Brian DiGenti (Wax Poetics)

Hip-Hop Core: Can you please introduce yourself?

Brian Digenti: Brian DiGenti, editor and co-founder of Wax Poetics.

HHC: What can you tell us about the birth of Waxpoetics?

BD: My friend, editor-in-chief Andre Torres, had the idea for a film about beatdigging. That morphed into the idea of a magazine -- something ongoing that could evolve and continuously share ideas and information. I think we chose the best medium; film is too permanent and exclusive. While we've since taken off the word "journal" from our cover, we are definitely a journal. Some people might misinterpret the word as pretentious, but, really, we run very long articles, and, like a scientific, medical, or academic journal, we are "peer-reviewed". This is a book for and by our peers. If we print something that is incorrect, we get feedback, we correct it, we continue to expand on what the general community knows about these subjects. Our writer Andrew Mason, aka DJ Monkwun, told the story of the myth that Tony Williams, writer of the cult song "Love Money," was the same as drummer Anthony Williams of Miles Davis fame. Well, Monk met a British dude, Greg Wilson, who knew who the real Tony Williams was -- a British radio DJ. So we told the real story on that record, and this is great for the community of record fans.

HHC: Did you feel that there was something missing in the hip hop press?

BD: To answer your question, yes. Although, I honestly hadn't read a hip-hop magazine in a long time. They didn't interest me anymore. They never talked about beats anyway. Obviously, most hip-hop magazines never deal with its history, and even past its own history to its father's history -- jazz and soul and funk and disco. We're of course much more than a hip-hop magazine. If someone didn't know any better, they wouldn't know it had anything to do with hip-hop at all. But now Andre and I get to talk about current hip-hop producers in the new mass market magazine "Scratch". We're luckily able to cover both extremes.

HHC: Do you feel close to any other magazine, still running or dead?

BD: Not really. I mean, of course "Grand Slam" does good work, and the two mags compliment each other and just help the record community. And I think "Wax Poetics" may be a cult favorite like "Grand Royal", but hopefully we'll continue to have greater success than they did. I think more of the mainstream needs to wake up from its musical coma.

HHC: You are reaching the 8h issue, how often do you publish the mag?

BD: We are quarterly, 4 issues a year. Issue 9 just hit stands last week. Issue 10 is well on its way.

HHC: The less we can say is that the staff is made of writers, DJs, etc… from diverse styles. How do you choose the people who write for Waxpo?

BD: This is another example of how we seriously differ from a mainstream magazine and are truly a journal. We rarely commission work. Usually, magazines are given proposals by press agents, and the magazine then assigns that article to a writer. We don't really do that, and don't cover too many contemporary artists. Usually, we're approached by a writer — sometimes simply by one of our peers and not necessarily a professional writer — and we're pitched a story. It's usually the case that the writer is researching a subject or artist, from Eddie Bo to Deodato, on his or her own, and offers to share their research with us, with the entire record community, so everyone benefits. Our writers are sometimes experts on their subjects, but often times just enthusiasts with the drive to interview the artist personally. One article I recently commissioned was Issue 9's Joe Zawinul article. The writer was extremely knowledgeable about Zawinul's keyboards. He had done a lot of research, dug up a bunch of old articles from various jazz magazines. I was impressed with his website, It turned out the Curt had been in touch with one of Zawinul's keyboard technicians. Curt himself was a synthesizer enthusiast and currently works at Apple and works on some of their music applications. So he wasn't a professional writer, but I knew he could tackle this subject, so I called Joe Zawinul and set up the interview and photoshoot. It took a year to finally get everything together, but it was worth it. We even gave Zawinul the cover, painted by Brad Howe, who does a lot of great work for us.

HHC: In the great Edito for issue #3 it is said that "we all know that those who don't know their past repeat it". What would you say to the people who think you're old fashioned?

