Credit: Evelin Mercedes

Exclusive: Hot 97’s Hip Hop Mike Talks Career Path and SXSW showcase

New Yorker Hip Hop Mike understands the authenticity needed to go far in the music industry, where he’s spent the last few years on the Hot 97, Long Island’s Party 105, and Dash Radio airways. Well versed in the art of interviewing some of our favorite hip-hop artists and keeping fans entertained on a variety of radio stations, Hip Hop Mike is making dreams come true and helping people along the way.

We spoke with Hip Hop Mike to discuss his career path, SXSW showcase, how to succeed as an up-and-coming artist and much more.

You worked really hard, taking on a variety of jobs in the industry to get to this spot today. Is there anything you would’ve done differently to get to this point?  

I don’t know if I would change anything. I have about five different career paths and they’re all relevant to the grand career, which is radio.

Tell me about Peter Rosenberg’s influence in your life. You met him a couple of times before you were able to convince him to give you a chance and finally become his assistant.

Haha he probably just felt bad for me by that point. I met him on Myspace and I remember being super excited when I saw his message. I was working different jobs and felt stuck not knowing how to get out of them. I’m learning more and more that you have to trust the timing of your life. At the moment, it was nerve-wracking so every second that I was with Peter, especially in the beginning, I was just over the stars with it.

Now when people message me, I feel like it’s dope to have that kind of energy with people and being able to connect. I felt really good when I came to the radio station so being able to invite people myself, it’s trippy and definitely a great feeling to have friends come and see the different side of it.D

Knowing everything you know now, would you return to school?

No. I should’ve gone to college and taken business classes but I don’t think you can do both. It’s messed up. America should be a place where you can come to get an education and still be in a position to win. I feel that with radio specifically, you can get the education all day but it can slow you down on meeting people and building in the real world. Part of it’s good and for some people, it pays off but I do think the people who can’t take the chance in going to college, do deserve to have an understanding that there are other ways of going about it. It’s hard work. I worked at a pharmacy for 10 years and I know everything inside out. But I don’t have a degree and it’s messed up that I can’t make what a pharmacist makes knowing it all inside out just because of the extra information learned through school.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Living in LA. To be honest, I really want to get into management but I also love what radio’s been and I want to keep growing in that too. For me, it’s really hard to say which box I want to end up in because, in general, I just love being in the mix of the industry.

What attracts you to management?

I like connecting dots. I did a lot of self-reflecting on being on radio and what I love the most about the whole journey while watching Rosenberg make moves and watching him grow into this radio personality and DJ, I want to contribute to something like that – whether it’s managing artists, DJs or whatever. Being on top of a situation where you can help people get from one level to another is awesome.

You do a lot of work with the community too. What is the most exciting part of it for you?

I try to help people everywhere! I try to give back to anybody that I think needs it or anybody that is down. If I could help somebody, then why not? I think everybody’s responsibility as a human being is to help people.

When and how did you decide that Hip Hop Mike was the right name for you?

(laughs) I still don’t know if it’s the right name for me honestly. Twitter kind of gave me that name and like Rosenberg always says to me “hip-hop can be anything and your hustle is hip-hop.” I think it makes sense but I also put myself in a box by calling myself Hip Hop Mike. It’s like “you’re all hip-hop all the time” and I’m like “sometimes I listen to other music that isn’t hip-hop.”

You’re a busy guy. Aside from working at HOT 97, you’re at Party 105 and doing a variety of things across the US. How do you keep up with your busy schedule and stay motivated throughout the day?

Keeping up with the schedule is really difficult sometimes. I have assistants who help me out. As far as the schedule goes, I just throw stuff on there and try to find spaces and places. Shoutout to Dried Mango, my newest assistant, who drives me all over the place cause that’s helping me out a lot. I’ll sleep in the car, get work done on the phone, etc. It’s just trying to make the most out of time but I do wish I had a more consistent schedule.

Everyday is a different adventure but that’s what I love the most about working in radio. You never know where you’re going to be. The consistency is great for some things but it’s also nerve-wracking when you’re showing up to the same place every day to do the same job.

Tell me about your first on-air experience.

