Angie Martinez has been the reigning "Voice of New York" for over two decades now and her repertoire in the hip-hop world is legendary. She started her career down in Miami at Power 96 as an intern but once she turned 18 and moved back to New York, she got pretty comfortable at Hot 97. Coming up, the Bronx native did just about everything from being on the street team to driving the vans and watching the administration behind one of New York's most powerful radio stations.
Now, over 20 years later, sitting in Martinez's studio means you've made it in music. Her afternoon radio show consistently ranks among the top in the country. She's been the voice of reason in tension-filled interviews with The Lox and Diddy and Cam'ron and 50 Cent; she flew to Los Angeles for 2Pac's post-prison interview in the early '90s and spoke with Notorious B.I.G. and Mary J. Blige back in 1995. These days, she's responsible for introducing A$AP Rocky to his namesake, the legendary Rakim, and giving Justin Bieber a platform to show off his rap skills.
She's living the best of both worlds, too. As the mother to her 9-year-old son, Niko, an actress, television guest, and activist for youth and women's issues, Martinez can still head to the grocery store in peace. She's taken her brand far beyond radio but is still considered one of the strongest voices on-air. Angie spoke with Complex about some of her most memorable interviews and future plans, which include a healthy Latin cookbook with Fat Joe, her charity Angie's Guest Closet, and tomorrow's Backyard BBQ at Studio Square.
As told to Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia)
Her Start in Radio
Angie Martinez: “When I was 16, my mother moved me out of Brooklyn and sent me to Florida to stay with my family for a little bit because I was being bad, not going to school and stuff. I interned at Power 96 in Miami when I was 16 and when I came back to New York and I was 18, I started interning at Hot 97 and I’ve been there ever since.
I knew that I loved the music, I knew that I loved the culture, I had an interest in radio because my mother had been in radio so I had been around it a little bit.
“Listen, I was young, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with myself. I knew that I loved the music, I knew that I loved the culture, I had an interest in radio because my mother had been in radio so I had been around it a little bit. She wasn’t on air, she was a program director. She did mostly jazz music, she worked at Sirius at their world channels for a little bit. She loves me on the radio, she thinks it’s great. There was a time when it went from, I was Shirley Maldonado's daughter to she was Angie Martinez’s mother. She always got a kick out of that, which was cute.
"I just had this thing in my mind that I was going to work in every department and learn just the business of radio. So, I did. I interned in the promotions department, I drove the vans, I got the coffee, I worked for the general manager as an assistant, I did everything. I was street team. I did that for a long time but I also learned how to run the boards and do the technical stuff so that by the time I was in my young 20s, I knew how to run the boards. I pretty much knew how to run the radio station and then I started getting opportunities to crack the mic a little bit and then I realized, this is what I wanna do. Once I started doing that, it was like, ‘Okay, I get it.’
On the radio, you have a little more freedom, you can interview for a little longer, people were more invested and were more patient. It was a good place. I was lucky, it was a good time in New York. There was a lot popping here."
“Honestly, it’s so terrible to say this, I don’t remember my first interview. I want to say it was Group Home or one of those guys, maybe Jeru the Damaja, it was around that time. It was cool because these were all local artists and then they were popping on the radio station. It was all about New York at that time and I was starting. So all these artists, like Mobb Deep and even Wu-Tang, and all these artists are coming out of New York and I was this kid on the radio who loved it. I learned how to do my interviewing then. On the radio, you have a little more freedom, you can interview for a little longer, people were more invested and were more patient. It was a good place. I was lucky, it was a good time in New York. There was a lot popping here."
Interview with 2Pac Post-Prison, 1995
Angie Martinez: “Well, that was definitely a classic one. The raw version of that has never come out, I still have it at my house, I’m waiting for the day where it feels appropriate and right, I don’t know if I could put it out for the world. Initially, at the time, I felt it was going to back a bad situation worse. He was angry, he was emotional at that time. Luckily before he passed, I was able to talk to him about it and why I didn’t air the whole thing. He was totally cool with it, he got it, he gave me a hug at the MTV Awards so it was cool, I feel okay with it.
Sometimes a big interview is not worth not being able to sleep at night, so I had to make a decision. I edited it down to something that I felt kind of said how he felt and where he was in his life.
"Listen, sometimes a big interview is not worth not being able to sleep at night, so I had to make a decision. I edited it down to something that I felt kind of said how he felt and where he was in his life but also I took out some of the more inflammatory stuff that was going on at the time out of there. Definitely one of the classics. Like I said, I was young, I flew to L.A. to do that interview with him, I went by myself, I didn’t know anyone there. It was a little scary for me, I was in uncharted territory for me at that time.