BD: We are old fashioned. Some people can't handle that, but then again, a lot of people don't listen to jazz because they think it's old fashioned. And any jazz magazine (or journal) will be accused of being old fashioned. And we're as much a jazz magazine as we are a hip-hop magazine. Obviously, a reader can't dive into Wax Poetics without either being interested in jazz or record collecting unless they are open-minded. Believe it or not, a lot of our readers aren't record collectors, and a lot are simply interested in or obsessed with "odd" magazines, like we're obsessed with records. But the bottom line is that Andre had the focused vision of presenting hip-hop seriously, treating it with respect, and putting it in its historical context. In Wax Poetics, Nat Hentoff is side by side with DJ Premier, and we know they're supposed to be there together. Not everyone will understand something like that. Luckily, a lot of people are taking the time and effort to make these connections, letting us show them to them.

HHC: In the same edito Andre Torres criticize the hip hop press and its "coolness", which always seemed to be part of the hip hop culture. Does the fact that you are not cool means that you have a certain meaning in your work, and in the way you think about music?

BD: We believe we are doing something that has meaning. We wouldn't do this otherwise. And I speak for all our writers and contributors. This is as much their magazine as ours. We're just sharing something that a lot of us are passionate about or at least interested in. Thinking about music is definitely an evolving process. It seems a lot of people go through the same stages of music listening and music appreciation. Some of our readers skip over the "Academic Archive" article when we're talking about 78s, but those same people will come back to those articles in the years to come, when they're ready. I certainly wasn't listening to classic Americana folk recordings and old blues since I was born. It took time to get to the place where I was ready for that. Now I'm interested in looking far back into America's musical history, and even further than that, to cultures much older than our own (including Europe).

HHC: Are you listening to french artists? If yes, who?

BD: I'm glad you asked, I love French hip-hop. Back in the late '90s, my friend from Stockholm sent me IAM's 3-LP "L'Ecole Du Micro D'Argent", and I've been hooked ever since. I bought a bunch of vinyl from a mail order place, as well as while I was in Stockholm visiting. Picked up most of the IAM crew and friends, like Imhotep's "Blue Print", Freeman's "L'Palais De Justice", Le 3ème Oeil, Kheops's "Sad Hill", and Shurink'n's "Où Je Vis", which is my shit — and I just noticed DJ Nu-Mark put 'Samarai' on his new mix-CD, which is good, because Americans need to hear this shit, and it's absolutely impossible to find in the U.S. I also love NTM (I have their 1998 self-titled album, and I recently got the remix EP 'Le Clash Round 3', which has an ill track on it). I heard that back in the day, NTM and IAM had beef, as NTM thought they were the gangstas in the bunch and that IAM was just mainstream posers. I don't know if this is true, and that's part of the fun: listening to this music without knowing its cultural context. But then again, I'd love to know about this music, because I've been told some of this is very political, something American hip-hop had stopped being. I don't know if 2004 French hip-hop is still political, or perhaps it's past that stage just like American hip-hop. I even like MC Solaar (especially his early stuff), but I assume he's considered mainstream by you guys, but, again, I don't know. This spring I went to London for the David Axelrod concert, and while I was there I bought every French hip-hop record I could find, went everywhere, but they didn't have much, and I got a bunch of wack pop shit, but I did get a couple newer singles by Hocus Pocus and Bunzen featuring Wildchild. I'd get more but I can't find it, and it's expensive on the Internet. I've been buying some Saian Supa Crew 12s on eBay, but still can't get any of their LPs. That's one reason I'd like to visit Paris. I like some Swedish hip-hop as well, including the Latin Kings and Petter. The Loop Troop did some cool stuff too. So I'm totally open to — and into — foreign-language hip-hop. There's a pretty dope Cuban crew as well. And I got a Spanish album recently that's pretty interesting. I just got a Brazilian comp (promo) in the mail that I'm about to listen to. But I also love African hip-hop. We covered some in Wax Poetics Issue 2, and we covered a compilation a couple of issues ago. One comp I got in London that I love is "Africa Raps", which is all from Senegal, Mali, and Gambia, so it's all in French — which is a dope language for hip-hop.

HHC: Your mag always have a beautiful layout, the artwork is always done by reknown graff artists, is the visual aspect important for you?

