Interview: Peter Rosenberg Talks Radio, the DMV's Hip-Hop Scene, and Politics on the Eve of the Inauguration

Breaking the game down.

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

Peter Rosenberg doesn't hold back when it comes to his opinions. His well-publicized 2012 feuds with Charlamagne Tha God and Nicki Minaj are evidence of his intense view of rap. A native of the D.C. area, Rosenberg has spent five year's with New York's Hot 97, leaving his mark not only on New York radio, but hip-hop as a whole.

In addition to hosting The Cipha Sounds and Rosenberg Show with K Foxx morning show, he also drops gems on his Sunday night show Real Late with Rosenberg and plays host on MTV2's Hip Hop Squares. All three allow the "Jewish Johnny Carson" to showcase his knowledge and appreciation for the genre, as well as a myriad of other random subjects. 

Though he currently resides in New York, Rosenberg has never forgotten his roots, as he's constantly talking up artists from the DMV area. This Friday, he's presenting The DMV Ball at D.C.'s Howard Theatre, a pre-inauguration celebration featuring some of his favorite acts: Diamond District, Sean Born, and Oddisee

Prior to the event, Rosenberg discussed sports, hip-hop radio, the DMV's hip-hop scene and politics. Get ready for the ride.

Interview by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)

Are you still disappointed about that Redskins loss?
I was just talking about that as the phone rang. I’m not really disappointed with the loss, it just hurt to see him [Robert Griffin III] get hurt like that after we'd all been so worried about it—to see it happen just stunk. I do feel like everything’s gonna be fine. Even if we get him back at 75 percent of what he was, I think he’s that good that this'll just be part of his story.

What I love about his game is that I don’t see any flaws at this early stage of his career. He’ll be fine; I’m not too worried about him, and I’m an Eagles fan.
That’s great to hear from another NFL fan, but I agree, I think he’s gonna be alright. He’s one of the special people that can actually manage to be OK through this, so I’m hopeful. I love him—I would trade what happened, but Ilove how he plays and I love how he carries himself.

He’s a great player and person.
He’s awesome and Alfred Morris is awesome. If the Redskins approach this offseason the way they should, which is that they have a quarterback—if RGlll isn’t fine, Kirk Cousins is fine—and they address the things they need to address at cornerback and o-line a little bit, there’s no reason they’re not in the conversation to win the division next year.

They can be. You grew up in Chevy Chase, MD, right?

And then you went to the University of Maryland and you had some successful radio shows. What made you interested in radio and hip-hop when you were younger, especially in New York?
Yeah, it was originally Marley and Red and Chuck Chillout and my brother—because I was very young at the time—so it was my brother listening to those guys that got me into it and that was my first taste of classic hip-hop radio. Later, when I was getting really into it, it was the beginning of Flex—’93, ’94, ’95, ’96—that early Flex takeover was really big for me. D.C. radio too, but definitely the New York thing is what made me want to be on Hot 97.

Right now, more than ever, hip-hop has something for everybody. Are you optimistic about the direction it’s taking?
I’ve been optimistic for a few years, but now I actually believe that something good is truly happening. This is a bit of a renaissance period for hip-hop. The only downside I see is that there aren’t that many good mainstream records. There's still a lot of trash that you hear in mixshows that’s without value. But you still have your Kanyes and your Jays, and now you’re starting to see success from Kendrick Lamar and I do think that, across the board, if you were to look around for good music, there are as many active, really special good artists than there's ever been. It’s just that people get distracted because a lot of the most popular stuff doesn't necessarily have a lot of value.

People have to be able to filter out what they don’t like—do you think that’s reasonable?
That’s the challenging part about my specialty show. What I find more challenging is that a lot of people don’t even realize that there’s a specialty show like mine on the air because they’re so accustomed these days to seeking it out themselves. A lot of people don’t realize that if you flip on Hot 97 on Sunday night, on my show, you’re gonna get put on to some dope stuff the way you  did get put on back in the day. Obviously, I get stuff that everyone gets on the blogs, but I get other shit too. That’s the challenge; so many people get their music on their own because they want to filter out the bullshit too, but I can’t really knock them for that because, frankly, I do the same thing.

I understand DJs having to play certain songs, some of which they don’t want to play, but eventually that has to get tiring.
Yeah, that’s why I feel so happy to have the type of show I have, where I don’t have to play any record I don’t want to play.

I respect your stance on that.
We might not end up with such a homogeneous, wack pool of music, but no DJ wants to be the DJ that doesn’t play “the record.” The nature of live DJs—particularly in clubs—it’s a cheap, thrill-seeking kind of business. DJs get off on the crowd going crazy, so you might play a wack record because you still get off when the crowd jumps up and goes buck wild because you played “All Gold Everything.” You feel like the man because you hit play. I don’t get my satisfaction from that anymore, and that’s not how my bills get paid—I ignore the records that do that. A lot of DJs think a record’s so dope because the crowd reacts a certain way, but I don’t play clubs like that, so I don’t care about those songs. As a result, I think I’m able to have a little bit more of a clear opinion about what’s just a good song you'd actually listen to yourself, not which sets a party off and makes people go crazy when they’re drunk.

