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An Interview with Joan Morgan

From: Callaloo
Volume 29, Number 3, Summer 2006
pp. 764-772 | 10.1353/cal.2006.0133

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

This interview was conducted by telephone on March 21st, 2006, between upstate New York and Laurel, Maryland.

CARPENTER: I've read a lot about how you started as a hip-hop journalist. A couple of your early works were pieces on Monie Love and Queen Latifah, is that correct?

MORGAN: Oh yes, those were my first two profiles, actually.

CARPENTER: Well, I had read somewhere that your jump from working on female-oriented pieces to the broader field of hip-hop was an unsteady journey. Could you talk about how you started writing as a hip-hop journalist?

MORGAN: Okay, let me contextualize this for you. When I started writing, there was no such thing as "hip-hop journalism." I am part of that generation of writers that, for better or worse, created that as a genre and it really was a term that other people applied to our writings. When kids would come up to me and say, "Wow, I want to be a hip-hop journalist, too," I would just say, "You just need to be a good writer," because I didn't start out as a voice writing about hip-hop. I started writing about the central park jogger case, actually. I also covered the Mike Tyson trial. So, hip-hop was something I wrote about, but I didn't come in with the focus that some of the younger journalists do today with the idea of being a hip-hop writer, a hip-hop journalist, documenting the culture.

I took my first music piece reluctantly, quite honestly. I didn't even really want to do the Queen Latifah piece—not anything due to Queen Latifah—but I just wasn't interested in music journalism at all. I just didn't quite see the value of being a music critic. It was just when I figured out that you could do cultural criticism like that, and hip-hop could be a way for me to write about the experiences of my generation, that I saw the value. I probably wouldn't have been able to get space in the same papers, the same publications, if I just wanted to write about young black people's experiences at that particular time, but to do it through a hip-hop artist, we could do both. So once we figured that out, this kind of journalism took place and evolved. It was two-fold—it was cultural criticism, first and foremost, and then it became this method to document the culture because there weren't that many of us, people of color, doing it. The majority of people who were writing about hip-hop in the mainstream were, you know, white Ivy League guys. So, it was me and a few others. There were people like Nelson George and Greg Tate who kind of kicked open that door and then there were people like me and Scott Poulson-Bryant and Kevin Powell and Dream Hampton and Danyell Smith. This really was our generation, so it kind of became what our story was about. So, I allow other people to call me a hip-hop journalist, but I never really think about myself that way.

CARPENTER: I've pulled different quotes from different interviews and I have a quote here where you said that hip-hop made you a better feminist. Can you expound on that idea and, also, do you make a distinction between the terms feminist and womanist or is it all really the same for you?

MORGAN: I think it's really a matter of semantics. I get asked all the time, "So why don't you use 'Pan-African' or womanist?" or whatever. I was raised by feminists who didn't call themselves feminists, but I think they did a damn good job of instilling a really strong feminist sensibility in me. I think that a lot of times people don't get past the issue of what we should call ourselves or what we should be doing. So I just avoid all of that. I think there is a very strong tradition of feminism, especially black feminism, that goes back pre-suffrage in this country...

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