BD: Definitely. Mainly because it's art. Photography, graffiti, illustration, design, painting — it's all art. Music is art, hip-hop is art, so it all just goes together. Modern print design, including t-shirts and some advertising, has evolved into something pretty great at times. Some of our ads are even great looking. But, design-wise, we usually try to stay out of the way of the other artists (illustrators and photographers) and of the content. We have a lot of text and we'll just lay it all down without doing anything fancy or distracting in the background. We want people to know that the content is important enough to have your total attention.

HHC: Waxpo is itself a collector item. How can we find old issues, especially the first ones?

BD: Well, we didn't print as many in the beginning. We've drastically upped our print run since then. Those first two issues are tough to find. Some have been selling for a lot of money on eBay, but I wouldn't recommend spending a $100 or $200 on a magazine. Buy a record, for God's sake! What I think we'll end up doing is publishing an anthology, perhaps with some new work mixed in.

HHC: I noticed that there hasn't been any MC interviewed in the mag so far, why?

BD: A lot of the magazine revolves around beats, whether that's old records or hip-hop sampling and production. So it's showing the other side of hip-hop. The other magazines already interview the MCs. Although, we do deal with MCing and the history of hip-hop, from African hip-hop to Connecticut hip-hop, the Last Poets to the new poets, to Busy Bee to Rammellzee, the Raw Dope Posse to T La Rock to MF Doom. We'll definitely have more conversations with MCs, it just has to be the right context. We've wanted to do more about the art of MCing, but that hasn't happened yet. We want to talk with a lot of the early MCs, in due time. We'll be talking with Chuck D in Issue 10, and he has a lot of musical history knowledge. He knows the breaks and the artists, and he knows sampling and MCing, and he knows hip-hop history. It's always great to hear him speak.

HHC: Who are the artists you would like to interview the most? Which interview are you the most proud of?

BD: I've been glad to be able to get with Eugene McDaniels, and I'm very happy about how the Zawinul turned out. I'm still working on a David Axelrod story. The list could go on for days. I can look through a few shelves of records and find hundreds of artists, from old school hip-hop producers to jazz producers to soul singers. Unfortunately, dudes are getting old and passing away. I want to keep this history alive. We'll never run out of content.

HHC: Your past issues often spotlighted the james Brown musicians and background singers, is it a way to give them props since James didn't paid them royalties?

BD: Good question. We'll likely interview the Godfather himself, but getting the story as told by those who were around him has been eye-opening. We certainly want his side of things, but we'll have to see when that happens.

HHC: Why is vinyl so important to you?

BD: I don't know. I've struggled with that question for a while now. I've noticed that a lot of my vinyl is scratched up and sounds poor, yet I'd rather listen to it than a CD. That doesn't make a lot of sense to me. But I know the size and cover art has a lot to do with it. There is a sense of history in the used vinyl itself. It was around at the time the music was created. It was appreciated by the former owner. I like that. I'm a collector like a lot of us out there. I collect keyboards as well; though I have a very small collection. If I could, I'd collect a lot of vintage instruments, but I've run out of room and money. So records are a thing I collect as well. People used to argue that vinyl has to stay alive to keep the DJ alive, keep that history alive, but now a lot of DJs are turning to CD-Js and CDs, and the iPod will eventually take over. I'm not a DJ, per se, so I don't have to deal with that argument, but I do prefer vinyl. Would I like to have my entire record collection on an iPod? Yes. Bottom line is that it's about the music. But we love records too.

HHC: What difference between a guy who collects records and one who would collect stamps or electric trains?

BD: Not much! Record collectors are very obsessive and can be quite nerdy about it — more so than other types of collectors. But personally, I think collecting music is important. Stamps are cool if you are looking at it as art, but a lot of the time it's about rarity and investment. My record collection is an investment, but it's also a library, and that's useful to me. An electric train wouldn't be useful to me, for example. A library of books would be useful to me. A studio full of musical instruments would be useful. A butterfly collection? Not really. So to each his own. I'd rather spend time collecting music.

HHC: Do you have a huge collection? If you do, tell us what it looks like.

BD: My collection is very modest. And I don't have very many rare pieces. There are so many common records that I still haven't heard yet.