"I wish the grown-up or experienced me would be able to interview him now. I think I would hold him accountable a little more for some of the stuff that he was saying. I think 2Pac was so smart and I think at that point, way smarter than I was so he was able to out-talk me on a few things where now, I think I would be able to keep up with him. This was one specific case, that wasn’t something that I did often. It was long anyway, I sat in the guys house for two hours. It wasn’t like I had him in the radio station, we were live, we didn’t tape them, they were live interviews so whatever happened just happened.
“Yeah the [women and bitches part] was a piece of the post-prison interview. That was so long ago. That was the same interview but that’s what I mean about him, he was so smart. You could talk to him about anything from politics to gangs to poetry. He was that interesting of a person. He was one of my favorite people to have had the opportunity to interview."
Interview with The Notorious B.I.G., 1995
Angie Martinez: “I had interviewed Biggie many times before that and my favorite big interviews was before that beef started happening, before I had to ask him about these things and when he was just being Big and he was just being comfortable. He was so funny and so witty and interesting. It was more fun to interview Big before the drama.
He was so funny and so witty and interesting. It was more fun to interview Big before the drama.
"He was such a great personality that when the drama came, that’s all anybody wanted to know about and I had to ask those questions. He was great and he was such a local hero, he was known all over the world but in New York, he was just this force. When they were killed, it was devastating, I think we all felt that. Anybody who knew them personally or were just fans felt that loss."
Doing Radio on September 12, 2001
Angie Martinez: "I had to tell the city that 2Pac passed and I had to be on the radio early after Biggie passed, those were awful, emotional. And September 11th, going to work. It was September 12th and I just wanted to sit in my house like everyone else, I was so scared and I was so shaken up. My boss was like, ‘You have to get on the radio, everyone is freaking out, you don’t want your listeners to feel anymore weird right now, they want to hear your voice, they want normalcy. Come to work.’
That show was hard, for a while. Not just the first one back but for a while. People were calling, people were crying. People just wanted to talk.
"So I did, I went back to work and you could still smell it, from my job. I felt that responsibility and I knew I was so emotional and I was so nervous. I was afraid to say the wrong thing, I was afraid to have the wrong information. All of those things. I felt everything that everyone else felt. But I was like, ‘Well I have to get on the radio so let me do that.’ That show was hard, for a while. Not just the first one back but for a while. People were calling, people were crying. People just wanted to talk. We answered a lot of calls, we did our best. That’s all you can do, right?"
Interview with Jay-Z After "Ether," 2001
Angie Martinez: “Honestly, the Jay-Z and Nas thing was crazy. I know it was a big spectacle. He was broken down and I wasn’t used to seeing him like that and I hated it, I hated it for Nas, I hated it for Jay, I hated it for the energy it was stirring in the streets and I just hate all that negative energy.
He was broken down and I wasn’t used to seeing him like that and I hated it, I hated it for Nas, I hated it for Jay, I hated it for the energy it was stirring in the streets and I just hate all that negative energy.
"But sometimes that happens and it’s real life and things happen. You deal with it, you keep it moving but when you’re in the middle of it or it’s going down and people want you to have an opinion on it and people are judging your opinions on it, it’s such a negative, nasty space. So when it’s over, it’s like, ‘Phew, we got through another one.That interview was one where I felt like a heavy burden.
"After the Jay and Nas thing happened, I think Jay took a vacation and went away for a while. Then he came home and it was like he was back, his spirits, his comedy. It was a really fun, I was really happy to see him in that space when he came back and it was a really fun interview. I know the other ones are big spectacles but, most of these people I genuinely like so I like when they are in a good place and we have a fun interesting interview. It just felt like a good moment to me, a happy ending in a weird way for that whole chapter."
Interviews with Jay-Z and R. Kelly After Their "Best Of Both Worlds" Concert, 2004
Interview with The Lox and Diddy, 2005
Angie Martinez: “The Lox were my guests that day so I was letting them say what they had to say. Puffy wanted to call in and I asked them if it was okay. I would never put someone on the air without my guests that are in the studio being okay with it. I would never just bombard somebody like that. I asked if Puffy could call in and they said absolutely and he called in and I mean, what happened happened. [Laughs] It’s like again, another spectacle.
That was interesting. But I wasn’t worried about that so much, that wasn’t beef, that was like business beef.
