For any self-professed fan of Hip Hop culture, Angie Martinez‘s new memoir is essential reading.
My Voice is the perfect title, as it’s unmistakably written in Angies’s warm yet straight to the point tone. A true reflection of its author, the book succinctly covers everything from Angie’s childhood to her current life as mother, partner and world-renown host, with her role in some of Hip Hop’s biggest moments in between.
The radio veteran, who continues to inspire countless young women around the world, delves into both little known stories and infamous ones in My Voice with her trademark honesty, candor and emotion. The memoir is captivating from beginning to end, a true testament to a Hip Hop radio icon who broke the mold for women on-air by simply being herself and putting her love for the culture first every time.
I caught up with Angie for an extended chat about the idea behind the book, the freedom in telling her “truth,” the back story behind some of her favorite moments and more. My Voice: A Memoir is available tomorrow [May 17, 2016].
You’ve always been super private. Why now?
“When I made that big change in my career, that big switch, there was so much noise around—everybody had an opinion—but there was so much love that came towards me from all different types of people. And I felt super humbled by it. I did a lot of reflection at that time and I felt like I almost owed it to people who felt so invested in me, and I should just share a little bit of myself with you, and tell you about some of the lessons I learned. I also did it for myself. Like I say in the book [changing stations from Hot 97 to Power 105.1] was such a turning point for me that I needed to take a minute to reflect because wow, I’ve had a great career so far. Right now there’s a shift happening in my life and I just felt compelled to share that amazing first half.”
How did you put the time aside to get this done?
“It took so long. It took over a year. It would come in spurts. I’d sit down and nothing would come out, and I’d close it and come back a week later and all of a sudden I’d be up till four in the morning, five nights in a row because it would just be coming out. Sometimes it would be not the part I was at but I’d have a thought about something so I’d put it in my phone, then I’d go home and put it all together.”
The sequencing is perfect. As the reader it doesn’t feel like you’re jumping around at all, it’s very smooth.
“Thank you. That was the hardest part of it, because I’m not somebody who’s done something like this before. You know what you said earlier, you’re right. I am a private person. And I was scared to share so many things, but I thought to myself let me just write it down, and if I’m uncomfortable, I will take s*it out. But the truth is, once you get your truth out, and it’s on paper, it’s kinda like, that’s my truth! I just felt good about it.”
Did you leave out a lot?
“Not really. Not really, honestly. There’s plenty of things I experienced I didn’t include, because that would take five books. But I tried to take the moments that resonated with people or that had a real impact on me for whatever reason. The only things I would have taken out were things I felt might not have been as strong, or I may have cut a little down for size, but I didn’t take anything out that just came out naturally. I’m definitely not a person that needs to tell just to tell, though. This isn’t a tell-all book. This is my story. And in telling my story there are definitely things I share that I might not have normally, but that’s the part about being honest. You have to get a little uncomfortable.”
You have to keep reminding yourself, this is my story.
“You know what’s so crazy about that? A couple of my girlfriends were regularly encouraging me through this. One of my girlfriends is an artist, and she made me a t-shirt. It was an army fatigue shirt and she painted on it: ‘You Are Entitled To Have Your Story.’ Because in the middle of it we’d be having dinner and I’d be like, ‘I don’t know if I should say that, ‘cause somebody might feel a certain way’ and all my friends were like, ‘F*ck that! Your story is your story.’ And so she made me this t-shirt. And I kept the thought in my head and when it was done, I said to myself, if anything in the book makes me feel uncomfortable, then I’ll deal with it: I’ll take it out, edit it or change it. But honestly, there’s nothing in there like that. It might be surprising to people that I share so much, but there’s nothing uncomfortable about my life.”
That’s why as a fan you feel like this really is a gift from you. Nowadays people reveal themselves Instagram post by Instagram post, tweet by tweet. If they released a memoir, who would care? What new would there be to learn? The stuff you reveal and describe in the book, we’d only previously heard about it or understood it from afar, as part of the culture. Everything in the book reads so fresh and eye opening.
“That’s so great. I’m so happy to hear that. Was anything surprising to you?”
Honestly, no. Maybe because I always looked up to you and thought I was a lot like you and when you would explain situations in the book, my instant reaction was always, that’s what I would have done!