HHC: Are there some records that you are still seeking?

BD: Thousands. Just like our readers, I'm learning about records every day as I put together each issue of Wax Poetics. I can't possibly have time to hear all this music, much less the money to collect it all. It'd be nice to be able to acquire digital files of all these songs I want to hear. I think ultimately there will be a digital database/library of every song ever published, with easy access, for either free or a small fee. That's the future. Until then, I'll have to wait to stumble across a rarity or occasionally pay the money for something.

HHC: What do you think about Internet?

BD: Love it. Information technology is unstoppable. Robert Anton Wilson talked about information theory a lot in his books. The world continues to double its knowledge, and this information grows exponentially. The Internet is a big part of that. The fact that we can score any record we want is a by-product.

HHC: What can you tell us about your own web site?

BD: We try to keep new content coming to the website, sometimes it's related to the content in the magazine. But our focus is putting together the journal, so sometimes the website has to suffer for the greater good.

HHC: Sites like e bay totally changed the diggin game, do you think it changed in the right way?

BD: Depsite eBay, you can still find great and rare records for cheap at record stores across the country. But I have noticed mom-and-pop record stores starting to price their records by what they see on eBay (or put their best up on eBay). Even my own thrift store spot down the street has started to look at GEMM and eBay to price their records. That's a real shame. They used to all be 25 cents a record. So the record spots are not like they were back in the day, but I didn't get to experience the golden days of finding crazy records in the '80s when no one cared about records. So it's always been rather hard to find good records, ever since I started seriously looking for them. I've been to cities across the country, and I've put in a lot of hours, and I only have a few great finds. (Other people have been much luckier.) eBay has helped me find a record when I needed to. If it's for research or just to hear it, I've been able to buy a record online most of the time. I can't argue with that.

HHC: What do you think about Freddy fresh book?

BD: I think the book is great. It's for education. It's for knowledge. We're creating our own library.

HHC: Ain't you afraid that it will raise the price of some records that are rare, but not musically great?

BD: It will equal out one day. Either people will figure out what's great or they will, in the end, find out their own tastes and not rely on hype.

HHC: Did you see the dvd of "Deep Crates"? What do you think about this work?

BD: I'm ashamed to say I haven't seen it yet. I've seen parts of it and it looks interesting. I just got the DVD sent to me so I'll take a look at it. I applaud anyone who is willing to go out there and do interviews.

HHC: What are your future projects?

BD: Actually, we have a few things in the works. We're helping to put out some records. Should be really great. Hopefully, there's more to come.

HHC: Can you talk about those records (what kind of music, the format 7' 10' or 12inch...) or it's secret?

BD: Well, I'd rather keep the specifics on the down-low until it's closer to its release date. But in general, we've always wanted to reissue music. Our first project will be a couple compilations on LP (and CD). Hopefully, that will lead us to more releases, more projects. I'll keep you up to date so you can be on the lookout for it.

HHC: You was talking about Monkone, we really appreciate his work on monk's dream with the amazing picture, he have any projects coming soon?

BD: We're putting out another mix-CD of Monk's this month. It's for promotional use only. It's a show he did with Maxwell in NY. Monk has so many different flavors and this is just one of them. Monk did another mix-CD for us ("Monk's Dream" was for Turntable Lab) called "Cherry Pickin'", which we also gave away for free. It's pretty rare and represents the music we cover in the magazine. We're hoping to do another like that one, playing some of the obscure tracks we speak about in each issue, to let our readers hear some of it — it'd be strictly for subscribers though. And Monk is working with us on our compilation reissues.

HHC: For the readers who are lucky enough to live in New York, you do regular Waxpoetic parties, what it is like?

BD: We've had all sorts of parties. Small, intimate parties with locals and regulars. And we've had some bigger parties like one in San Francisco where DJ Shadow spun, and when word got out, a line formed around the block and they stayed for hours hoping to get in. It depends on the night, but it usually is great because everyone is there because they love this music. You can check Monkwun when he spins in the U.K. We're hoping to do a Wax Poetics tour in Japan and France and Germany too. Thanks!

Interview by Bachir
January 2005

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