Interview by: Trav Dave, Edited by: Socialyte
What up people, it’s your boy Trav Dave. The subject of this interview has been a big inspiration to me. The amount of work he has put in speaks for itself. From print magazines, to the digital game, he has always been truthful, honest, and gone against the grain for the sake of hip-hop. One time for MTV’s own Rob Markman.
In 2004, you worked on a review for Jadakiss’ “Kiss of Death” album. Was that your introduction to the music industry? If so, how did that opportunity come about?
Yeah, that Kiss of Death album review for Complex magazine was my first writing assignment and byline. A writer and editor by the name of Timmhotep gave me the assignment. He needed someone who could go up to Yonkers, New York, listen to the album and write the review. Though I didn’t have any writing experience, he knew that I knew all about hip-hop and he knew I could write. He called and I was ready. Timm changed my life, I’ll never forget that.
You went from Senior Editor at “Scratch” magazine, then from Associate Music Editor, to Music Editor, then Deputy Editor at “XXL” magazine. What were your responsibilities in that role at “XXL”?
My role at XXL magazine continually evolved. When I first started in 2008, I was the Associate Music Editor and had to work my way up. First, I was just writing and assigning album reviews. By the time I left XXL in 2011, I was just under the Editor-in-Chief in the masthead. I was working on and assigning features, as well as helping to choose covers and oversee the online content a bit. It didn’t really matter what my job description said; I always did a little bit of everything, and always helped where I could.
You also played a big part in the XXL magazine “Freshman” covers. Which was your favorite cover and why?
It was great to be around XXL when the Freshman cover was a new concept. I played as big of a role as I could in them, but it was always a team effort. The staff would always come together and choose the class. There would be a ton of internal debate, but it was always fun because we knew that we could shape the culture and really help new artists. My favorite Freshman class was the one with Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, Mac Miller and Big K.R.I.T. That was the last one I was involved in.
I asked B.Dot (of Rap Radar) this same question – Do you think print magazines are dead, and if so, what killed them?
Print magazines aren’t dead. Fashion mags are still huge, but when it comes to hip-hop, print is definitely on life support. It starts with advertisers. Once companies start spending less in ads, then budgets shrink. When the budgets shrink, the good writers, editors and photographers get laid off. Mags fill those roles with writers, editors and photographers who have less experience, and the quality of the mags go down. The articles don’t read as well, and the photo shoots aren’t as interesting. Then, publishers stop taking risks, and you start seeing predictable and proven covers that give you the best shot at selling.
Then there is the rise of online blogs. All the information that fans had to wait 30 days to read in the new issue of XXL or The Source; now it’s all available online.
It was the perfect storm. A lot of hip-hop publishers didn’t have the foresight on how to survive in a digital era, but there are still fans who want print. It’ll be interesting to see what Elliott Wilson and Danyel Smith do with HRDCVR.
You’re the Senior Hip-Hop Editor at MTV and also part of the brain trust for MTV’s “Hottest MC” list. Rappers get so sensitive about that list. How do you deal with the backlash and negativity from artists or labels when they aren’t on the list or as highly ranked as they’d like?
If you come from a genuine place, then dealing with the backlash is easy. I think most people in this business know that I’m a fan first. Check my Instagram. Damn near every Tuesday I’m buying new music at Best Buy. Rappers see that, label people see that, so they know where my heart is at. The rankings don’t come from a negative place, but there could only be 10 MCs on that list. I’ve had debates and discussions with some of the top rappers in the game over that list. We don’t always agree, but there’s always respect.
I remember one year French Montana didn’t make the list and the next day he had a show at SOBs in NYC and I was at that show with the ticket that I paid for. People were shocked that I showed up, but I’m a French fan. I wasn’t going to miss that.
With the A$AP movement, Troy Ave, Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, and newcomer Dave East, do you feel like New York is back, or is there still a long way to go to before being dominant again?
The problem with New York hip-hop is that so many people are trying to force it. The media, the fans and some of the artists. Let it grow, let it breathe. Troy Ave is growing into a dope artist that represents the city, and he’s growing outside of the city too, but it takes time and hard work. Let him work. A$AP Mob is doing the same and they have their sound. Joey Bada$$ has toured the world, he’s paving his way. Action, Dave East, Your Old Droog, Fetty Wap from Jersey; the city got a vibe going on right now. Is it dominant in the grand scheme of things? No, but it’s dope and I’m gonna enjoy it for what it is right now. I don’t care who else don’t like it. I’m a fan.
In the social media age, does radio still matter in hip-hop in 2015?
Hell yeah radio still matters. Ask any of your favorite artists. Blog posts are cool, but there’s no better feeling than hearing your song on the radio. Most people listen to music in their cars on the radio. Radio still matters in hip-hop the same way radio still matters in country music. Anyone who tells you different is bugging.
Switching gears, you used to rap. What happened to your rap career, and do you keep bars on deck just in case?
Yeah, I used to rap, but once the writing came into play I started seeing more money from journalism than I was rapping. I had to take care of my family so I put more of my time and effort into writing, and less and less time into making music. It will always be a part of me, I love it. I still write rhymes when I have free time. Something pops in my head and I jot it down. Most of the time it happens in the shower, that’s the only time I really get to myself.
What’s next for Rob Markman?
I have so many ideas, I’m not sure which one will pop off next. MTV is first and foremost, that’s where my focus is off top. I’ve been also getting my feet wet in radio. Every week I do “The Rob Report” on Sway in the Morning on Shade 45; Sway has been showing me the ropes on radio. I have a plan to write a book with comic book artist Damion Scott. I hope we can get it off the ground, we have a really dope idea. And I’ve been getting into artist management.
I heard someone say “Rob Markman is doing too much” but I’m like, “am I supposed to do the least”?
I don’t know about “doing too much.” I have big dreams and I won’t limit myself. There’s 24 hours in a day and I intend to use them all wisely. I’m too passionate about life to not want to do the most and experience the most. I’m not ever going to limit myself.
Man, I just want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this. I truly appreciate what you do for the culture and thank you for the free inspiration.
Let the people know how they can get in contact with you.
You got it man, thanks for helping me tell my story. You can hit me on Twitter or IG @RobMarkman