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DJ Semtex is an author, a podcaster, a radio host, and a DJ. In part 2 of our conversation, he shares his thoughts on Donda and Certified Lover Boy, diving into how these albums reflect on Kanye West’s and Drake’s artistry. He then weighs in on music journalism, fan feedback, and the gradual comeback of live performances. He also talks about podcasting and compares it to doing radio shows, going into some of his interviews.
If you’re a fan of DJ Semtex or you’re just looking to start your own music podcast, this is the episode for you!
[02:35] DJ Semtex’s thoughts on Donda and Certified Lover Boy
[09:15] Why Donda is a masterpiece
[16:25] Music criticism in the era of social media
[22:32] What music events are like now compared to pre-pandemic
[28:45] Whether or not hip hop will reach a saturation point
[34:05] Podcast interviews versus radio interviews
[42:50] How hip hop has changed the podcasting scene and online consumption
[52:55] Some UK artists to watch out for
Trapital is home for the business of hip-hop. Gain the latest insights from hip-hop’s biggest players by reading Trapital’s free weekly memo.
Dan: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie.
Today’s guest is DJ Semtex, who is an author, podcaster, radio host, and DJ. Sem runs Hip Hop Raised Me, which is a podcast that interviews many of the biggest hip-hop artists all across the world and Sem actually hosted me on his podcast a couple weeks ago where we hosted part one of a two-part conversation.
Part one, we talked about what we were anticipating before Certified Lover Boy and Donda dropped, and part two, which is this podcast, talks about what we think about both albums afterward, thinking about the marketing, but also the content of the albums and the reception and everything that’s involved with it.
And we also talked about Sem’s career too. I don’t know many people that are more passionate about hip hop than Sem is. He has a full appreciation and understanding and I think that’s one of his strongest qualities and we see that come out in this episode.
It was also great to talk with him too about what the post-pandemic vibe has been like and what he’s seen so far performing at different music festivals.
And we also talked about some of the differences of podcasting versus radio, what he likes most about each platform and how he’s able to help navigate the two of them and how the relationships he’s built over the years with some of the biggest artists have helped him to continue to land some of those big interviews over time.
It’s funny because that’s actually one of the ways that Sem and I first connected. In one of my first Trapital essays ever, this was back in 2018, I’ve written about Drake, this was right around the time that Scorpion had dropped, and I quoted an interview that Drake had did with Sem back in 2017 after More Life dropped.
A couple weeks after that, Sem ended up joining the email list and then we connected from there and I always give him credit because UK is rising up the ranks for Trapital. London is now the third biggest city for Trapital readers and listeners so I always give Sem credit for that.
We had a great conversation, covered a bunch. I hope you enjoy it. Here’s my chat with DJ Semtex.
Dan: All right, we got DJ Semtex here and this is actually part two of a podcast that him and I did on the Hip Hop Raised Me Podcast a couple weeks ago. Before Certified Lover Boy, before Donda dropped, we talked about what we felt going into these albums, what we expected, and now we’re on the other side.
We’ve heard these albums a few times, we’ve seen what the artists have said. We’ve also heard a bit of the drama as well. So, now that we’re a bit removed, Sem, how you feeling about CLB? How you feeling about Donda?
Sem: I’m gonna try to be as diplomatic as possible because, for the last couple of weeks, we’ve just seen — it’s almost like the media was pushing a “Who’s side you on” kind of thing on it. This album’s done this amount streams in two days and this album’s done this billion streams in three days and it’s like — but the bottom line is when it comes to the music, Donda is a masterpiece. It’s more Kanye West greatness.
It’s an amazing album, it’s one of his greatest albums. I think everything about it, the detail, the structure, the concept, the way that the music is put together, the way that it’s composed, the way that he’s used rappers beyond their best abilities. He’s pulled out the best of them, you know?
That’s the best Jay Electronica verse we’ve heard since “Exhibit A,” you know? It’s like since way back and I think with the same for the way that he’s worked with Playboi Carti, Lil Durk, and Fivio Foreign’s done the best verse of his life.
So, I feel like it’s a very, very real win for the culture. I feel like it’s a very great return for Kanye West. I think it’s been difficult for him for the last few years because, you know, what he’s been through and Ye being Ye.
But it’s a very, very great milestone within the culture. It’s a very definitive marker. It’s a very great snapshot of what’s going on right now of who some of the greatest artists are, of what the sound is, and it’s also classic Ye at the same time.
You can hear elements of Yeezus, you can hear elements of 808s & Heartbreak. You can hear the elements of College Dropout because “Jesus Walks” is basically the blueprint for this album and the Jesus Is King album. So, it’s like a massive, incredible full circle. It’s an amazing album for the culture.
With Drake, I feel Drake’s done Drake. I feel Drake has done Drake business, and I don’t say — I’m not saying that in a negative way. I think he knows what his audience is, he knows the lifestyle that he’s going for. I feel like he knows the kids that he’s appealing to. He knows how to use popular culture just I think from the cover to the “Way 2 Sexy” track.
When I heard the “Way 2 Sexy” track, I was like, “What the hell is this?” I was like, “What? Is this what we’re doing now?” And — but when I saw the video, I was like, “This is genius.” And he’s took it somewhere else and I think he took it somewhere and had fun with it.
I feel like even though he’s done this before and he’s not afraid to do something comical, but I feel like it’s that Lil Nas X lane almost, it’s almost like he’s going in that territory where it’s just massive super pop. And he did tell — he did warn us all that people ain’t gonna like this and this, this, that, and the other, but the video is incredible.
