Read My Voice: A Memoir Online

Authors: Angie Martinez

My Voice: A Memoir

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The events in this memoir are real, as I lived and experienced them. I did my best to describe all of the details and conversations as I remember them.

                    

CELEBRA

Published by New American Library, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

This book is an original publication of New American Library.

Copyright © Media Noche Productions, Inc., 2016

Foreword copyright © J. Cole, 2016

All photos courtesy of the author except
here
copyright © American Broadcasting Companies, Inc./Lou Rocco.

Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

Celebra and the Celebra colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information about Penguin Random House, visit
penguin.com
.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:

Names: Martinez, Angie, 1971– author. Title: My Voice/Angie Martinez. Description: New York: Celebra, 2016. Identifiers: LCCN 2016000680 (print) | LCCN 2016004167 (ebook) | ISBN 9781101990339 (hardback) | ISBN 9781101990353 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Martinez, Angie. | Radio broadcasters—United States—Biography. | BISAC: BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY/Entertainment & Performing Arts. | BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY/ Personal Memoirs. | MUSIC/ Genres & Styles/Rap & Hip Hop. Classification: LCC PN1991.4.M3585 A3 2016 (print) | LCC PN1991.4.M3585 (ebook) | DDC 791.4402/8092—dc23 LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2016000680

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however the story, the experiences and the words are the author’s alone.

Version_1

I was once afraid of people saying,
“Who does she think she is?”
Now I have the courage to stand and say,
“This is who I am.”

—OPRAH
WINFREY

FOREWORD

By J. Cole

There was a time when hip-hop was brave. It was young and didn’t know any better. The rappers were bold and courageous. They won no awards.

The people who documented this culture were fearless too. They were first and foremost fans, grateful to have something to love. And they themselves had something to say, happy to have a platform to say it on. They too won nothing.

Hip-hop today is afraid. It’s older now and knows too much. It knows too much about business. It knows too much about charts and first-week sales. It cares so much about the awards.

The people who document hip-hop today are cowards too. Jaded by now. Entitled. So afraid of losing their jobs. Slow to see the waves coming. Quick to ride them when they do. Nothing to say that isn’t being said already.

Angie Martinez is cut from the original cloth. This is the cloth they
used before they realized that the new stuff was cheaper and more cost efficient. This cloth is more honest, more curious, more genuine. This cloth is much more thankful to even have the opportunity and less afraid to lose it.

I treasure this cloth because I know that there’s much to learn from the way in which it was woven. If we study the products of the past, we may be able to improve the state of things now. That’s why I be having so many questions for Angie.

Like. Where did you start?

PROLOGUE

WHERE HIP-HOP LIVES

Wednesday, June 18, 2014
@the studios of WQHT 97.1
395 Hudson Street, NYC

T
his is overwhelming. Like my-head-is-gonna-fucking-EXPLODE overwhelming.

It’s my last day at Hot 97. This station—
Where Hip Hop Lives—
is where I’ve built my career for more than two decades. For my entire adult life, Hot 97 has been my home, the place where I grew up, and where so many of the people who have walked these halls with me have become like family. And to top it all off, I’m leaving without any warning. No hints, no rumors, no leaks.

Nobody
in the whole building knows. Yet.

From the instant I get off the elevator and walk into the main reception area that separates our station, WQHT, on one side from our new
sister station, WBLS, on the other, I’m smacked by the reality that today I’ll be leaving the place that I’ve been day in, day out for twenty years. This is the place that shaped me from the eighteen-year-old who had no clue who I was, what I wanted to do with my life, or even what I was capable of.

I grew up in this building, and I didn’t grow up here alone. These are the people who were raised with me and many who I raised myself. We spent holidays and birthdays together, shared each other’s biggest milestones, and saw each other through some of the best and worst times of our lives.

As you can imagine, walking away from this family was not a decision that came easily. It was scary. It felt like the right move in my soul, a necessary step to push myself forward, but that didn’t stop it from being terrifying and overwhelmingly sad.

Then the official e-mail went out to the whole Hot 97 staff:
Today Angie Martinez has resigned and will no longer . . .

I knew everyone would be caught off guard and sad to see me go, but I never imagined to what extent. I didn’t expect how hard the announcement was going to hit. The first clue came when I made it back to the programming office and saw that my show producer, Drewski, was inconsolable.

Gesturing to the hallway, I got him to follow me out so that we could have a moment alone. In all the years I’ve known Drewski he had never been the type to be rattled easily. He didn’t even cry at funerals. But now he couldn’t get a word out. Was he mad at me? Worried about his future?

All I could do was to try to reassure him. “You know I’ll always have your back, Drewski,” I began. “Change is good. It brings forward motion . . . for everyone. This could be good for all of us.”

But after ten minutes of talking quietly in the hall, I headed back to the studio. And just as I turned the corner, I was stopped in my tracks.
There stood almost every single one of my coworkers lined up in the hallways, most of them crying. I froze.

Oh my God. What’s happening here?

Somehow I’d fooled myself into thinking that I’d planned for whatever reaction was to come—going over all the different scenarios and carefully timing the news. I’d waited until I’d shared the news with the staff before posting on social media:

Today I resigned from HOT97. I am grateful to the Emmis family for my time with the company and the immeasurable way that it has shaped my life. We made history together and I will cherish those memories and my friendships forever . . . It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make but ultimately it is time to move on . . .

I thought I was ready for everything, but in no way was I prepared for this outpouring of emotion. It knocked the wind out of me.

