1. Who are you? What do you do? Where are you from? The basics. Introduce yourself to me.
Ted Simmons. Writer and editor specializing in arts and entertainment. From Rockland County, New York, though born in and frequent Orlando, Florida. I live in Queens now.
2. When did you first discover rap music?
Hard to say. Growing up and in high school I listened to a mix of genres, but I remember at one point committing to rap whole heartedly; using part time job money to dive into classics from Jay Z, Wu-Tang, Talib, artists like that.
3. What was the first album that made you really love rap music?
I usually point to No Way Out by Puff Daddy and the Family. TRL was on back in those days, late 90s, and the video for “Victory” blew my ten-year-old mind. I wrote my mom a persuasive essay for school asking for the explicit version of the album.
4. Did you go to college, if so what did you study and at what school?
I studied English and journalism at University of Delaware for undergrad and magazine journalism at NYU for grad school.
5. How did you get involved with Mass Appeal?
A classmate of mine at NYU was interning there and suggested I join her. I interviewed for an internship and started shortly after.
6. How does Mass Appeal work? Editors, writers, videographers, photographers, etc.?
All editorial entities operate differently and on occasion, adopt new practices. Mass Appeal had two teams, an editorial team and a video team. The editorial team consisted of several writers, in office and out, working on long lead and short lead web posts. I served as editor, working closely with all writers. The video team sort of did their own thing, though I would develop video ideas with my team as well.
7. How often do/did you turn out a project?
We published anywhere from 8 to 15 web posts a day, of varying length. Our print issue came out 4 times a year. Something long lead, like say an interview with an artist, would take maybe a week to turn around, from setting up the interview, to preparing, to conducting, to transcribing, to writing, to editing.
8. What is it like interviewing a rapper? Do you get nervous, fan boyish, etc?
It varies and depends largely on the rapper and what sort of mood they’re in. It can be nerve-racking, sure, just because you don’t really know how it’s going to turn out. Rappers are not the most eloquent or cooperative subjects, so it is at times difficult. I got nervous early on, when I was in undergrad, but once I got a tape recorder and could focus on having a conversation with whomever, it became easier. You want to maintain all professionalism. You’re there doing a job and need the interview subject to respect you and take you seriously. You’re not a fan in that moment. Do your research, show you care about the interview, and leave the fandom at the door. That’s not gonna be a good look from any angle.
9. Do you get access to events, private album screenings, etc.?
Yes, you do. Concerts, listening sessions, things like that. But that has a lot to do with PR agencies hooking you up. Publicists are the middlemen between you and the subject and are the ones responsible for getting their artist press. So if you are from a reputable outlet and build good PR contacts, you’ll go to a lot of shit, for sure. You just have to make a distinction between accepting an invitation and being in someone’s pocket.
10. Where do you see yourself headed in the future?
A leader in the newsroom for a national magazine.
11. What is your favorite thing about covering rap music?
My friends find what I do pretty cool. It is challenging though. My favorite thing, and this isn’t exclusive to rap music, is having an audience. You will often write a piece and be unsure who’s reading it, or if it’s getting read at all. Knowing people are reading your stuff is gratifying, especially if you take pride in it.
12. What are you doing now?
Right now I’m on my couch with SportsCenter on. I just downloaded a few songs. I’m nursing a small hangover. Professionally, I’m applying to jobs every week.
13. What is it like living in New York?
I could write you an entire piece on this question alone. It’s expensive. It’s thrilling. It can leave you feeling dejected or alive or depressed or on top of the world. Everything about New York City is an intense, isolated experience. Taking the subway, walking on the street, getting food, going out, meeting strangers. I’m sitting in my apartment with the windows up and I might hear dogs barking or people shouting at one another or a car speeding by or music being blasted or a car alarm going off or sirens. Living in New York City is an experience that take years to understand and far more words than I’ve written here to explain.
14. Who are your favorite rappers?
This changes frequently. I like Kanye and Drake a lot, though this has everything to do with the circumstances and era I was born into. Nas is great. Cudi is one of a kind. I like it all and appreciate everybody for what they are. New YG knocks. New Future is good. I’m not exclusively into super lyrical and technically gifted rappers, though a lot of my friends who grew up in New York loving hip hip are.
15. What other jobs in journalism have you had?
Was a desk and managing editor at my undergrad student newspaper. Was then editor in chief at a small local newspaper in Orlando. Was associate editor at Mass Appeal. I interned at ESPN Radio, In Touch Weekly, Complex, and Mass Appeal.
16. What advice would you provide to someone like me who lives and breathes rap music and wants to pursue a career covering rap music?
Read a ton. The internet has become this place of quick blurbs and write ups. You will have to write in short form, 300 word blurbs, or even less. Look at a site like Rap Radar, where they literally write one sentence for each post. I’m not really down with that kind of stuff, but it exists. To learn any form of writing, you have to read the greats and learn whose style you like. Read long features and reviews. Understand what makes something good if its long, if its short. Read something new everyday. Read different kinds of outlets. Never stop reading, and if you can, find someone to share pieces with so you can discuss them. Pick out sentences or paragraphs that jump out to you as great.
17. What is your favorite rap moment?
Going to Summer Jam as press was pretty nuts. The Kanye bumrush/shrug is historic. I remember buying Graduation the day it came out, going to my buddys house in college, smoking a ton of weed and listing to it completely through. That was a good time.
18. When writing reviews how many times do you listen to the album?
Entirely depends on the density of the work. With anything you’re writing, you want to have a point, something to convey to the reader that demonstrates that you’ve put in the appropriate amount of work and have come to an intelligent conclusion. Sometimes that means one listen, sometimes you can not listen to something enough. I would typically put the album on my phone and listen to it as I travel. Don’t box yourself in with general rules about play count. Listen to it once all the way through and you’ll know what you need to do after that.
19. What’s your favorite rap album of all time?
The Blueprint maybe. MBDTF maybe. Be maybe. Come Home With Me has a lot of market share.
20. Where do you see journalism headed, specifically rap journalism?
I really do not know. Rap journalism is a very difficult beast, due in large part to the impatience of rap audiences and the difficulty of rappers as subjects. Elliott Wilson is exploring some new frontiers with his CRWN interview series, and I don’t know if he’s doing a service or disservice. Rap journalists want to be the celebrities themselves and thats a dangerous direction. I was taught old school reporting methods and to remove myself from the story as much as possible. A lot of rap writing focuses solely on the writer and his or her specific experience meant to come off as relatable or universal. There are stories everywhere in life, and a good journalist is going to hunt them down and consume all angles entirely. Have a point of view, an opinion, discerning taste, skepticism, a killer instinct, and a understanding that you have to learn constantly. I hope that rap journalism begins to champion the smartest writer in the room and not always the loudest.
Hope all of this helps and best of luck with your studies.