He understands meme culture. He understands the internet perfectly. So, he’s done an incredible album that will work for him. He’s done an incredible album that utilizes the internet, that utilize the language of youth culture. They’re two very, very different albums. You can’t compare the two.
You can compare two rappers, you can compare the business of and the rollout of one against the other, but they’re still not the same.
With Donda, what Kanye did, I don’t think anyone else can do. You know, with the listening parties. He’s done an album which is basically a tribute to his mom. And, you know, I saw the comments, like, “Oh, I’m exhausted listening to this album, it’s 1 hour, 47 minutes long.”
People go to the cinema to watch films for 3 hours. It’s like, come on, man, what the fuck is that? Like really?
That’s not even a valid criticism. That’s silly. Like you’ll listen to a playlist for a certain amount of time or whatever and I don’t think the criticism is warranted. That’s my opinion.
I think with the Drake album, I feel like Drake’s done Drake. Could have done a bit more. He could have pushed the envelope. It’s the same features, it’s the same sort of tune, it’s the same kinda tracks, it’s the same one. The Rick Ross and Lil Wayne joint, incredible. Incredible. Like I wanted more of that. That’s what I want.
Dan: I hear that and I think that’s a good distinction between the two, especially we’re talking about Donda, I got the impression from listening to it that this felt, and when you think about the listening parties as well, this felt a lot more like a play, right? The musical.
You are listening to a musical and the sequencing of that and, of course, musicals are, what? Two hours, 45 minutes, three hours long, and that’s the impression I got.
Donda as well is Kanye specifically has been someone that has always challenged the narrative and has been willing to do things differently and I got that impression with Donda and, for him, you’re right, this wasn’t exactly the standard go around. This wasn’t like a formula that he’s done necessarily.
Sure, there’s production that sounds 100 percent like Kanye, but this album is very different than Ye, it’s very different than Jesus Is King or The Life of Pablo and all those others before.
It’s such a different project and I think he’s given us something to go back and look to and listen to in a way that a lot of fans don’t feel like they’ve had from Kanye in several years, at least, just given some of the reception and the way people feel about the last projects.
To your point about Drake, I agree, and I know I’ve written about this before. This is a machine. This is a music industry machine that understands what needs to be done, how to generate hype, how to put the music out there and what type of flows and melodies are done.
So it’s almost perfectly engineered to be this album that can dominate the Billboard charts, dominate all the discussions, and I think everything from the marketing of it to all that is there.
I think, and this is the point that I got from what you were saying as well, is that so much of the discussion, especially, I think, for people that live in hip hop, Twitter, or Reddit and places like that, can be so marginalized to, “Well, what did this sell the first week? What did that do?”
And I know that even myself, as someone that analyzes this, I can contribute to this as well but it’s so futile to focus on those types of things. It almost reminds me of what if people were having these same type of conversations when The Blueprint came out and Ja Rule Pain Is Love is selling more than Jay-Z The Blueprint.
People aren’t using that as the narrative to say that, “Okay, Ja Rule is more successful artist at the time,” and I feel like people don’t realize that that’s the same thing that’s kinda happening here now with the way we’re talking about those things.
What album will live on further on? I think that’ll be an interesting discussion. I think Drake, in a lot of ways, we now know what to expect for the shelf life, if you will, of his albums as they come and go, but Kanye, it’s different. So, it’s gonna be really interesting to see the Donda impact and how that lives on from now.
Sem: I can tell you what’s gonna happen. Donda’s immortal. Musically it’s mortal. It really, really is. And it’s like even if you look at the meaning behind the title of the album and the concept, I’m listening to Donda, I like Donda, Donda is a masterpiece, duh, duh, duh. He’s immortalized his mother.
He’s — it’s more than a tribute and I think with the music, like the joint, “God breathed on this,” that’s an incredible, powerful track, like to have the audacity to say that but it’s also the coolest flex. It’s the greatest flex you can ever have. Like it’s the greatest, you know, if you’re an art student and you do your best, “God breathed on this,” you know what I mean? It’s — yeah, that’s the highest rank you can give something.
So it’s really interesting to see the reviews on Donda as well because, you know, over here, The Independent, they gave it a zero and then they did a review of that review, and The Guardian’s review, they gave it two out of five and you can see that they hadn’t even listened to the music.
It was more about, “Oh, he’s done something with DaBaby, he’s done something with Marilyn Manson,” and duh, duh, duh, and he did this like — and it was more judging that than anything else.
And I’m not even gonna comment on that, whether that’s — I get it, like — but you can’t punish the greatness of a body of work, publish it, and then review it. It’s almost like artists as provocateurs. It’s almost like the press are doing that with this album. It’s crazy.
It’s like they’re trying to do what they think Kanye is trying to do so it’s like — so you can say that Kanye is provoking by having DaBaby and Marilyn Mason on there but they’re doing the same thing saying, “Hey, look, we’ve given it naught out of five and we’re gonna review it as well.”
What they don’t realize is that really helped him in streams. It’s just more conversation because I think anybody who’s sane and has listened to the music knows what it is. They get it. They know what it is.
It’s like, you know, it’s like instead of going back to “God breathed on this,” it’s — his rapping is a hip hop track but there’s choirs that sound like something of, you know, Revenge of the Sith, you know? It’s very, very dark but it kind of isn’t. It’s actually a track which is the ultimate, most empowering flex.