I began to flash back on my whole career and my relationship with every single person standing there in the hallway. And it seemed they were having that same experience with me. Everyone kept hugging me, wanting to share the moments that meant the most to them on and off the air. And this is twenty years of stuff!

It was too much for one person to absorb. I’m not someone who loves to be fussed over. And here I was in the middle of an Angie Parade. I was honored, I was humbled, and I was starting to freak the fuck out—especially when I realized it was almost three o’ clock.

Holy shit! Now I have to do my radio show and sit there for four hours telling the whole city that today will be my last day.

Tomorrow the news would be everywhere that I was leaving to go to Power 105.1—the competition. That would set off another round of
shock and even criticism. But dealing with that could wait. For now I just needed to be in this moment.

Man, how did I get there? Walking down the hall to do my last show, I thought about how many times I’d walked into this very studio to do countless interviews with my friends and some of the biggest names in hip-hop music. We broke news and new artists within the culture, and I built a relationship with my listeners that transcended not only hip-hop, but the radio. Together with my audience I witnessed and experienced so much over the years. We grew up together. And it was these longtime listeners who called me the Voice of New York, a name that would later stick.

So I guess the answer to the question of how I got here is that from the start I loved this shit, and even when I didn’t love something, that never kept me from having a healthy enough work ethic to get past the discomfort. Some of my success was a product of good timing; a lot of it was the result of having great relationships with others who were living the same dream as I was.

Some of the most pivotal times in hip-hop happened in the mid-90s, and I was coming into my own at the same time. Initially what seemed like just a really cool job turned into more. Eventually I started to realize I was having a real connection with my listeners. That was never more real to me than my twenty-fifth birthday party at the Palladium, the hottest club in New York at the time. It felt like the whole city showed up. The place was packed to capacity, and everybody and anybody in hip-hop was in the building.

Wu-Tang was there. Fat Joe, Mobb Deep, Black Moon, and Jay Z all performed.

And there was nobody in the game hotter than Biggie, so when he walked in, everybody went nuts. We’d gotten to know each other pretty well from the many times he’d been on my show. He popped bottles and
celebrated with me all night. Then he pulled me to the side and said, “Ang, I was gonna perform a few joints, but you know me and Fay . . .” He nodded over to his wife and Bad Boy labelmate, Faith, who had just taken to the stage to sing “Happy Birthday” to me. He then confided in me that the two of them were not in a good place, so at that point he didn’t want to go anywhere near the stage. He didn’t want the drama, he said.

It’s ironic that Biggie wanted to avoid drama, because he soon found himself in the middle of one of the biggest feuds in music history.

How it had become a full-out beef between him and Tupac, I didn’t fully understand. What I do know is that within a couple months after my birthday party, hip-hop entered a really dark place.

The Tupac-Biggie beef took center stage and escalated quickly. And I found myself in the middle of it when Pac called and invited me to LA to get his side of the story.

Wait. What??? Pac is on the phone?!

The conversation that would follow and the subsequent interview at his home in Los Angeles would be one of the biggest turning points in my career, and some of the lessons I took away from it have stayed with me to this day.

The interview was never aired in its entirety. It was explosive. That decision has often been questioned, but ultimately I’m the one who would have had to live with the consequences of what the interview could have done.

And that’s just one of the memories that I’m having on my last day of work at Hot 97, almost eighteen years later.

Before these thoughts have time to play out, I’m turning around to see the studio filling up with all my fellow deejays who have come to hang with me for my last show at Hot 97.

It was a celebration, and all the rules went out the window. Nobody
was worried about the ratings that day. I just cracked the mic and spoke from the heart. My announcement was trending worldwide. People were calling it the end of an era.

Artists started calling the show in a frenzy. Ludacris and Tyrese called together from the set of
Furious 7
to find out what was going on. Wale sent a long text about how much my presence on the air meant to him. Rihanna surprised me with flowers. Taraji P. Henson, a friend whose career has exploded with the massive success of Fox’s
Empire,
popped up at the station to give me the much-needed gift of a pair of sunglasses, saying, “Girl, don’t be in all these pictures with your eyes red and puffy.” I promptly put them on.

Jay Z sent a text:
Snoop makes a decision and doesn’t even consult Dre?
Jay and I used to call ourselves the Snoop and Dre of the radio. Many of my most classic interviews were done sitting across from him at almost every stage of his career. Sensing what I was feeling, he sent a second text:
Your future is ahead of you. Imagine the notion of the past 15 years of your life being a blip in your story.

That boy has always been good with words, and the notion resonated with me because looking back was never my thing. I’m not somebody who obsesses over anniversaries or who lives in the past. I like to live in today and the future. That’s the essence of radio. Every day on the air you have to deliver a new show and break new ground. Every single day. And I’m like that in my life—I show up and do today, deliver today, and move forward.

But I have to say that although looking back has never been my thing, what I learned that last day was that there are times in life that not only is it okay to reflect but you’d be a fool not to. There are too many lessons, too much history, too many amazing milestones worth remembering and cherishing. That simple realization is what made me want to share, not just for myself but for the people who helped me to find my voice.

Not everyone will one day crack a mic on the radio or make a name for themselves in media or entertainment, but now more than ever we should all care about cultivating authentic voices. Wherever they are—aspiring rappers, singers, painters, authors, journalists, activists . . . whatever. Every great and lasting art form starts down in the deep, hard bedrock of truth and self-expression.

The power of voice. That’s where hip-hop was born and where it always lives. And that’s where my story—our story—
begins.

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