"That interview was really interesting because it represented the young guys who maybe didn’t know any better at the time versus the sharp, business mogul guy. That was interesting. But I wasn’t worried about that so much, that wasn’t beef, that was like business beef. [Laughs] It’s entertaining but it’s not scary or wearing like real beef or personal beef. I will say that The Lox did get some resolution after that and that makes me happy. Even in their argument, listening back, both points in both sides of that interview are kind of interesting to listen to, something to learn from on both sides."
Barack Obama Calling Her "The Voice of New York"
Angie Martinez: "How cool was that? It was so big. I had been obsessed with him when he was a senator and he was at the National Convention and gave that speech that everybody started noticing him. I went out the next month or whenever his book came out, I bought his book, and really fell in love with his story and the work he had done. I gave the book to a couple people at the station like, ‘You should read about this guy! You should read this book.’
I was already into him as a human being and when he decided to run for President, I was so thrilled.
"I was already into him as a human being and when he decided to run for President, I was so thrilled. We got to the point where he called into my show to talk about running for president and I was already so on board with him that he could have said anything and I was over the moon. [Laughs] So the fact that he was just so down to earth and so in touch, it really warmed my heart. It really was a special moment.
"When he was in the White House, I actually got invited to go to the White House, they were doing a night of spoken poetry and music. It was amazing. They had a bunch of people there performing and doing poetry. Obama was there with his family, they sat two tables away from me and it made me really feel like it was accessible and it was really a nice moment."
Interview With 50 Cent and Cam'ron, 2007
Interview with 50 Cent and Cam'ron, 2007
Angie Martinez: "What was crazy about that interview is that everyone made a big deal about Cam calling in, because they were screaming at each other, but I actually enjoyed Styles P call, because his argument with 50 was calm and deliberate—which I thought was more interesting."
Interview With Kanye West, 2008
Interview with Kanye West, 2008
Angie Martinez: “I have a soft spot for him because he’s such a free spirit and people just beat him up and he’s just trying to be him, so I do have a little soft spot for Kanye. [Laughs] I think with Kanye, he’s smart, he’s super smart, and he lost his mom tragically out of the blue, and then made music. Kanye is somebody who is probably already sensitive, that’s why I kind of worry about him. He’s super smart but he can also be super guarded so if you’re not honest with him in the interview, you’re not being there with him and looking him in the eye, he could kind of go somewhere off on you.
Kanye is somebody who is probably already sensitive, that’s why I kind of worry about him. He’s super smart but he can also be super guarded.
You really have to lock in and talk to him and let him know that you’re hearing him and understanding him and listening otherwise he could go somewhere left on you. He hasn’t done it to me but I can see it, certain moments. That happens all the time. If I have a moment in an interview where I’m either bored with the person or not liking what they’re saying for some reason, the energy, you have to be super sensitive to see it or hear it, I think some people would. The interview is always better if you’re genuinely talking to someone, you genuinely like them, genuinely interested in them and if you go left, the person you’re interviewing usually goes left too. Sometimes I’ve forced to interview people that I’m just not that into, it’s happened. Those tend to not be my best interviews because then I’m just there."
Interview with Voletta Wallace, 2009
Interview with Voletta Wallace, 2009
Angie Martinez: “Biggie is royalty so the mom of royalty who is no longer with us, it’s interesting to hear her perspective. It’s always interesting to talk to people’s moms or sisters or wives. It gives you a different perspective of somebody that everybody already thinks they knew. It’s kind of cool and interesting to hear Ms. Wallace’s perspective on her son. I interviewed Tupac’s mom also, but sometimes artists just bring their moms up to the station and it might just be a conversation.
Interview with Chris Brown Post-Rihanna, 2009
Angie Martinez:"Interviewing Chris Brown after everything happened with Rihanna was definitely one of those [heavy burden] moments. I try to approach every situation as a human being and give everybody a fair and caring perspective. Clearly no one was happy about what happened with Chris. Chris wasn’t happy about what happened and I just wanted to try to be as fair as possible in that type of situation. That’s all I could really try to do is just to be fair, just to give everyone a fair listen. That’s my job, to give you the information.
In the Chris case, I've known Chris since he was 16, I hated what happened but I felt like everybody had been beating him up, nobody asked him, ‘Yo what happened?’ just from a caring place.
"Sure, I have an opinion and sometimes it comes out, I’m a human being and yes I have opinions I don’t hide that. But in situations like that, where someone needs to be heard or people want to hear something, it’s my job to try to be as fair and give someone an open platform-challenge them a little bit but still, not overburden it with my own opinion or my own thoughts. In the Chris case, I've known Chris since he was 16, I hated what happened but I felt like everybody had been beating him up, nobody asked him, ‘Yo what happened?’ just from a caring place. It was tough because it was a fine line, I didn’t want to say something was okay but I didn’t want to be bulldozing over something that everyone was already bulldozing over. He’s still a human being."