So I think when you — and there’s more elements like that throughout the album. The “Hurricane” joint with The Weeknd, I mean, whether both artists liked it or not, that has to get a Grammy. It has to. It’s an incredible track.
It’s like anybody who’s on a Grammy committee and doesn’t put that track forward, and I don’t — whatever category it is, whether it’s record the year, hip hop record, Christian rap record, whatever, it’s like — that track has to be in all the categories. You can’t mess with that track.
The greatness of it, the magnitude of it, the message in it, what it means, and what it says, and it’s reflected within the streams, like people vote with their feet. You can’t trick that many people into streaming it.
All right, so he’s had three massive events, listening events, with 40,000 people at each event. All right, so let’s say it’s just his fan base, like 120,000 people and a few stans in the UK as well. You ain’t getting that many streams.
It’s like people are gravitating to the music. The music’s working. The music’s connecting.
So, the shelf life of this album, I would say, as a Kanye West fan, this is one of his classics. This isn’t — this is up there. This is on the shelf, you know?
This is a guy who has 10 albums, he’s done 10 albums, and all of them — actually, you could call it nine albums because the Ye, it was an EP, it was never classed as an album. Somehow, that’s now in the catalog as an album.
But if you look at all the albums that he’s done, everything’s excellent. Everything’s classic. This continues and this is almost like — this is almost like the marker that completes the set of 10. This is almost like 10 years in the making.
Dan: It’s almost like — it’s like the anthology, right?
Sem: Yeah. It’s gonna be hard for me to say anything negative about it because I don’t see — I can’t hear the negatives. If you’re just listening to the purity of the album. The cover’s black. The cover’s black. It’s just titles. There’s no features in the titles so you are just accepting it on the merit of the music.
There’s been no big videos, there’s been no — you know what I mean? It’s not been forced down your throat and it’s just like so when you listen to it, whether you’re on your commute, whether you’re going to college, school or wherever, whether you’re just chillin’ at night, it’s amazing. You cannot — it’s very difficult to critique it just on that merit.
You can criticize Kanye all day long. I don’t like what he did with Trump. I don’t like the fact he got with the Kardashians. He knew it was gonna happen. He predicted what was gonna happen. He said it in tracks. But with the music, you can’t fault him.
Dan: Yeah, that’s a good point and I think the point you made earlier about the reviews is a really interesting one because I saw the reviews for Donda and a lot of them panned the album.
But I also read a lot of reviews for Drake as well and Certified Lover Boy, I mean, you could pick the outlet, people would say, “Oh, it’s hollow. It’s this, it’s that,” and I wonder, okay, how much of that is honest and legitimate versus how much of that is aligned with how I think media and music criticism has changed in the era of social media?
Because I think there’s certain people that people feel a bit easier to have a critical opinion on or say what people want to be heard about that person and I know that, for instance, there’s a lot of journalists that don’t even touch criticism of someone like Beyoncé.
Let’s say that, you know, Beyoncé is preparing for this next album, they might have a critical opinion but they don’t wanna be the person that becomes the screenshot that says, “Oh, Beyoncé’s debut album, Dangerously in Love, it’s fine but she’s no Ashanti.”
I don’t know if you remember that one but that was from, I think it was in 2003 when her debut album came out, but no one wants to be that person, especially now with the way the BeyHive is, but to the other extent, there’s a narrative out there, people love to, you know, hate on Drake for how long and how, you know, to use the words of a few journalists, “hollow” his album has been or even Kanye and a lot of that being a virtue signal, not just for his album but for some of the broader transgressions and actions that he’s done in public in recent years.
And I wonder, in this era then, how do we really look at that journalism critique, maybe to your extent, it’s what The Independent and Guardian [inaudible] have done where people are doing reviews of the reviews and being honest but, of course, there’s some exposure there. So that’s something that I think about.
Sem: I think, for journalists, it’s a different day, right? And I think they used to have albums eight weeks upfront. They used to have albums ahead. They’d be invited to the studio to hear the process and they’d have the inside scoop.
Now they’re like everybody else. Now, it’s like, “Join the queue.” Now, it’s like, on Friday, if you’re a super stan in the UK get up at five in the morning to listen to it and in Friday, like, even for me, I have to have my opinion ready.
I get it. My listeners are like, “What do you think?” I’ve gotta have answers straightaway. I’ve gotta have a read on it.
So, even to the extent with Donda, it dropped on a Sunday and I was going out for a meal with my family and we’re in the car and then I was like, “What? Donda’s dropped?” and my kids was like, “Yeah, didn’t you know? It dropped 30 minutes ago.” I’ve been a little busy, you know what I mean?
So then I’m like straight away on my timeline, “Sem, what do you think?” And I’m like I have to listen to it through the speaker of my phone because I didn’t have my headset so I’m listening to the album from the speaker of my phone because I need to have an opinion straight away, right?
It’s not the best way to listen to music but I can listen to it and I can get — my first reviews on my timeline, I stand by that review and it was — I lived with it for a week, I did another, and I pretty much said similar to what I said earlier.
And, basically, the immediacy and the need to have a review in place, for me, if that’s what it’s like for me, I don’t know what it’s like for publications where they’ve gotta keep up with public opinion.
Because the public will make their mind up. I see it every week when I do my radio show. A track can drop at 6 PM on Monday, at 9 PM, “Yeah, play that new duh, duh, duh,” and I’m just like they’ve already consumed it, listened to it, and they wanna hear it for the 20th time on the radio while they’re out.
