How MSNBC's Ari Melber Uses Hip Hop To Make Sense Of News
publish date: 2018-05-09
Hip Hop has always been intertwined with politics and its cultural influence is extensive, so it's only natural for the two worlds to collide. Look no further than Kanye West turning things upside down by pledging his allegiance to Donald Trump for the impact of such a crossover.
Weekdays on MSNBC, Ari Melber finds ways for Hip Hop to help clarify the twists and turns of the nonstop news cycle. As host of The Beat and a regular guest on other shows, Melber enjoys implementing rap lyrics in his coverage to make topics of the day — particularly legalese — more understandable.
Melber's penchant for Hip Hop references hasn't gone unnoticed, catching the attention of everyone from 50 Cent to comedian John Oliver. caught up with the veteran journalist/lawyer to discuss his use of rap quotables, the notoriety he's received for it and much more.
DX: Can you recall the first time you were able to slip a Hip Hop lyric into a broadcast?
Melber: Oh gosh. I don't know that I remember the very first time. I can remember doing it during the 2012 campaign. I remember going on live TV changed as Twitter and other platforms became more prevalent and how people would react in real time. Viewers and also, sometimes, prominent people. So I do remember discussing Erskine Bowles telling Mitt Romney to stop quoting his budget plan, and I likened it to Three 6 Mafia saying, 'Keep my name out your mouth,' as a guest covering [the] 2012 [election]. And I do remember that being an early time where there was some interest afterward.
Is there a favorite line you've been able to get into a broadcast? I know the one that impressed me recently was when you got Kevin Gates’ '2 Phones' on there.
I got “2 Phones” and also Kevin Gates’ 'All my diamonds shine 'cause they really diamonds.' I mean, I don't think of it as playing Bingo and trying to get different people in. One reason I quote JAY-Z more often is that I am a huge JAY-Z fan, so I've probably memorized more of his songs than other artists, so it's as simple as that – just like you're more likely to compare things to basketball than badminton if basketball is your language.
So, I definitely think about that, but sometimes, you'll hear a song, and you know … well, I'll give you an example. The government's power to search has always been a big deal. The Constitution limited it 'cause the founders were worried about that abuse. Many rappers talk about police powers and their potential abuse. There are certain concepts that really, naturally overlap with what I'm reporting. How the Feds get a warrant to search Michael Cohen or Paul Manafort, that just naturally have been explored in music.
Do you feel like the constant legal drama that is surrounding Trump these days has provided you more opportunities to get these references in?
Yeah, because we're living in a world where covering the White House and covering criminal law have a very high overlap. That may not be good for America, but it certainly adds a lot of important and sometimes momentous controversies to cover.
Recently on John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, he did a whole compilation of your rap references. Did you get to see the clip?
I saw it. I saw that. [laughs]
Were you surprised you’ve been so prolific with them to warrant a compilation?
I was totally surprised. I was out and started getting messages about it. So, I heard about it before I saw it. They.definitely busted me for leaning on JAY-Z more than other artists. And they also caught me overusing Kanye's “35th of Nevuary” line. I didn't realize that I'd gone back to the well on that. So having been busted, I've gotta steer clear of that now. [laughs]
It might help you stay sharp on that end. [laughs] I thought another cool moment was when 50 Cent went on Instagram and referenced you with the whole Michael Cohen situation. It was nice to see that gap bridged.
I was blown away that 50 caught my reporting on Morning Joe and made his response. And I don't think that's only because we're in a dialogue about the news. I also think that we're in a period of America being tested. So, it's a line between politics, culture and how people live their daily lives … it’s thinner than ever. And so, it's not a reach that 50 Cent would be talking about what could make Michael Cohen flip any more than everyone else that's interested in that.