Interviews With Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj, 2010
Interviews with Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj, 2010
Angie Martinez: “Nicki and Lil Kim, I hate that. I tried to handle that the same way. Both of them are grown women, they are each entitled to their own opinion and their feelings. I’m not there to put my feelings all up in it. They’re going to exist because I’m doing the interview so you may hear some of how I feel but I’m not overly putting my opinion in it. I may challenge them sometimes if they say something but ultimately I’m giving them a forum to say how they feel. But it’s awkward, I wish they would get along, it’d be better energy for everybody.
In the case of Nicki and Kim, they don’t want a mediator. They don’t want someone to squash it. I would have been happy to, that would have been great.
"Sometimes people don’t want a mediator. In the case of Nicki and Kim, they don’t want a mediator. They don’t want someone to squash it. I would have been happy to, that would have been great. That’s not why they were there, either one of them. They wanted to be heard and I let them be heard, I can’t really do much more than that but really, it would be great if they did, it’s no fun. It’s not comfortable for anybody."
Interview With A$AP Rocky and Rakim, 2012
Interview with A$AP Rocky and Rakim, 2012
Angie Martinez: "I’m going to be honest, that might be one of my favorite interviews ever, for so many reasons. It really felt good to do that. Number one, it felt really good for him, he really appreciated it. I don’t know if you could see it or hear it, there was a moment when he came over and gave me the most sincere, sweetest hug. Before that, he was all on his rap, trill, swaggy mode and then he turned into this kid and came over and gave me a big hug. It was so genuine, it was so sweet.
Before that, he was all on his rap, trill, swaggy mode and then he turned into this kid and came over and gave me a big hug. It was so genuine, it was so sweet.
"Then Rakim, I’m a huge Rakim fan, so all the elements of that were really special to me. The fact that I found Rakim, that I got to see Rakim, the spirit that Rakim was in, what he was spitting in terms of the interview was brilliant to me too. He talked about how much he still loves hip-hop, and he watches it from afar. He wasn’t bitter, he was just such a cool...it’s what I want my favorite rappers to turn into or grow into and behave that way. I think Rakim is amazing so the both of them in the room and then his mother calling up, all parts of that.
"The family angle, the new rapper, and then the classic: all parts of it. You know when sometimes the pieces of the puzzle just stick together? That was like one of those moments and everytime I see Rocky now, I feel like we had that moment and I feel like it was real. That heartwarming feeling happens a lot with new artists. I feel like I’ve had some of those with Chris Brown, even after that one interview, I felt like it was really honest and raw. I felt close to him in that moment."
Her Take on Summer Jam 2012
Angie Martinez: "Summer Jam 2012 was a spectacle, it probably worked for everyone at the end of the day. I get Nicki’s point but I personally still think she should have performed but I respect and get her point. But, I do get her take on it and she has every right to make her own decisions and it’s fine and the show went on without her.
I get Nicki’s point but I personally still think she should have performed.
"The thing about Summer Jam is that it’s never been about one artist. Never. Sometimes you think the biggest artist and that’s the one they walk out on because it’s late in the night. You never know, it’s a collective of the best out there and some people do better than others and who knows how she was going to do out there. Either way, the show was going to go on, with or without her. It really wasn’t that big of a deal to me personally.
I don’t get involved in any of that drama [with other stations], it’s not my thing. [Laughs] I come to work everyday and I try to do the best I can at my job but that’s not my thing. Some people like it, some people are motivated by competition, some people feed off of it. Me, personally, I really don’t. I don’t like to think about what anyone else is doing."
Interview With Mary J. Blige, 2012
Interview with Mary J. Blige, 2012
Angie Martinez: "Me and Mary have had many moments like that, she’s my friend so maybe that’s a little different. It’s a little different because a lot of the things that people want to know about her or want to know about that situation, I already know. Me and her have had dinners and talked about it multiple times so when she comes in to the station, I’m more helping her tell everyone. I’m more leading her to give everybody the information they want to hear.
This girl put her heart on the line for people for so many years. She made a mistake and she did something that didn’t turn out like she thought it was going to.
"It’s a different type of conversation, that’s the only difference because I kind of already know the answers to it but I still try to approach it from not really knowing because I don’t want to leave anything out for anybody. She was really crushed, rightfully so. This girl put her heart on the line for people for so many years. She made a mistake and she did something that didn’t turn out like she thought it was going to and then for people just to be treating her like that so harshly, she didn’t hurt anybody. She didn’t hurt anybody, it was hurtful, she’s a human being who’s all heart so it hurts more."