So it’s like it is — you have to keep up and I think that’s the problem, I think. I don’t know if journalists look at it like that. I don’t know if, because the prestige of what they had before is gone. The public, you know, an uber fan’s opinion is as important as anybody else’s, you know? And I think that’s the problem that they’ve got.
So, I feel like it’s very easy to get attention by giving a negative album review. It’s almost like business for them to do that. So, for instance, I don’t know if you saw Peppa the Pig, the album got a better review in Pitchfork than Kanye West and then Peppa the Pig, whoever does the account, tweeted, duh, duh, duh, we didn’t have to do that.
And it’s all bullshit. Like I find that shit offensive because what you’ve got is a corporate entity that does Peppa the Pig, using their account to diminish a very credible musician, regardless of genre.
And then you’ve got Pitchfork, who — I’ve never put them on a pedestal. I don’t give a fuck about what Pitchfork review, I really don’t care. Like I don’t care, like it does have — it has no bearing on my life whatsoever, it has no bearing on my opinion of music, and I feel that’s the same for everybody else that I know who’s a fan of music.
So you’ve got one entity that is punishing a project and the fact that they review projects again from several years ago and admit they were wrong or whatever, whatever, just so is it’s all bullshit. It’s all flawed. And I just think with — it becomes like — it’s a very horrible self-serving marketing, brand-building exercise at the expense of artistry and I think that’s bullshit.
And I think that — the more that these publications do this shit, the less relevant they’re becoming in the conversation of music. And it’s why artists won’t talk to people like that. An artist is more likely to talk to me or you because they know what we’re about than some publication that might take something and twist it and turn it into some other shit.
I see them do Rick Ross. I’ve seen them — someone was begging for an interview with Rick Ross one time, a journalist, and then when the piece came, it was just like a piss take piece. It was just like they mocked him, like it was just — and I think that’s why artists — and then going back to your point about Beyoncé, you don’t see Beyoncé interviews. You don’t see Beyoncé reviews, and I think even what she did with the Lemonade album where it just came out and everything else, it defeats the whole — what we think is the single and what’s gonna work and duh, duh, duh.
The fans dictate everything now, and I think that’s better. I think that is a better place to be. I think it’s better for artists, it’s better for fans, it’s better for music. So I think the less gatekeepers are involved, the better, in my opinion.
Dan: And I think part of that difference too is that a lot of the people that are putting this stuff out now, they’re a bit more specialized in writing in this post social media era where this is what they know, this is how they know a world to generate buzz or to get seen with whatever they’re putting out there.
And, obviously, you come from a more holistic experience. I mean, you’ve been in this game for years, well before anyone thought of social media and understand everything related to it.
And you also have other jobs besides just what you do as a journalist or a broadcaster. I mean, you’re an author, you’re a podcaster, you’re a radio host, and you’re a DJ. You’ve seen what it’s like so you have that full understanding and perspective.
And I actually like to talk about that piece of it, the DJ piece, because I know that you’ve been doing sets now now that the world is starting to open back up and stuff and how do you feel like the energy is?
How do you feel like the energy is pre-pandemic versus post-pandemic when you’re out in crowds now?
Sem: I feel my immediate view is that the fans are more passionate than ever before. I get DM’ed weeks before the show, “Are you gonna play this at your set?” I never had that before. It’s crazy.
Like I’ve had people — like when I did Leeds Festival recently, “Can you play Lil Peep? Can you play this track? Can you do that?”
And, you know, like for anybody to take the time out to do that, for me, like nine times out of ten, I’m already gonna do it anyway but I’ll make the effort because it’s like, it’s dope feedback, it’s, you know, listener, fan feedback, whatever.
And it’s — and I feel like that’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to have the audience reach out and say, “We’d like you to do this at this event that you’re DJ-ing at.”
So, for instance, with — it was the same with Wireless. Somebody reached out to me and was like, “Can you please play some Donda? Can you —” I said of course, you know? I was going back and forth in DMs, “’Cause ‘Jail’ would sound incredible,” and I’m like yeah, you know? It’s like, yeah, like, of course, I’m gonna do that.
And I think from that aspect, I feel like the fans are more passionate. I feel like they wanna really mosh. The kids just wanna mosh harder than ever before. I was little — I was at a Lil Uzi show recently and I was DJ-ing and, you know, I was — Look, I killed it. Excuse my confidence when I talk about what I do on stage —
Dan: You gotta say it with your chest.
Sem: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I killed that shit, right? So, and then, you know, 10 minutes into the set, the sound man comes and he says, “Oh, it’s distorting, I think it’s just the rattlebox,” and I was like this isn’t good but I carried on, the crowd was incredible, the footage is on the timeline, the evidence.
They loved it. They loved XXXTentacion [inaudible], that’s one of the tracks you can play from finish to end, you know, they love “Witchblades” Lil Peep, went crazy to that. You know, everything. They were going crazy to everything.
And the sound was distorting and I couldn’t figure out what it was and I thought, you know, it was too late because I’ve got dragged to do — I got asked to do the show at the last minute so you just literally run on stage and turn up so that’s what I did.
Bit distorting. I was a bit unhappy with myself because, you know, I want it to be perfect. So then I go to the balcony to watch the Lil Uzi show. The whole thing was distorted. His set was distorted.
So I don’t know if it was an engineer that just maxed out the system or limited it to the max hard or whatever. The fans didn’t care. That show was an amazing night. They didn’t care that it was like a breaking point, like almost distort — it was distorting like if it was at a 10, it’s like it’s been pushed to an 11 and it was breaking.