You always speak on how emotional you are as a person, so it wasn’t surprising reading how emotional you were when you left Hot for Power. You can feel the emotion coming off the pages. It reads like you’re still traumatized by it.
“Good. Good. It was absolutely emotional. I would feel emotional writing it and even when I had to read it for the audio book, I sometimes had to take a second because I would get choked up in certain parts.”
Were there any books you read for inspiration prior to starting?
“I read a lot of memoirs; they’re my favorite kind of books. I loved Jennifer Lopez’s book, True Love. I thought it was really good. I liked her take on it ‘cause she too is someone who’s kinda private. I felt like I got to know her a little bit better in that. And in mine I wanted people to feel like that got to know me better, especially people who think they know me already. I wanted them to feel like they knew me better after reading this. I loved Rosie Perez’s book, I loved Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir. The President’s memoir is one of my favorites.”
Did you have a plan when you started yours or did you just let it flow?
“It just kinda flowed. Originally I wanted to start in California [interviewing with 2Pac], because I felt like that was a big turning point for me and that moment was such a big deal for me, like how did I get here? But that didn’t feel right because I had to get you to that point, I had to build to that. I started writing from there, and then I went back.”
J. Cole says in the opening: “The people who document Hip Hop today are cowards too.” Do you think that’s true?
“Those opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Angie Martinez (laughs). However, I get what he means. And I don’t say that in a way that I’m pointing a finger at anyone else, because I too fall victim to the bulls*it of today. I too fall victim to, how many clicks is this video going to get? I try not to, though. I consciously make a decision to do every interview or execute every moment with integrity. So in a way he reminded me of what’s important. And it is who I am and what I stand for, but sometimes we all lose our way or we all have a moment where we get caught up in the business of it. I was lucky to come up in a time when it wasn’t so much like that. So I have one foot in both worlds. He reminded me of what my roots are and why I got into this in the first place. It was amazing to have that and it was the perfect introduction to my story.
“When he says “cowards” I think he means we do it for the applause now. We do it for the views, and for the subscriptions. How hot are you? How many followers do you have? Whereas when I was young and just starting, it was because I just loved it. There was no end result; you were in it ‘cause you just loved the s*it. At some point, like he said, we all got too smart. We all became too aware. We all know how to get money now, so that’s what we’re trying to do. Before there was none of that. Money wasn’t even in the equation.”
In the book you talk about how important your small circle of friends are. What kind of friend are you?
“That’s a good question. I think I’m a really good friend. Sometimes I get busy and then I feel guilty (laughs). But in terms of caring for my friends, and being there when they need me, I think I’m a good friend. I’m a trustworthy friend. My friends know they can tell me anything and it will go nowhere. And I know that about them too, which is amazing to have. As you get older you may have less time for your friends, but you have a greater appreciation for them.”
You said you first noticed how cute Q-Tip was when you read about Tribe in The Source?
(Laughs) “Absolutely. I feel like people knew about that relationship, it wasn’t necessarily that secretive, but I never really talked about it much. Now because it’s so many years later, it’s nostalgic to people. And it’s nostalgic for me, too. I had to put myself in my head from then to write about it. That part was easy for me to write because Tip and I are still friends. He definitely wasn’t that ex boyfriend you wind up hating! We’re so far past that, we’ve been friends for so much longer than we ever even dated. It was important to share the romantic parts with him not just because we dated but also because he was there for me throughout my career. Our friendship is an important part of my life.”
I literally held my breath when the 2Pac interview part started in the book. You speak on him so warmly. Like how you said he needed to tell New York it wasn’t about them as a city, it feels like you needed to tell your readers he wasn’t this monster towards women.
“I didn’t know him, so I was taken aback by how respectful and warm he was to me. I wasn’t going there to protect him, I was going there to help the situation. It wasn’t about him because I didn’t know him yet. He seemed nice on the phone, but it wasn’t like I was going to look out for his best interests. I was going there to do what I could for the culture. Then when I went there and did have an honest moment with him, I realized yes, he’s a little over the top (laughs) but there was real heart there and there was s*it to learn from him. I think if he would’ve had a chance to live, he would have evolved into something phenomenal. He would have taught people a lot of things. I talk about it in the book: he was influential to me. In my short period of time with him, there were a few things he said that really have stuck with me my whole life and career. And that was in one sitting! So to you guys who never met him but still feel his impact, just know it’s real. He was magnetic like that.”
