. Someone wise once said that when finding new podcasts, you come for the type of content but stay for the personalities. My love of music lead me to find the group in the first place, but my love of their dynamic personalities is what keeps me coming back. With the podcast, they bring their trademark enthusiasm into other realms of entertainment, including: pop culture, news (hip hop and otherwise), TV show recaps, or anything else that they felt passionate about that week.
Given their track-record for spontaneity, I was curious to ask how – if at all – each of the hosts prepare for each episode. Ken was kind enough to gather direct responses from each member, and it turns out that the level of preparedness varies wildly depending on the host. Sophie and Ken keep an eagle-eye out for news stories throughout the week, always aiming for a balance of relevance and topic diversity. As Feefo says, the rest of the crew, “try to keep it as natural as possible,” only checking the show notes to stay informed.
Because of their varying podcast styles, I was curious to ask what everyone finds to be the most difficult part of recording the show. For Myke, the audiences reaction has been the most confounding. Having been on YouTube for 8 years, he “expected most of the backlash”, but the response that he least expected were, “the negative comments about us not researching things when we’ve made it clear that that is part of the show.” For a group of people dedicated to spontaneity, Beezy says that scheduling all 6 of them has been a consistent roadblock.
According to Sophie, that’s not the only logistical issue the group has been dealing with. Everyone’s diversity of backgrounds, opinions, viewpoints, and interests can sometimes make the show seem too scattershot, where it’s hard to find a branding identity when they discuss such a wide variety of topics. Ken echoes the sentiment that, “creating a great show is difficult,” not only because of topics or scheduling, but also marketing the podcast to a larger audience.
Interestingly, what some of the hosts cited as the most difficult part of the show is also what excites them the most about the show’s future. Despite Myke’s surprise at the audience’s reaction, he’s still excited to “interact with more people, even if it’s negative.” For Sophie – who expressed her concern about the consistency of the show’s voice – what excites her is that they’ve, “started becoming more organized [and they’ve] started developing a sound.” Everyone expressed excitement about the continued growth of the show, hoping for more opportunities from sponsorships and potential live shows.
So if you’re in the market for a podcast about Hip Hop culture, or just looking for endearingly chaotic conversations, give Is the Mic Still On a rating on Podchaser to let us know what you think!
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