They didn’t care. Like it’s almost like a live show now for artists is as much a meet and greet as it is a performance. Like you’ve got Lil Uzi Vert come on stage, no band, I don’t even know who’s the DJ, it might have just been his engineer, I don’t know. It’s just Lil Uzi Vert and a video screen.
And that’s the standard for most shows right now. And the cameraman. The cameraman has replaced the hype man, right? At every show. So, what — and then crowd reaction? 10 out of 10. Like entertainment? 10 out of 10.
Like afterwards, people would come out, everybody came out of it bare chested. It was like the entire venue of 5,000 people was in a mosh pit. It was like everyone was soaked. Everyone was dripping wet in sweat. Everyone was like drained and it was, “Yeah, that’s great.” It was great.
It’s like they very, very much were entertained, like to the ninth degree. He couldn’t have done any more. He played all his bangers, he played six unreleased tracks. And when an artist plays unreleased tracks and they go off, you know it’s a good night, you know it’s a fan base, you know it’s people that appreciate it.
So, to answer your question. I think the fans are more passionate than ever before. I think they wanna go out more than ever before. They appreciate the music more than ever before. They appreciate the artists and they appreciate the experience.
So for me as a DJ, it’s the best time. It is the greatest time ever. I’m hoping, praying that there isn’t another lockdown, like I’m hoping we’re at a point where, all right, you know, we can do this and cope with it.
But it’s amazing, like Leeds Festival was definitely the best gig I’ve ever had in my life. At the age that I’m at, I’m having the best gig of my life. You know, that week, the same week that I did Leeds Festival, Burna Boy did the O2 Arena, 20,000 people. Looked amazing. Leeds Festival, I was on stage in front of 20,000 people. Amazing. As a DJ. I’m just playing tracks, you know?
My EP only just came out, it’s not even like — I’m not, you know, I’m not DJ Khaled, I’m not — this is just me DJ-ing on stage killing it. No hype man, nothing. Just me and my cameraman.
So it’s like it was an absolute zoo for the entire time I was on stage. It is a movie, it was everything, and it is like — it’s the exact reason why I got into this and I think people appreciate the experience more than ever. That’s what I’ll say.
Dan: That’s great. That’s good to hear. Yeah, ’cause I think a lot of people weren’t sure what that energy was going to be like, especially if the crowds aren’t there but, yeah, I saw the footage. You had the crowds live.
I mean, when — whether it was Uzi Vert on stage, I saw when he played “Sicko Mode,” the crowd just went wild. That’s good to see. And I’m sure like, if that’s what it’s like, what you’re seeing in Leeds, that’s what it’s gonna be like in the rest of the world and I think eventually, once things really start to open back up, I know that things are still slightly restricted now but, yeah, I think we got a good future ahead, man.
Sem: Definitely and the thing is Reading and Leeds Festival, that was a rock festival. Traditionally, it was like, that’s the kind of place where, you know, Linkin Park and all these other rock acts were playing, everything else like that. And, you know, there’d be the odd hip hop act, right? You know, might get one on the mainstage.
Now it’s different. That was like the Reading Rap Festival. It was like, you know, everybody, everybody was winning on stage. Everybody, the hip hop tent was doing it, the dance tent, everybody was winning, but, you know, the UK drill phenomenon out here is huge and there’s a guy called Russ totally up, you know?
Stormzy’s huge already but when Dave came out to perform the track, like a drill track, it’s called “Clash,” that was the biggest moment I’d say of the weekend, basically.
And this is like, you know, 100,000 people, whatever the capacity is, it’s like it’s reciting raps. This is middle England. This isn’t black communities together in one space. This is middle England. This is like people from across the UK and it’s pop music, you know?
Whether it’s UK rap, UK drill, hip hop, or whatever, it’s mainstream music now. It’s not — I can’t see it going away anytime soon, you know?
We talked about this on my podcast, is there ever gonna be a point where it’s too much, but seeing what’s happened with, you know, Reading and Leeds Festival, Wireless Festival, and the Donda release and Certified Lover Boy, I don’t know.
I don’t know. I think if people can keep up with the quality music and keep stimulating the crowd and having music that inspires and pushes the envelope and — I don’t know. I think it’s gonna be here for a long time, you know?
Dan: Yeah, I agree. And for folks listening, what Sem and I talked about in the last podcast was about hip hop and whether or not it’s going to reach a saturation point and I think that’s a question that both of us get asked often.
And, yeah, I think, for me, it is a lot more to do with the sub-genres within hip hop that may ebb and flow as opposed to it as a unit, right?
Gangsta rap has had its ebb and flows, you know, throughout and it’s not nearly what it was in the G-funk era but it’s paved the way for other types of hip hop to come to the surface.
And I think, sure, if you wanna call it the Certified Lover Boy sound, may eventually ebb and flow as well. I don’t know about Drake specifically but I think like he himself has found a way to adapt with the times and I think we’ll probably continue to see that. So that’s something that I agree with, for sure.
Sem: I mean, so the interesting thing is, and we touched on this last time, is that Dave, he sold 74,191 copies week one, which is an incredible result. That’s more than Kanye. That’s more than Kanye and Drake put together week one. It’s more than any other UK rapper and everything else.
And there’s a sense that the more conscious type of rap is gonna be more at the center stage because I think I hear it all the time, this is — and this is not my opinion, this is feedback that I’m hearing, like people are tired of —
They want substance. That’s what they want. And I think where in America you’ve got the J. Coles and the Kendricks and that Kendrick verse on the “Baby Keem” joint, incredible, you know? But over here, there’s Dave, there’s Little Simz, there’s a guy that I’ve worked with called Boy Nash, we’ve got an EP out, and it’s the same thing.
