There have been a lot of debates happening about whether or not journalism is dead and for multiple reasons. Two major reasons that come to mind belong to the world of digital media and instant gratification. Everyone wants what they desire straightforward and direct which has led to a vast amount of people with a short attention span. So short that they completely shy away from taking 5-10 minutes to read an article and/or a full length piece. I’m inspired by a lot of writers who’ve created strong enough content that focus more on people taking the time to read and Carl Lamarre, the Hip-Hop Editor for Billboard Magazine, has been one of the guys I’ve admired in that particular realm.
Interviewing everyone from Big Sean, Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T, T.I., DJ Khaled, Ty Dolla $ign and more, Carl is without a doubt one of the most hardest working hip-hop journalists/interviewers on the radar right now. He continues to thrive within the hip-hop community by shedding light on important stories as well as important figures we all as hip-hop lovers enjoy to learn about.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Carl to talk a little bit more about his come up in the journalism world, how he landed his major role at Billboard, his favorite interview with the world-wide publication and much more in our full interview below.
1 – How did you get into journalism?
Man, I’ve always loved writing. Ever since I was a kid, I carried around a journal and would spend days writing inside of it. As time went by, I decided to take my love for writing to the next level and wrote for my high school newspaper. I started out as a staff writer during my junior year and then became the sports editor my senior year. I knew I really had a chance at being special l when I won third place at the Long Island Press for my editorial “30 the new 20.”
2 – What would you say was your main source of inspiration to get into music journalism?
So, after high school, I was adamant about being a sports writer. I was so in love with the NBA. I had a Slam Magazine subscription and always thought that one day I would write for them. When I attended Howard University, my freshman year, I was fortunate enough to pen some pieces for The Howard Hilltop. My love for music journalism, honestly, came by chance. A friend of mine recommended that I consider reaching out to VIBE Magazine about an internship for the summer. I remember VIBE hit me up on a Thursday, interviewed me on Friday, and started Monday. I was the youngest intern in my class. From there, my love for hip-hop skyrocketed.
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3 – When did you realize that music journalism was something you could actually make a career out of?
I really realized that I had potential to do something major in music journalism when Todd Thomas (I miss you big homie!) connected me to the people at Ballerstatus.com during my internship at VIBE. They took a chance on me and I quickly began penning pieces and editorials. As soon I as got with Ballerstatus.com, during my sophomore year at Howard, I decided to take a chance and reach out to my favorite hip-hop site at the time, HipHopGame.com. By chance, Brian Kayser — who was the GOAT in the online world for hip-hop journalism — reached out to me and gave me a chance to help out with the site. So, I had VIBE, Ballerstatus, and HipHopGame under my belt at 19. Then, one of my high school buddies, Devin Chanda — who was already ahead of the music journalism game curve — was an editor for Smooth Magazine. He showed me love and helped me land my first check, as I was writing album reviews for the mag.
4 – Do you remember the first article you did that contributed to your come up?
My first ever interview was with my favorite rapper of all-time. Sounds crazy, right? I was fortunate enough to interview Joe Budden around the time he dropped his project Halfway House. It was only a phone interview, but I was grateful to have spoken to him for maybe 40 minutes. That was a moment for me because I believed that if I was able to speak with my favorite rapper off rip, that anything was possible.
5 – In your opinion, aside from being a music connoisseur, what else makes a great writer/music journalist?
In my mind, I think what makes a music journalist great is being able to listen. I think I’m a pretty knowledgeable guy, but, realistically, I don’t know everything. I don’t listen to EVERY single project. So, fortunately, I’ve learned to be receptive to opinions and give everyone the benefit of the doubt, until I ultimately sit-down and make my final decision. You never know what or who you may come across unless you’re open to everything. Listening is also crucial when you’re doing an interview. Most of the time. even when I’m just having a conversation with my friends, I don’t even talk as much anymore. I just sit back, listen and absorb. I absorb and then counter back with my feedback right after. It’s all about building momentum and trust with the person you’re interviewing.
6 – You’ve done a lot of different types of writing so far but which type of article do you prefer – interviews, op-ed’s, daily news articles? Why?
It’s funny because I grew up doing a lot of editorials and op-eds. As I got older and landed more opportunities, I began doing more interviews. I just love that one-on-one sit-down vibe, man. I challenge myself every time out to deliver a stronger interview than my last. Being able to help an artist or whoever dig deep with just that one question makes me smile every time out.
7 – Talk to us a little bit about your Billboard come up. How did you manage to land a position there as the editor for Billboard hip-hop?