You can still acknowledge that songs like “All Gold Everything” serve a purpose though, right?
Yes. I’m not saying that every artist should be Talib Kweli or anything like that. "All Gold Everything" isn’t a terrible song, though I do think it’s overrated. I can appreciate a trashy song that’s really good, I just don’t think that one’s as great as people make it out to be. I think it’s cool, but the beat’s not that great. I can think of other records in history that were on the same level that I enjoyed more. But it’s impossible for me to not get irked about an artist gaining popularity overnight just because they have this ratchet image that fits in with what everyone else is doing at that moment.

I know amazing artists who work nine-to-fives, and I know amazing artists who have quit rapping altogether and just have a family and work a job. And I’m not trying to diss Trinidad James, he’s a nice guy and he’s a smart kid, but you have a guy that’s been in the game for five months and has this one song that people find catchy and he got a $2 million deal. It’s hard for me to reconcile that, I’m sorry, and I know a lot of people think one has nothing to do with the other—who cares? I know too many talented artists who had to give up on the game because they couldn’t make anything happen, and for me to hear about an artist that’s like, “Yeah, I’ve been doing this for five months, I got a $2 million offer” and from of all places, Def Jam. This place with this hip-hop legacy, it just hurts my feelings as a fan. It’s not that I think those songs aren’t fun to dance to, it’s just that when it goes from “Hey, it’s fun to dance to” to “Hey, here’s $2 million...”

Don’t the labels hold responsibility for that, though?
The labels are the worst. The labels are the lowest part of this entire equation. It’s not surprising; All labels have ever done is chase what’s hot, and that’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s not to say that there aren’t people at the labels who know what’s up, but they’re not the people that make the decisions. The ones that make the decisions are just the people trying to chase money, so of course, they’re definitely at fault. But what do you expect? Def Jam’s biggest artists are who? Justin Bieber and Rihanna. So that’s exactly why I’m not expecting that they’re gonna be the ones who find the next great rapper.

What are you thoughts on the DMV’s current hip-hop scene?
It’s making good progress, there’s some good shit going on in D.C. It’s always been a weird market; it’s never had the glory days I hoped it would have, but there are certainly dope artists from all sides of the spectrum. It’s always been a nice mix of soulful stuff and street shit. But obviously Wale shined a light on D.C. and over the last couple of years, there have been some cats who have gotten some buzz—Black Cobain and Fat Trel—and some different people that are actually starting to shine a little bit. That’s why I’m excited to have Oddisee headline this show, because I think you can make a case that Oddisee’s the best to ever do it out of D.C.

Since you brought it up, let’s talk about the DMV Ball you have planned for January 18. What motivated you to organize the event?
I haven’t been in D.C. in a long, long time, and I used to be really involved in a lot of things that were going on, and I’m still down with the same crew that I’ve always been down with and they’re making the best music they’ve ever made and now finding more success than ever before. Really, it’s a happy weekend in D.C.—it would’ve been happier if the Redskins were still in the playoffs, but it’s a weekend a lot of people will be home. It’s Martin Luther King weekend and Obama’s getting re-elected; that's a good vibe.

So I hit up my friends saying, “Yo, we should just put on a show in D.C., we haven’t done it in so long.” Oddisee has people following him now, hopefully that can bring out some people, and I’ve heard nothing but awesome stuff about the Howard Theatre so I said, “Why don’t we just put on a show and have fun?” It’s a relaxed, late-night show and fortunately Oddisee was able to be in the country, because he’s in and out of the country a lot right now. He said, “If you give me a ride from New York, I’ll go.” Done deal.

You mentioned the Howard Theatre—it looks marvelous in there.
Everybody’s been telling me that, is it really that dope?

They pumped millions of dollars into its renovation and it looks great. It gets hot as hell in there, but it’s a great venue.
I’m excited. Everyone on the show, I love: Sean Born is a guy that people are starting to know who’s awesome; same with Kaimbr and Quartermaine. I haven’t done a show with Oddisee in a long time, he’s tough to get a hold of. It’s awesome and it'll be telling about how aware the D.C. area is, because I really do think that Oddisee is—more than anyone else—the one who’s really close to doing something amazing. D.C. has a tendency to be late; D.C. wasn’t particularly aware of Wale.

They weren’t, and even when they were, people were shitting on him.
Exactly. I’m curious—Oddisee’s been doing it for about ten years, and I’m hoping now that he’s put out his first real solo record and it’s gotten rave reviews, people in D.C. will be aware that there’s this other dude that really could be special. I’m a little bit nervous to see what D.C. brings to the table. Of course, on my own level, do I have the ability to bring anyone out back in my hometown? I hope so. And then, do people appreciate this music that I think is so dope from our hometown?