It’s like even with that EP that I put out, so great EP, I’m doing my business now, it was like I just did it because I just wanted to do a project that was a foundation block to establish me as a producer and it was just like I chose this kid because he rapped the rap that I liked.
But the comments were crazy, like everyone was saying the same thing, like, “Yo, this is exactly what — this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. This is substance. This is depth,” duh, duh, duh. What the game’s been missing kind of thing.
And I think there’s definitely — we may see a shift to that. I’m just going off what everybody’s saying, like people want more substance in the music. I think Dave has proven that with the numbers that he’s done. It’s crazy. So, over here, that’s what’s happening over here anyway.
Dan: Yeah, that’s impressive. And I think too you have a great purview for this because you’re talking to people in different mediums, right? You’re talking to people on your radio show, you’re talking to people on your podcast, and you get to see the full circle.
And one thing that I’ve wondered for you is, obviously, you’re doing interview-style discussions and have done interviews on different types of formats. How different do you approach the conversations you may have in a podcast form like with Hip Hop Raised Me versus what you may do with Xtra and what you may do on radio?
Sem: For me, the podcast is the director’s cut. For radio, it’s a very, you know, I’m in town, passing through, duh, duh, duh, you gotta keep it light because it’s all about the music. With radio, it’s about enhancing someone’s day, you know?
So I’m on in the evenings so it’s my job to put you in a place where, whether you’re traveling to a gig or whether you’re coming home or wherever, wherever, I’m starting the weekend so I have — my show has to have that turn-up energy.
I can’t do a 60-minute in-depth interview, that isn’t gonna do, it’s inappropriate for that time of day. So, for instance, I’ve had French Montana on recently and he was talking about the number of UK collaborations he’s done.
You could actually draw an infographic of the collaborations that he’s done over the years. He’s done — he may have done more than Drake. He was one of the first to do it as well. And I was taking him back and forth and we’re going through that journey.
That’s a cool listen for a Friday night, you know? Because most of the tracks, he jumps on the classics. So it’s a very easy show. It’s a very easy like listen as a hip hop fan or if you’re a new hip hop fan, you’re seeing what this guy’s done.
Doesn’t work the same way in a podcast because of rights issues and everything and you can’t play the music and everything else so it doesn’t work the same way.
So, with French, the podcast that I have done with him are more detailed. It’s more, you know, his life, his story, what he’s been through, the whole thing about, you know, his view on immigrants and America and everything else, it’s different, and I couldn’t do that on radio in the same way.
So it’s very — I feel very privileged to be able to do different styles. I feel very, you know, yeah, I’ve worked a lot to get to this point but, as a fan, it’s a privilege to be able to have the trust of people that you’ve championed over the years and respected and they’re dominating the charts and everything else.
It is, we’re privileged. I mean, it’s the same for yourself when you’ve got the biggest boss, right?
Dan: Exactly, exactly. Yeah, the biggest boss, yeah. It’s one of those things. And I think that you, because I’ve heard you say it in other interviews that you definitely prefer to talk to artists when they’re not on their promo cycle and I think it’s because you get to have that director’s cut-type conversation.
But I also think you know that being able to have that director’s cut-type conversation comes with trust and, oftentimes, it comes with the relationship and credibility and I think that you are able to build that in oftentimes by having those promo discussion-type conversations when they come up, right?
Like, for instance, just looking at your journey and your relationship with Drake, for instance, you having a promo-style interview when he releases So Far Gone puts you in a position that when he’s releasing More Life, he’s DM-ing you to be like, “Hey, Sem, let’s chat,” and then you get to have that conversation that a lot of people just weren’t having right around the time that More Life came.
So I feel like, at least from my perspective, it feels like it’s a funnel in a lot of ways so even though you may prefer this medium, you may not be able to do it exclusively.
Sem: Yeah. And I think with that first Drake interview, that was done with, “I need to introduce this guy to the UK.” So that’s why it was like, yeah, let’s do a formal type thing on a mixtape, let’s — you know what I mean? Because no one else would do that, like — and it’s the best way to make it palatable for an audience that may not know who he is.
And it’s dope to be able to flow in and out of the different styles, you know, for wherever they’re needed, you know, for whatever format I’m doing the interviews on.
But it’s, again, I’m just, ultimately, as a fan, I just feel incredibly privileged to be able to sit down with different people in different capacities, you know?
And I think it’s invaluable experience. I don’t see these talks as interviews, I see them as lessons, you know? I see them as chapters in the book and I feel like, you know, for instance, the episode that I just did with Pi’erre Bourne is fascinating.
There’s a lot of parallels between him and Kanye West. You know, he’s a young producer, he raps, he raps in his own beats, he’s an entrepreneur, he’s doing fashion and everything else. And he’s doing a sound that defines, you know, hip hop in his generation, you know, for this generation.
His experience and his thought processes and his beliefs are very fascinating. It’s like, very, very inspiring, but it’s like I said, it’s a lesson for anyone coming through, like his approach to, you know, even the fact that he was saying, “Plan, plot, and execute,” I haven’t heard anyone else his age say that. I haven’t heard anybody else, you know, the fact that he’s got that and I know he’s coming through in a different time.
There’s a lot more mentorship now than there was 10 to 20 years ago. But he’s still, again, there’s a learning to get from that talk, like somewhere for someone. So, it’s a responsibility to get it right, you know? You’ve gotta get the detail out of him.