The first on-air experience was when I used to do boards with Shani Kulture every Sunday. I would be there helping out and at a certain point, Kulture just let me run the show cause he was going to come in a little later. It was dope because it was the first time I got to control the radio and touch boards, but it wasn’t really much. You press one button every half hour. I just enjoyed the fact that I had made it to that point. The thing with me is that I never got caught up in the job – being on the radio never really tripped me out. It was just being in the radio station that tripped me out more. I treat it like I’m talking to an empty room and a lot of times I don’t even realize how many people are listening. I like talking on the radio like if I was just talking to someone in their car more than anything.

You just came back from South By Southwest. Tell me about your annual show. How did the idea emerge and what do you think it means to the fans who showed up?

My friend asked me about four years ago “hey would you like to do a venue?” I didn’t make any money but I just filled the stage up. It was a really good vibe and it really set the tone of what the rest would be. The intention for it is the party, not the money. The fact that I got the chance to do it without having to invest anything, was really good practice and made me believe in myself.

We’re 4 years in and it keeps growing every year! Anybody I talk to say they love it but at the same time, I just think people are worried about their own things and how it affects them in their world. That’s why I do it. I do it so that people have a platform to do things they wouldn’t be able to do everyday.

How do you prepare for interviews with artists? Run me through your preparation.

I don’t really prepare for interviews. For example, PNB Rock, I googled what his last interview was, read a little bit, and just listened to tons of PNB Rock on the way to the station. I treat my interviews like barbershop talk. I let the artist talk about what they want to talk about, not really challenging them and more so just hearing them out. Just give positive feedback and keep it organic.

Have you had any difficult interviewees? How do you get them to open up to you?

There are interviews where I felt like I should’ve prepared more cause they don’t say much but I talk a lot. I usually end up figuring out something to say to them. I wouldn’t say “difficult” because I love these people and they’re cool but I’ve had some interesting interviews.

You’ve interviewed huge up-and-coming superstars such as Gunna, Coile Ray, PNB Rock to name a few, do you have a particular interview highlight?

My favorite interviews are always the ones that people wouldn’t say they’re their favorites because they’re not with the biggest artists. Definitely A. Chal, I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago – that was awesome. Arin Ray was dope. I like Da Baby. Amire is always good. It’s hard to say because I like different things about different interviews. What I liked about the A. Chal and Arin Ray interviews specifically was that it wasn’t a story of “I had followers and a label started hitting me up.” They really put in time and their stories are crazy! I love a good story. Those are always the best interviews no matter who the artist is.

If an aspiring rapper wants to submit their music to you, what’s the best way for them to do it without wasting your time?

They should come in person no matter what. In person is always the best way to link and build with people. Also, it’s about having that respect with the person. I don’t really care about the following or all of that, it’s more about “who are you?” It’s an organic thing.

If you play really street music, hitting me up isn’t the right move. Even if I play it, I’m not passionate about it. It’s to the point where I’m not playing it because I love it but because I’m doing it as a favor. To hit me up with things that aren’t my flavor just because you think it’s going to give you a particular type of look, it doesn’t make sense. Try to make sense of the connection. If you want to reach out to me and ask me for opinions, I’ll talk to anybody. If somebody sends me a song and tells me it’s radio-ready, I’ll ask them what makes it radio-ready. And lots of other people will ignore it but I want to know. If I’m going to support you, at least show me that it’s on Shazam so that your fans can find it and have an Instagram that’s clean.

You took on many random jobs growing up while hustling to get to this position. What’s your advice to music fans who are struggling right now to get into the industry and working odd jobs just to get by?

Each one played a role. Every job that I ever had played a big role in what I’m doing now. Whether it’s cutting hair and bringing that to Hot 97 or whether it was selling mattresses and helping people when they needed it, with the pharmacy – I have friends that get sick and I can help them out really quick. Just having this pack of genuine support goes such a long way. It’s not about having a sort of angle, but just being a decent human being and trying to contribute to people in any way you can, even if you’re not getting the same in return.

I’m learning more every day that it’s how you think. I used to get very frustrated in jobs and it hindered me from getting better at it. I truly believe that if you tell yourself that you’re going to do something, you’ll do it but if you’re doubtful about it then it just won’t happen. Anybody that’s in a regular job, just know that there’s an out. But it can also go back to who you know and who can help you. If in your heart you know it makes sense then you gotta follow your heart.

Did you enjoy our exclusive interview with Hip Hop Mike? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @CelebMix

Written by Evelin Mercedes

Evelin Mercedes is an entrepreneur with an interest in writing about music. Founder of Music Trails. Instagram: @evelinm_