Luck, God, and hard work. Around that time, I was working at a shitty company. It was decent money, but I was writing about salacious bullshit. My then-editor, Adelle Platon, reached out to me about an opportunity. How she got my e-mail? I honestly couldn’t tell you, but when I saw “Billboard opportunity” on the subject line, I damn near cried on the train. She asked me to review Jazz Cartier’s show at SOBs and interview him that same night. I was already on my way home, but I ended up turning around and knocking out the story. Crazy thing is, I didn’t work with Billboard again for another five-six months. Eventually, I got laid off from my shitty job and was freelancing for five different places, including Billboard. The day that changed my life was when I got let go from one of the five places I was writing for and asked Adelle if she knew of any other places that were looking for writers. She, in turn, asked me if I knew of any news writers looking to help out at Billboard Mondays through Fridays. I replied like, “Um, me.” LMAO. I spent almost eight months being Adelle’s right-hand before I was asked if I was interested in being the new Hip-Hop Editor. The rest is history.
8 – You’ve done a lot of amazing things for Billboard including a ton of interviews. What would you say was your favorite interview thus far? Why?
Tough question. It’s like picking your favorite kid. My favorite interview was with Nipsey Hussle. It happened earlier this year. The main reason is because my friends and I used to go on drives and would always play Nipsey’s music in the whip. They would joke around and tell me that I wasn’t shit until I got a Nipsey interview. Lo and behold, Victory Lap comes out and I’m sitting with Nipsey Hussle at Del Frisco’s for two hours, eating steak and talking shit. That interview wasn’t just for me, it was for my team back home. I knew that chat was something special because a few months later, I saw Nipsey at his New York show and pulled up to his dressing room afterward. I honestly didn’t think he would remember me, but he did and told me he’s been following my moves and that I’m up next in the hip-hop journalism game. Right then and there, it hit me like, “Man, I’m really making noise out here.”
9 – Working in publication there are always deadlines for an article to go up. Yoh Phillips, a popular music writer that I’m sure you know, said “Don’t die for the deadline” in one of his interviews. What are your thoughts on deadlines and the pressures of putting a piece out that’s probably not 100%? Have you ever put something out that you felt was sub-par?
It’s funny because I’ve always been a guy who thrives under pressure. Now, I try not to play around with deadlines because I know how important it is to get an early start and make sure that the story as clean and accurate as possible. At the same time, I don’t let the deadlines destroy me, as well. If the story isn’t up to my liking, I’ll pull the plug because, at the end of the day, it’s my name at the end of the day. My byline is everything. Every piece I drop needs to be a classic read in my mind.
10 – There are so many good writers and journalists out there who are putting out great content daily. Aside from the fact that you write for one of the most prominent music platforms in the country, how do you maintain your originality and voice in your writing?
It’s easy because I’ve always said that once my voice felt limited or robotic, I’d put the pen down. Once the thrill is gone, then I’ll bow out. I’m colorful with the pen and I need to be able to have my voice heard to a certain degree. Of course, you can’t be overly animated or forceful with it. A certain tact and a bit of grace need to be implemented in order to make that happen.
11 – Who are some of the journalists you currently admire? Why?
Dan Rys, Yoh Phillips, Jeff Weiss, Craig Jenkins, William Ketchum, are some off the top of my head. In my mind, Dan is easily the best in the game when it comes to business reporting. He also was my editor at XXL. Nobody, and I repeat, nobody works as hard as him. Yoh’s writing is just effortless. He’s so fluid with the ink. Nothing is ever forced with him.
12 – What are some tips you would give to the new blogger, aspiring music writer and/or journalist?
Be patient. It took me almost 10 years to get to where I am. I knew what I wanted and I stayed the course. I worked as a janitor, school aide, camp counselor and all that, just so that I can still have some money in my pocket since I wasn’t getting paid for my pieces. If you stay the course, trust and believe, your dreams will come to light. I used to tell myself I would write for Billboard by 27 and by the grace of God, my first clip happened at 26.
13 – What are some tips that have been given to you by your peers in regards to your career?
Keep fucking going. It’s crazy because I’m addicted to winning. Like, I can’t stop going in and delivering the best content with my team simply because I know someone out there wants my spot. I refuse to be outworked or lose to anyone. If I keep going at 100, then, I know I’ll be good to go.
14 – What can we expect from Carl Lamarre for 2018?
High-quality pieces. The first half of the year was major. I interviewed Kendrick, Khaled, Ty Dolla, Pusha, Nipsey, Wiz, T.I., and much more, and was able to break a lot of exclusives. We — as in my team and I — hope to keep the pace going to close out the year. We just want our place in history. Nothing more, nothing less.