Karlie Hustle: Hot 97’s Hottest Hip Hop Feminist Sounds Off
Karlie's hustle; Life is hard for a hip hop feminist.
Being a woman in the hip hop world ain’t always easy, but trust and believe that women are running shit, both behind closed doors and center stage. We sat down with Hot 97’s boss lady Karlie Hustle to chat about her role at the radio station, her political views, as well as what she thinks of the state of hip hop and her ideas to make it more inclusive.
Mass Appeal: How did the concept for “This is Hot 97” come about?
Karlie Hustle: Well, the way that I hear it, Mona Scott Young had approached us. Ebro specifically had been in conversations about doing a “reality show.” The “Love and Hip Hop” franchise is huge, and so they kind of wanted to go into that direction with Hot 97 and have that same vibe initially. But, we are not interested in really wading in those pools, as far as like drama and the ratchetness and all that. We wanted to do something positive for hip hop.
MA: What exactly is your role at Hot 97?
KH: As far as the programing department is concerned, we’re responsible for everything that comes out of the speakers, literally… So, I schedule music, I set meetings with the mixers, I deal with Ebro, and we go over rotations and what song’s we’re going to focus on. I also produce the “Who’s Next” showcases. I have a team obviously, Rosenberg who hosts and Shani who co-hosts, and DJ Juanyto who spins. Really, I just do a lot, and it’s about prioritizing, I would say delegating, but I don’t have any support staff [Laughs].
MA: How did you get into this line of work?
KH: I was working at a music store, and I was really interested in the local hip hop scene in Portland, Oregon. I also started volunteering for this event called Hip Hop in the Park, through that I actually met Ebro. I’ve known Ebro for 13 years, he gave me my first job in radio. Eventually, I went off and did my own career for about 10 years in different markets. I was on the air for over 10 years, on five radio stations. This is the first radio station where I haven’t been on the air, where I’ve just been a behind the scenes executive.
MA: Which do you prefer?
KH: I like to do both, actually. When I was on the air in the other markets I also had a desk job. So I’d do an on air shift and then I’d come and be assistant program director, or a promotions director or something like that. So, I like the balance of both. I think really it’s about job security more than anything. Everybody would like to just be the front man of the job, or the rapper or whatever it is, and that’s excellent. But, if you don’t have any other skills, then you’re asking to have a very short career.
MA: What are your political views?
KH: I’m super liberal. I think gays should be able to get married, I think people should be able to identify as whoever they are. I don’t believe in religion, that’s great if other people want to though, I’m not against what other people want to do, but I don’t believe in it myself. I grew up in a hippie town – Eugene, Oregon. It was kind of like peace, one love, everybody get together and smoke a joint, drink some tea. My school was like a racism free zone. So, I grew up in that space where I didn’t even know any racial slurs until I was in my teens. The first time I heard one, I was like ‘what does that mean?’ [Laughs] I asked my mom, and she was like “[Gasps] no!” So, I kind of grew up sheltered in that way.
MA: What is your ethnicity, by the way?
KH: West Asian; Armenian and Scandinavian, my father’s from Finland. I say West Asian, Scandinavian, which some people would just say white, it just depends [Laughs].
MA: I’ve had a similar upbringing, I went to a Quaker boarding school where everyone was all about loving each other. But being a hip hop head, where a lot of the lyrics are “fag, fag, bitch, bitch, bitch, nigger” it can be hard to rationalize your love for the music, while at the same time stand for everything that is being demeaned. How do you deal with that?
KH: I totally get where you’re coming from. Life is hard for a hip hop feminist. I definitely identify as being, if not a feminist, a womanist, or whatever people want to call it. I don’t subscribe to the whole notion of: “well if you don’t identify as a bitch, then we’re not talking about you” thing. I definitely think that hip hop is very misogynistic, but it’s also a reflection of our very misogynistic reality, that is world wide. It’s merely a symptom of a greater problem. Women across the world are second class citizens, and we’re treated as such.
MA: What do you think the solution to making hip hop more inclusive is?
KH: Honestly, I don’t know how it’s going to be fixed. I get a lot of praise from people like “Oh congratulations, you’re a woman doing xyz,” and while that makes me feel good, being a token does not make me feel good. I don’t want to be a token, that’s not cute. I don’t want to be in a room with nothing but dudes, but that happens all the time. I feel like now it’s my responsibility to bring the next woman to the table.