The only criticism ever thrown at you over the years is that your interviews lean towards being “too nice.” What did you think when you started hearing that?
“That’s okay. If that’s the worst thing said about me, I’m okay with that. Whenever I second guess myself, it bites me in the ass. Whenever I do something I wind up not being comfortable with, I’ll call the artist and say, ‘If you weren’t comfortable with that part, I’ll take it out.’ I care about people and the culture. I know everybody wants to know everything, but I’m not in the business of coming for people’s necks because everyone is thirsty for something. It’s not worth it. But sometimes because people trust me, they wind up telling me more. You know what I’m saying? So then you get it. But that’s because they wanted to give it. I’m not here to force somebody or be confrontational for no reason. Artists are entitled to share what they want to share. Sometimes I can pull extra things out of them, and sometimes I can’t. I can only be me at the end of the day. And if you don’t get enough, that’s fine. There are 17 other people who will do exactly what you’re asking for and they’re great at it. I’ve never been a character. I don’t have a shtick. I care about the culture. I have real conversations with people.”
You truly wave the flag for the work that was put in by the pioneers in Hip Hop radio in this book.
“That’s one thing I really wanted to do. I feel like radio in general isn’t well documented and it’s such a big part of the culture because we’re live every day. Any time I can tell those stories, I’m happy to. I almost feel an obligation to do it, in a weird way (laughs).”
I’m so happy you finally speak at length about your rap career, because God knows you hate talking about it in interviews!
“There was a big lesson in that part for me. That was probably one of the few times in my career where I let outside noise in. It’s one of the times I can pinpoint where I truly wish I hadn’t, because I would have enjoyed the experience so much more. It’s important to share that because I feel like especially now with social media, everybody’s always going to have an opinion about what you do and if you let that noise in, it stifles you. It can cripple you. It doesn’t even let you evolve to find what your s*it is, what you’re good at, because you’ve started playing for the crowd.”
You’re absolutely right. And nowadays you could even stop yourself from your destiny, listening to that outside noise.
“Oh, one thousand percent. So for me, at that point, I let that noise affect me. I was insecure. I wasn’t there having fun, enjoying the moment. When people ask me about it, that’s probably the uncomfortable energy you get. It’s because I was uncomfortable at the time, and that was my lesson. I made that mistake. I let opinions get to me. And it’s hard, by the way. It’s still hard. It’s hard not to pay attention when everybody’s got a f*cking opinion.”
Back then you seemed fearless. The rap career, the film cameos, you were (and are) such an inspiration because you were so brave. You were doing things no other Hip Hop radio personality, especially a woman, was doing at the time.
“I definitely was not fearless (laughs). I was having fun, and that got me through certain parts. I had a great work ethic and I was always very humble and happy to have opportunities. I loved it, at the end of the day. But then there were moments when I hesitated, when I wasn’t somebody who was confident. But you just show up. I talk a lot about that in the book. Sometimes if you feel insecure or you’re not sure how you’re going to do something, just f*cking go. Go! So what if it’s wrong? So what if it’s bad? What’s the alternative? The other option is you’re not in the game. And someone else will be quick to take that spot, and maybe they’re wack, but now they’re on. And they’re off and going, and the next thing they do might be dope. And you can sit back and talk about that one person who did that wack thing all you want, but you’re not in it.”
Did you always have that attitude or did it come through trial and error?
“I think I was so happy to have opportunities that I just showed up. I was afraid to miss out on any opportunity. So it was like, can you do this? ‘Yup! Do you want to do this? ‘Okay!’ KRS-One says come to the studio? Never rapped a day in my life but I’m like, ‘Yes!’ There’s a difference between feeling nervous or insecure versus something that doesn’t feel right in your soul.”
You write, “From the start I loved this s*it, and even when I didn’t love something, that never kept me from having a healthy enough work ethic to get past the discomfort.” This is such an important message.
“It’s not always fun. It’s not always sweet. Sometimes your work ethic has to kick in and get you past the discomfort. Even today I have to do things I don’t feel like doing, but it’s part of the big picture of what I love to do and what I want to do. It’s important for people to know that. It’s not fun and games all the time, but the pay offs always come back around.”