Photo: Jerritt Clark/Getty
  /  06.08.2022

New York City’s HOT 97 radio station has released the lineup for its annual Summer Jam concert at MetLife Stadium. 

The June 12 event will bring two stages to East Rutherford, New Jersey and its attendees are more inclined to see 6-inch Timberlands than flower crowns between musical sets. The main stage headliners — Fivio Foreign, Lil Baby, Lil Durk, City Girls, Pusha T — will prepare the venue, which seats over 82,000 fans, for a collaborative tribute performance. In an exclusive interview with REVOLT, HOT 97’s morning show host Ebro Darden confirmed that Summer Jam has surprises in store and will honor the memory of hip hop’s Drama King, the late DJ Kay Slay. 

Summer Jam‘s performances are also an annual industry reminder to competing festivals that the rap music globally revered today originated in New York. Ebro believes the all-day concert endures as the most reputable show for fans to celebrate hip hop’s four pillars and Black music at large. “It is not about trying to be the most mainstream. There are a lot of other festivals that have tons of people going, but those are all formats of music. [Summer Jam] is one hundred percent dedicated to hip hop,” he explained during our sit-down at HOT 97.

REVOLT connected with the mogul and his “Ebro in the Morning” radio show co-hosts, Laura Stylez and Peter Rosenberg, to discuss Summer Jam as well as Ebro becoming Apple Music’s first global editorial head of hip hop and R&B. Together, the trio shared their favorite Cîroc Studios moments beside Funk Flex, views on the drill movement, and why they work for “the most powerful hip hop radio station worldwide.”

2022 marks 29 years since the first Summer Jam concert. What are you most excited about seeing? 

Ebro: I am most excited about seeing Summer Jam! I think it’s a big moment that Burna Boy is up there. He is representing Nigeria. His music has been on fire for the last several years. 

It is an honor to be able to feature him. So, I am looking forward to that moment — [and that is] not only because of what it represents for first-generation Nigerians and Africans in the U.S., but also [because of] what it will mean for Nigerians worldwide. I always look forward to seeing the listeners have a good time

Ebro, you started at HOT 97 in 2003. As you approach your twentieth anniversary with the station, what has been one of your most vital lessons in the business?

Ebro: Through broadcasting, I would say most of my lessons were about listening habits and [learning] what people respond to — and [doing so] in the most populated market of the United States. New York is the number one media market probably in the world. 

HOT 97’s “Ebro in the Morning” is lengthened by the voices of Laura Stylez and Peter Rosenberg. Beyond talent, how important is it to have good people in pocket? 

Peter Rosenberg: For me, I guess I do not know what it is like to have to work closely with people who aren’t good people. I know the hours that we keep and the amount of time we spend communicating [means that] you have to like the people you are working with. We are up too early (laughs). I talk to Ebro and Laura more than anyone, except my girl. You wish you talked to your mom, dad and family as much as you talk to [one another] … We are really blessed in that regard. Not everyone has that.

Laura Stylez: Yeah, I agree. I’m going to piggyback on that. People stop us on the street and say, ‘You guys sound like you have so much fun. You are real friends.’ And when they see pictures of us [together] outside of work, it just shows. It has been a beautiful experience

Ebro: Oh, I don’t really like anybody! (Laughs) No, we are honored and blessed to have a great work situation. We hear stories of people who [have the opposite]. And I have been in radio for 30 years. 

Here, we have been able to have success and longevity. I think it is mostly because of our camaraderie. When people tune in, they hear us putting out positive energy. That is what attracts people back. 

What are a few mental health practices you implement in your lifestyle to maintain your headspace?

Ebro: Sleep, water, exercise…

Rosenberg: Here we go! 

Stylez: I know the next [practice]. Vegetables (laughs)!

Ebro: Listen, y’all can laugh if you want. You can go to all the therapists you want, and I encourage that. But if you want to stay calm, leveled and healthy, the basics really go a long way for me. 

Rosenberg: Yup!

Stylez: We tease Ebro, but it is because he preaches that a lot. But it is true — I remember I was a hot mess when I was not sleeping. It was bad. I had to make sure I prioritized and changed my life so I could sleep better (laughs).

Rosenberg: Without sleep, it’s hard. If you do not sleep, the mornings will kill you. It will make your life miserable. 

Ebro: We are not even playing around. A lack of sleep can give you a real terminal illness from working crazy hours

Rosenberg: So, that is one of the things we love to tease about in hip hop. Everyone is like, ‘Nah! I never sleep.’ That is the one thing Nas got wrong. [On ‘N.Y. State of Mind,’ he rapped], ‘I never sleep, ’cause sleep is the cousin of death.’ What? Sleep is the opposite of death. Sleep is life

Ebro mentioned it earlier, but therapy has been a big part of my life, too. Therapy is incredibly useful to get to talk about all the things going on. It is hard when you go through personal stuff and have to entertain every day. That can be a real challenge. 

Stylez: And you have to be transparent. So, we actually bring our personal problems on the air.

How do you balance entrepreneurship and parenting children? 

Ebro: I would say right now entrepreneurship, for me, isn’t as high of a priority as it was before my daughter was here. Now, I go to work, and then I make time for my daughter. Obviously, when she gets older, I may lean back in. I did a lot of voice work and production [in the past]

Stylez: I am still learning (laughs). My daughter is only a year and a half. I am trying to ‘be like myself again.’ Wow! I am raising this little human. I will say I have learned a lot from Ebro. I have balance. I lean on Rosenberg when I need someone to vent to. 