I got to ask him about how he feels about 6ix9ine using one of his tracks without actually saying it, you know what I mean? So it’s like —
Dan: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Sem: — and then he gets upset for the rest of the interview, it’s like I just put it in a different way so it’s not headline grabbing or saying the same thing that he’s been asked a lot of times, and I just — you know, and I did it differently.
How do you feel when, you know, you make music and your DNA is in your music and your soul, how do you feel when it goes to someone you didn’t expect it to? It’s a better answer. You get a better answer and he’s still in a good mood.
Dan: That’s a good point, yeah, because I think about like even, you know, we mentioned earlier like my interview with Rick Ross, part of it, I knew, okay, he just released a book, he is on a tour so I know that I’m not gonna be able to necessarily get as deep of a conversation, but after reading the book, there are so many things you wanna be able to dig into but you’re also cognizant of, like I’m not out here just trying to generate blog posts about like, oh, what Rick Ross said about Kanye West and Drake beef, like I’m not as concerned about that but you’re still trying to balance that with everything so it’s interesting and, obviously, I think, you know, you’re a pro at this, just given that example.
And I think that the people that are good at this are able to help distinguish between the two of those and can still get the things they want. I mean, there’s an art to this, right? Like there’s a huge art to how you have these.
Sem: And I think even the way you launched the Rick Ross conversation, it was like that tweet, like, “I’m gonna be talking to the biggest boss.” It’s like, everyone was like, “Oh, shit, he got it,” you know what I’m saying? He’s like — I don’t think any other platform would have done that. They wouldn’t have said that. And they wouldn’t have an audience that would understand what that means, you know?
It’s a very great time to do what we do and I think we’re in an environment where our reputations will only get bigger and bigger and, you know, travel, you know? So the next — because even — what I get now is a lot of managers say — I did an interview with Bobby Sessions, right, for the podcast, and he was great. He’s incredibly inspiring as well. His whole approach to things and everything else and his whole thing about manifesting destiny and self-fulfilling prophecy, everything, all of that. He’s a walking book on stuff like that.
But he said, “Look, my manager said, like when I first started working, at this point in your career, you’re gonna do the Semtex interview,” and duh, duh, duh, and it’s fascinating to hear that, you know?
It’s like, it’s on the list but you’ve got a manager who is probably from my era who’s telling the younger artists you need to do this at this point in your career. Crazy, you know? So I’m incredibly privileged, you know?
Dan: Yeah, no, definitely. And last question, actually, for you before we let you go, you had mentioned something else in an interview that really stuck out to me. You had said that hip hop, in a lot of ways, has changed the podcasting world. Can you talk more about that?
Sem: Yeah, because I think we’ve — there’s a lot of podcasts and different styles of things and everything else, but I think we like the conversation, and when I say “we,” I say the hip hop community, you know, worldwide, not just in America, like in the UK and everywhere else around the world.
And we like that thirst for the inside detail. I think Joe Budden has been very instrumental in bringing light to this. I know there’s other people that have been doing hip hop podcasts for years, and it’s no disrespect to them, but I think, for instance, when Joe Budden was talking to Pusha T, you couldn’t do — what he did with that, that could not be done on radio. It could not be done in a magazine or anything else.
That conversation, and, you know, there is a generation of people now that would rather watch Joe Budden talk for three hours than late night TV, you know? The days of people just watching anything that comes on after midnight on TV are done.
People are going for the YouTube channel. People, you know, whether it’s the algorithm kicking in or whether it’s someone trying to find out about their favorite artist, it’s — the conversation, it’s the director’s cut. So you’ve got the Semtex director’s cut. Now you’ve got the Akademiks like alternative director’s cut. There’s different angles.
I don’t do — I love academics. That’s my guy. I interviewed him before he started to do Everyday Struggle, literally the day before and he couldn’t talk about it or anything but even before that, I rated the way he put his YouTube clips together. It was like a lot of information, it’s entertaining, it’s fast paced. He — what he does is totally different.
But even with him, you know, there’s a weird attraction to what he did with Wack and that 6ix9ine podcast. I never heard the podcast but I heard the podcast. And I heard the podcast on the timeline. I found myself going to Clubhouse to hear Wack 100 talk about the podcast. I found myself in rooms listening to people complaining about Akademiks having these people on the podcast.
I was like, “This is crazy.” Like, it was like, in a weird way, like Akademiks does a podcast with Spotify that I haven’t listened to, I haven’t had time, but it’s so well publicized and everything else. He’s given Clubhouse like, you know, a new height, just, you know, the golden age of Clubhouse was like six months ago and it’s done, like everyone was like, you know, had enough of it at a certain point.
But then all of a sudden Akademiks does something and it’s the new conversation on Clubhouse. There’s people getting upset and there’s people, you know, like giving out their opinions and everything else and it’s all from podcasts. I’ve never seen any other podcast do that.
I like what Joe Budden does but I don’t see it travel like that unless it’s him trying to — someone trying to cancel him, you know? So it’s like with, you know, and even from what Rosenberg and Cipha did back in the day, that was mad funny. It was different. It was like — it was dope what they did, it’s a different conversation, different style.
But I think in this era of in this era of increased technological advances and 5G and everything’s faster and there’s more channels and, you know, we have the Gram, we have Twitter and Facebook’s for like when you wanna look at what you did when you was a kid or family and friends or whatever.
