Much like Hip Hop music, Hip Hop media has been undergoing a serious transformation as the world wide web continues to impact how the public consumes information.
Long-running publications have even shut down producing physical copies of their magazines, choosing to only produce content online.
We once had to hit the newsstands or wait for Yo! MTV Raps to come on to find out the latest news about Hip Hop. Now we just need to check our social media timelines or open the YouTube app. Like any evolutionary process, only the organisms able to quickly adapt to the changing environment will survive. Perhaps, no force has learned to effectively navigate new media in such a short amount of time better than DJ Akademiks.
The man that refers to himself as “The Negrotiator” managed to build a brand around commenting on everything from rappers getting arrested to the latest mixtape to drop. And the Internet seems to be hanging onto every word.
“My job is not just to give an opinion. My job is to open up debate,” DJ Akademiks tells AllHipHop.com. “I try to play Devil’s Advocate, but a lot of times people don’t want to hear the Devil’s Advocate side.”
The 24-year-old internet whiz may get his fair share of backlash, but Akademiks receives plenty of love from the masses as well. He currently has over 100,000 followers on both Twitter and Instagram respectively. His reestablished main YouTube channel (the original channel was suspended over possible hacking concerns) has gained 200,000 subscribers and 55 million views in just four months.
Akademiks’ journey to be one of the loudest contemporary voices in the digital space began in Jamaica. He was born on the Caribbean island before relocating to the States not long before the 9-11 attacks in 2001.
As a West Indian raised on Dancehall, Hip Hop culture was a fairly fresh experience for the new immigrant. He was struck with culture shock at the beginning and admits to having a difficult time making American friends in high school.
His social status started to shift after he began deejaying as a teenager. Music was not a completely unfamiliar arena for Akademiks. He played instruments in church. But when he fully dived into his DJ skills while at Rutgers University, the biomathematics major’s transition to show business really took off. Akademiks even tried his hand at producing at one point.
“I thought I was on some Kanye West sh*t. I was trying to chop records, loop it. I was just playing around with DJ software,” Ak reveals. “My college friends said, ‘Let’s start throwing parties.’ So initially, I took the deejay role.’”
Akademiks invested $6000 into buying the necessary equipment and instructed himself on the art of deejaying. He hit the New Jersey college DJ circuit in 2007. Soon after, he began using this innovative video-sharing website known as YouTube to promote his events.
YouTube also became the platform that hosted interviews Akademiks conducted while working as a disc jockey for his university’s radio station. Even as a college student, Ak understood the importance of marketing and constantly keeping an eye out for the next big thing set to take off.
“I said I got to brand myself differently, because anybody can deejay. The skill of deejaying is so diminished. Nobody appreciates scratching, and there’s programs that can do it for you,” says Akademiks. “It was about being more than a deejay. I saw the trend that was happening.”
His days as an on-air personality at Rutgers taught him something else. Akademiks learned he did not want to be tied to the demands of a higher up. So he decided to establish his own Q&A series on YouTube.
What started as 40 minute long shows, eventually got cut down to 4-15 minute episodes. Ultimately, the conversation format was dropped altogether when Akademiks realized his persona was enough to draw eyes to his vids.
“I said I’m just going to start doing my own thing, no guests. F*ck a guest,” he recalls. “People can buy into me and my entertainment value. Whether I’m funny, informative or people are repulsed by me – whatever gets a reaction out of you – if that can’t get you to tune in, then I don’t want to do it.”
It was during this period Akademiks began making connections with notable people in the entertainment industry. One of those insiders was another person blessed with the gift of gab – radio/television star Charlamagne Tha God. According to The Breakfast Club co-host, Akademiks still secures his support to this day.
“That’s my man. He’s a good dude. I give him advice when he needs it,” says Charlamagne.
Unlike C Tha God’s willingness to confront nearly any controversial subject, Akademiks does have red lines he will not cross. His rule of thumb is to refrain from discussing any cultures he is not knowledgeable about or any topics presenting a negative perception of children.
Akademiks has begun to stay away from social issues such as police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement as well. His experiences speaking on a few highly publicized incidents have led him to believe segments of his fan base prefer to accept a groupthink narrative rather than deal strictly in facts.
“Sometimes my audience wants me to come out and just blindly say f*ck the cops. That’s not how I feel,” states Akademiks. “Rather than me go on video and give exactly how I feel, I rather not cover the topic. Or if I cover the topic, I just speak on the facts and let them decide.”
He continues, “When the Sandra Bland thing happened, they wanted me to talk about it in its infancy. They would write on Instagram and Twitter, ‘F*ck this video. What about Sandra Bland?’ To be honest, I didn’t know if [the police officers] killed her at the scene. It would be pretty dumb, knowing you’ll probably get caught. I had no proof of that, but my audience wanted me to go with that opinion.”
Subscribers have also been known to have harsh responses for Akademiks’ opinions on his favorite rapper Drake. This summer saw his YouTube views explode when he began posting about the “Back To Back” performer’s battle with Meek Mill (the third most viewed video on his current channel is titled “Meek Mill Exposes Drake” – 1.5 million views).
Akademiks feels he called the Meek vs Drake contest right down the middle and giving the win to Drizzy was simply a reflection of the general consensus on the feud’s outcome. However, some users still attempted to call Ak out for being bias towards Drake. Hip Hop’s favorite disses for an obsessed fan – “stan” and “d*ckrider” – were even tossed around.
“You’re not mad at me for saying Drake won. You’re mad at me for the public perception,” responds Akademiks to his critics. “It troubled me that Drake got help to the extent of using reference tracks. But if Hip Hop really cared there wouldn’t have been a battle. I was disappointed in Drake for that, but the people are telling you, ‘so what.’”
That “agree to disagree” compromise is part of the bond between Akademiks and his followers. He leans on them to be straight with him, in the same way they look to him to stay authentic. It’s the interaction with the viewers, and not the reaction from “the industry,” that drives Akademiks.
He claims label representatives and publicists have sent requests for their artists to get mentioned in his videos. But the self-described satirist prefers to turn down the perks often showered on the press in order to secure some positive spin. Akademiks is not interested in having a Howard Cosell-Muhammad Ali type of relationship with the people he reports on either.
“I don’t want to be friends with any of these rappers. That’s why at one point I never followed them back on Twitter, because rappers are so sensitive,” stresses Akademiks. “I only talk about their music if I listen to it. So if I don’t like your stuff, I don’t even want to talk about you.”
He adds, “When it comes to the Hip Hop industry, whatever doors there are to get in, I know I’ll never get through those doors. So I want to be on the outside playing to my own beat. If you hear about it on the inside, that’s cool with me. But I don’t care about coming in. As long as I have my fan base, I’m 100% straight.”
The “DJ Akademiks media company” (he’s a business, man) is not done impacting the entertainment landscape. A version of a podcast could be in the works, and he is extremely interested in combining the video game community with the Hip Hop community in some capacity.
In addition, a return to non-terrestrial radio is not out of the question – the Negrotiator conveys Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio fits more into his style. And of course, he still deejays. Whatever the future holds, DJ Akademiks guarantees he will continue to maintain the initial source that built his network of loyal supporters.
The new king of Hip Hop commentary declares, “I promise my fans no matter what I do, I’m going to always have my YouTube. I will always keep the same content, because my viewers are the people who got me to where I am.”
All photos courtesy of DJ Akademiks