The thing that’s always amazed me about the area’s scene is the mentality. It seems like some people are quick to complain about not getting any shine, but then won’t support homegrown artists.
It’s very strange. I wish there was a little bit more collaboration from the artists, but also some things haven’t gone as I would’ve hoped. I think Raheem DeVaughn should be a lot bigger than he is. He's incredible, and he’s someone who was always putting people on from D.C. While he’s still successful, I thought he was gonna just blow the roof off and it didn’t seem to happen that way, although I still think he has time to do some crazy stuff. There’s some breaks that we haven’t caught, but also a lot of it is that people don’t want to support D.C., like, “Aw, you’re from Maryland?”

The term “DMV” has only been popularized in the last five years. When I left D.C., it wasn’t called “the DMV." I remember when I came back, within a year, everyone was saying, “Yeah, the DMV” and I'd never even heard of it. That term really encompasses everything, so it's important to the success of the area. Before, it was always all D.C., but really it’s not all D.C. When you say DMV, you’re talking about the whole area and realistically, probably all of the artists on the show are from Maryland—not D.C.

Right. Are you sticking around for the long weekend or checking out any of the inaugural festivities?
I’m finding out now about more of the stuff that’s going on. I’m off Monday, so I’m at least going to stick around until Sunday, but now I’m hearing about stuff going on Sunday night so I might just stick around until Monday morning.

What would you like to see from President Obama during his second term?
Oh, God. I would love for the president to start taking a stand on the stuff that we think is important. I think for a long time, we were all so excited about what President Obama stood for socially and historically, that we gave him a pass. “Listen, it’s his first term. Let’s give him one term and then he’s gonna really start being the candidate that we first saw.”

The time is now, in terms of gun control, in terms of several issues where I think he needs to really act the way we know he feels, and not be political. I don’t really know how much longer he needs to be political; I don’t know what the upside is. I was a little bit disappointed by how non-aggressive he was about the gun issue, seeing as how we just watched a school of five-year-olds get murdered. I thought that was a pretty easy time to be aggressive about gun control, and even on that issue I wouldn’t call him aggressive. I think we can all agree he was fairly safe on that; he didn't push. I want to see him push. We can no longer just be happy that he's the first black president; he has to be an awesome president. That’s what I hope as someone who proudly voted for him twice.

Right. Fuck playing nice.
It’s hard, because whenever we doubt him, saying, “Oh, he’s too relaxed,” he comes out and proves to be right, at least in terms of running a campaign. But now it’s not about running a campaign. The only thing that’s gonna be right at this point is getting things done. I don’t want him to be nice anymore, I don’t care.

You know I’m into wrestling—it’s time for the heel turn. I want Obama to go bad; he needs to be an asshole now. I want this to be when Hulk Hogan came out in all black. Obama needs to show up in a tank top smoking a cigarette. My dream was during the speech, the night he won, that he'd stroll out to the podium, saying, “Oh, excuse me,” and pull out a cigarette and start smoking. It would be nice to get whoever that person is—because politicians are politicians and he’s a supreme politician. I think he’s arguably the best politician I’ve ever watched do it, he and Bill Clinton are like Magic and Bird. They’re incredible.

Being in New York now, do you still feel that New Yorkers are “rapper racist,” so to speak? What I mean is that some New Yorkers give all New York artists a pass, yet look down their noses at other artists.
I don’t know. There’s a big difference between the snobby, snarky New York hip-hop fan and the regular day-to-day fan. Because the day-to-day fan, they love Young Money, MMG; they love all that national hip-hop that’s very popular. If you bring it down a little bit further to talk to the New York hip-hop head, I think we all are biased towards New York. The thing is though, a lot of my favorite artists currently aren’t from New York: I love Kendrick and I love Earl Sweatshirt. They’re two of my top three or four favorites, and they’re not from New York. I do think there’s a difference between the common New York fan and the snobby New York fan. I do think the snobby New York fan is biased, but I think we’re all biased because we’re just holding out hope that New York will one day regain its spot on top.

The only reason we all root for that is because when New York was dominating hip-hop, that was the best time hip-hop ever had. And it’s not only New Yorkers who feel that way. Real, hardcore, snobby hip-hop fans from all over the country, if you were to ask them their favorite period in hip-hop, for nine out of ten, it’d be the time when New York was dominant.

What would you like to see out of the DMV hip-hop scene and D.C. radio moving forward?
I hope Wale has a good year, and I hope he’s able to put a couple of other people on. I’ve been trying to make this happen forever: They’re well aware of each other, they enjoy each other’s music—I want to see a Wale and Oddisee collaboration. I really think Oddisee’s production can take Wale to a different level; they’d sound incredible together. I know Wale’s a big fan of his, and yet it’s never happened. I want to see Wale get beats from Oddisee in this coming year, and I’m gonna try personally to make sure it happens. The game in D.C. needs it.

Interview by Julian Kimble (@JRK316).

Latest in Pop Culture