But now you’ve got platforms you don’t know what goes on, like you don’t know what goes on at Clubhouse unless, “Yo, some shit’s going down on Clubhouse,” then you can find out what’s going on or you’ll see a screenshot of a room on Clubhouse or whatever. They can’t manage that.
I mean, good luck to them trying to, like whatever they’re trying to do with their platform, you can’t manage it. It’s so in real time. But then you’ve got, you know, there’s an artist I know called [inaudible] who is in Discord groups. The guy just made a track in a Discord group with two other producers.
And they’re all in the UK. They’re all in other parts of London, not that far apart from each other, but the fact that they’re producing in real time in perfect internet quality and he’s like, “Yeah, I just finished this track.”
It’s crazy and I feel like it’s the hip hop thirst for real time information, progress on your favorite artist, progress on the artist that you wanna hate, it is unrivaled in any other genre. It is unrivaled in any other field of entertainment.
I know true crime podcasts are very, very popular. The audience for those is not doing what we do. They’re not doing what we do. They’re not gonna go to Clubhouse, “Oh, what’s going on? What?” Like, you know, it’s not — and then join in as well and whatever. It’s none of that.
It’s just — the hip hop fan is the ultra consumer, the hyper consumer, and that’s music, clothing, information, entertainment, everything. We can’t get enough of it. We can’t, like, you know, it’s a wonder people’s brains haven’t overloaded.
They say that the amount of communication and information that we consume on a daily basis is now something like 27 gig, right? I don’t know how that was worked out but it’s something like that. That’s gonna be 50 gig very, very soon. It’s only gonna get faster. They’re only gonna want more.
Kendrick is gonna put out this album, we’re gonna want another one within three months and we’re gonna, you know, and this is the other thing. It’s like even the announcement for Kendrick Lamar, it’s on a note. It’s on a note. It’s not a press release. It’s not — that’s what I’m going back to what we’re saying about journalists, it’s not being announced by a publication. It’s a note, right?
And then, you know, with the whole Kanye posting text exchanges and everything else, Kanye make an announcement on the Gram, like “Universal put out my album without permission.” No context. No one has a clue what it means. No one, but it becomes a thing and it becomes a news story and it’s on every news platform and everything else.
Again, that thirst for “What’s going on? What’s happening?” Duh, duh, duh. It’s like it’s — and I feel that’s why hip hop has blown up podcasts differently because I think the content of certain podcasts carries gold and that gold is consumed.
The fans want more. The fans want more. And I think the podcast market is getting — it’s gotta evolve into something else soon because there’s too many. Everyone is doing it. Every corporation, every platform, there’s a podcast for everything, right? And there’s only so much the human being can consume in, let’s say they’re awake for, I don’t know, 16 hours.
There’s only so much a consumer can do in that time and TV is fighting for that attention, video games fighting for that attention, music and everything else. So something’s gotta give or something’s gotta evolve. And I think all those lead to TikTok.
I think TikTok is the platform that is evolving before our very eyes and no one over 16 has a clue what’s going on with it. No one over 16 has a clue how to use it. No one’s figured out how to use the timeline. No one — it’s just — but the creators on there, what they’re doing is crazy. It’s insane.
Like every artist, whether you’re a DJ, journalist, whatever you do as a creative, your future competition is coming through TikTok right now. And that’s it. Because they’re using the combination of accessible technology, the video, the captioning, the audio aspects, and that need to get a message across in a short space of time.
They’re evolving with that and most regular people haven’t even caught up with that yet. They just see the odd meme or the odd TikTok which goes viral, but where that’s going now and now they’re gonna be doing 20-minute clips, that’s a problem for TV.
TV’s done. Because whatever that’s gonna look like, it is a problem for TV, you know? Because TV, Netflix, however we look at that now, TikTok doing 20-minute shows, I don’t even wanna know what that’s gonna be like. 27 gig, 50 gig. That’s where it’s going.
Dan: That’s a good point. You’re right, yeah, and I think that the hip hop piece of it, specifically, they found a way to have, as you put it, this director’s cut conversation but hip hop just did a better job of repurposing the content to make it everywhere and hitting people, right?
Because as we often talk about, this is as a culture and you wanna hit people everywhere that they’re at, whether it’s the follow-on discussions on Clubhouse or the clips everywhere. Yeah, that’s really what it is.
So, no, I’m glad you mentioned that piece of it. And, yeah, man, I think you’re a living testament to it yourself and it’s just been great to, you know, watch you on this journey. I mean, I knew once you launched this podcast, I was like, “Oh, yeah, he’s gonna be set. He knows exactly how to, you know, work this thing and keep it going.”
So, no, man, this is dope. It was really great to have you, and like we said the last time, we gotta have like an annual recap or something like that so this definitely —
We’ll link up again soon but before we let you go, you already dropped a few artists that people should be checking for but specifically from the UK, who are some people that people should be listening to? Like, you know, they know about Stormzy but like who else should they be checking out?
Sem: I mean, they should know about Dave, they should know about Little Simz, they should know about Boy Nash. They need to know about Digga D. Crazy. Digga D is insane, like he’s one of the guys that toured Reading Festival as well.
They need to know about Russ and there’s a female artist, she’s called Shaybo. Crazy. There’s so many great artists coming out over here and they all wanna crack America. They’ve all got it in their sights. They’ve all — they want it. They all wanna be at Madison Square Garden. All of them. So, they’re coming.
Dan: That’s awesome. Good stuff. Well, Sem, thanks again, bro. This was a pleasure.
Sem: Always, man.