I had a really tough time when I gave birth with postpartum depression. I owe it all to my team. They were super supportive. Again, it is important to have people who not only work with you professionally but that genuinely love you. 

HOT 97 is esteemed as the most powerful hip hop radio station worldwide. Do you stand on that sentiment? If so, why is no radio team seeing yours? 

Rosenberg: I like that!

Ebro: I do. I stand on that sentiment. There are a lot of hip hop radio stations. Even so, HOT 97 has several things that make that true because of circumstances. One: It is New York City. It is the number one media market. Two: HOT 97 is [an] original station that embraced playing hip hop all day. 

We continue to have DJs and representation from the hip hop community that grew up in and around this city. You know what I mean? Then, there are tons of people from the city that work here. And then, there is the way we prioritize things that are not as mainstream in the culture.

It is not about trying to be the most mainstream. It is about trying to find the best rappers making the best music in the city. On top of that, we embrace the other hip hop subcultures. Without dancehall, there is no hip hop in the form that we know it today. We carve out time and have always carved out time to embrace Caribbean culture here

I think all of those things help. And then you factor in an event like Summer Jam. It is the biggest hip hop concert in the world. There are a lot of other festivals that have tons of people going, but those are all formats of music. [Summer Jam] is one hundred percent dedicated to hip hop. We continue to fight for that. I do not know if you can find another corporate entity with that level of commitment and the rate of success that we have had.

Pop Smoke did not get to see his true influence on New York City’s drill movement. Where do you see the genre heading in the mainstream?

Ebro: I think that Fivio [Foreign] is the perfect example. Fivio, when he tells his story, he was running around with Pop Smoke. They were very close. He learned a lot from Pop Smoke. If you listen to what Pop Smoke was able to deliver as an album — even though he was not around to celebrate it — and listen to what Fivio delivered as an album, [it’s comparable]. 

Fivio is incorporating elements of the drill sound and he is an ambassador for that sound. He is coming from the street culture, which also is a part of that. I think that’s the future of the movement. And then you have an artist like 22Gz, who has been doing his thing out of Brooklyn from early. He is going to be on that Festival Stage at Summer Jam.

Women are also beginning to receive their just due in rap music. Who are the female lyricists you have in rotation? 

Ebro: Latto, Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls, Nicki Minaj… 

Stylez: Of course, Nicki!

Rosenberg: Cardi B, of course. Everything she drops is in rotation here. 

Stylez: I even support the ones that are coming up — Girll Codee, for example. They are on the Festival Stage at Summer Jam. It is really fun to celebrate them. 

Ebro: Lady London is phenomenal.

Stylez: Yes, and Rapsody!

Ebro: If we keeping it a thou-wow, Shenseea, too. Her freestyles are crazy.

Rosenberg: Yes, she can rap. She is really talented.

Ebro: Even on the pop-side, Lizzo was just through the building. We have always supported her.

Rosenberg: Doja Cat.

Stylez: Hello! There it is

HOT 97 previously partnered with Diddy to create Cîroc Studios beside Funk Flex. What is your favorite Cîroc Studios moment?

Rosenberg: Honestly, that studio is nuts. I will name a recent one. The Cam’ron freestyle was incredible!

Ebro: Yes, incredible.

Rosenberg: It was both dope and hilarious. The amount of people that Cam had with him in the background [was excessive]. I had never seen that before. 

Stylez: A great moment was with Tyler, the Creator.

Ebro: Tyler, the Creator is phenomenal. Black Thought is a legend!

Rosenberg: Black Thought is maybe the most legendary one. 

Ebro: Shenseea was one we brought up. Nicki Minaj and Flex in that studio was crazy — just choppin’ it up. There have been so many! 

Ebro, Apple Music appointed you as its first global editorial head of hip hop and R&B. How do you want the narrative about Black artistry to read universally? 

Ebro: The one thing we find ourselves talking about a lot is that people think hip hop or R&B is the extent of Black music. And so, there is considerable work happening. All over the world, people are embracing Black artists that make other things — country, rock, alternative, folk and blues music. So, it is one thousand percent that the narrative encompassing Black artistry is not limited to just hip hop and R&B. 

To me, [rap music] and R&B are actually the pinnacle. They are the intersection of all Black music throughout history. Again, blues, music, gospel, rock, country, and other genres that people express themselves in [include] Black artists. I think the world needs to wake up. Even pop music includes Black artists. Pop music is not synonymous with whiteness. Pop music is popular. I think that is the narrative.

Collectively, who are you looking forward to watching perform for the first time at 2022 Summer Jam?

Rosenberg: It is Shenseea for me! That’s the one.

Stylez: Actually, I am going to the Festival Stage. So, I am excited to see Saucy Santana.

REVOLT: Me, too! (Laughs) I love him.

Ebro: Yeah! The ‘Material Girl.’

Stylez: Yasss! 

Ebro: I feel I know too much. So, it is hard for me to act phony like I do not know what is going to happen. I told everybody, make sure you are in the building for that DJ Kay Slay the Drama King tribute. We are going to celebrate his life. That’s going to be magic

You have invested three decades into the industry. How do you want to be remembered when you enter your next life chapter, Ebro? 

Ebro: I want to be remembered as someone who did a good job of giving artists an opportunity. I worked at a legendary radio station. I am someone who was able to do multiple things in media, and I have great memories with the people that I worked with.



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