Interview With Justin Bieber, 2012
Getting Justin Bieber to Freestyle, 2012
Angie Martinez: “It was so cute. I think it just goes to show how far hip-hop has gone and how it’s influenced not only people you expect it to but pretty much most people of this generation in music, to some extent. He’s a cute kid."
Her Own Music Career
Angie Martinez: "Me being on the radio has just become a part of who I am. It’s not even my job anymore, it’s just who I am. There’s other things I like to do on the side, I had an opportunity to make music for a little while, that was fun. I might not have been the greatest artist in the world but I traveled the world, I learned, I got that off. It was fun and I don’t regret it at all.
I cringe sometimes when I hear some of those songs, I really can’t. I don’t want to disrespect the producers or anybody else but it’s like looking at an old high school picture of yourself.
"I cringe sometimes when I hear some of those songs, I really can’t. I don’t want to disrespect the producers or anybody else but it’s like looking at an old high school picture of yourself, you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s that picture again,’ or ‘There I am in that outfit or saying that stupid thing again.’ It’s that type of thing. I don’t think I’d go back to making music, that was an experience I had and it was great but it wasn’t a natural state.
"You know how with musicians and artists, it’s a natural state? It was natural for me to be on the radio but that just wasn’t for me, it was an experience, I was creative in it. Never say never but it wasn’t easy, it didn’t come second nature. It was fun and it was cool and now, on to the next thing. I did a couple movies, had some television opportunities."
Balancing Her Personal Life
Angie Martinez: "I have a great life, I have a certain amount of privacy. I can do normal things but I also have amazing access, great friends, I have some friends who are very famous and can’t do a lot of the things that I can do. But then I also have access and I have a pretty good job and a good life. Some people always want more fame but I think you’re given what you can handle. [Laughs] I like my life the way it is.
I have a great life, I have a certain amount of privacy. I can do normal things but I also have amazing access, great friends, I have some friends who are very famous and can’t do a lot of the things that I can do.
"I have a 9-year-old son, around me he acts like [me being on the radio] is no big deal. He comes with me to the station all the time. I heard him say, ‘My mom had Carmelo Anthony on her show the other day’ to some kid on his basketball team. I think he thinks things like that are cool but it’s just normal to him, it’s not weird or superficial, it’s just what my job is. He does ask me sometimes who my guest is and he wants to know if he wants to come with me or not.
"You know what’s so funny? I try not to [let him listen to all rap] just for language reasons and certain things you don’t want your kid saying around the house but somehow he hears stuff anyway. Sometimes I hear him singing songs and I’m like ‘What are you singing!’ He’s not singing the dirty version but I talk to my kid, if he has any questions about it, we can talk about it. I try to be careful, I’m not overly ‘You can’t listen to any rap’ but I’m also not playing him the dirty version of the Jeezy album, either. He’s excited when I interview an athlete, he’s into sports, and he was excited when I interviewed Kanye, he was excited about Justin Bieber.
Where She's At Now
Angie Martinez: "You know what, I don’t know that there were challenges. I think that I was a kid when I started, I was just so happy to be doing this that I just wanted to go to everything, I wanted to know everything, I wanted to be at work 20 hours a day, I love being around the DJs, I loved working with Flex, I just really was immersed in the culture severely. So it wasn’t even challenges it was just me trying to find my way and doing what I loved. Then it started becoming, I was like, ‘Oh this is a career now.’ [Laughs]
I was just so happy to be doing this that I just wanted to go to everything, I wanted to know everything, I wanted to be at work 20 hours a day.
"At first I loved it, it was a great opportunity but I didn’t really think fast, I was young, it was fun, it was whatever. I think just being a girl, a young girl around a lot of dudes was a little weird at first, I wanted to talk to them about music and I didn’t want them to be trying to rap to me so when I was young, I didn’t know how to all the way deal with that. I used to wear over-sized baggy clothes and I always felt like I needed to know my stuff a little extra, a little more than the next person so I could be taken seriously. Then, you know, as people get to know you, you can just lighten up a little bit. There’s always challenges, even today, there’s moral challenges, there’s ethical challenges, there’s all kinds of stuff these days.
“Now, at this point, everything is so different. Radio is so different now, people’s attention spans are so short. When you could relax and had the time to explain something or introduce something, it’s harder to introduce something new to people because people’s attention spans are so short and there are so many places to get music. You have to be a little quicker, a little more straight to the point. The challenge there is finding things and having an organic interview and an organic conversation within this world."