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Concerts Rap and Hip Hop

Putting Pen to Paper: An Interview with Hip-Hop Journalist William E. Ketchum III

October 25, 2019 by Vivid Seats


William E. Ketchum III knows a thing or two about hip-hop. The New York City-based writer has seen it all, from Big Sean’s earliest moments to victory laps from rappers like Jay-Z and Nas. Now, as the Deputy Editor for esteemed music magazine VIBE, he’s added dozens of artist interviews and album reviews to his resume, watching both the genre and his career evolve in the process. As the industry around him continues to change, Ketchum sat down with Vivid Seats to discuss his story, his favorite projects of the year, and his advice to young journalists.

Vivid Seats: How long have you been writing?

William E. Ketchum III: I've technically been writing since I was a kid. My father is an English professor at a college in my hometown, so all of my papers in English class in grade school had to be pristine. I continued writing in high school: I wrote for my high school paper, and I attended a second school after lunch where I was focused on language arts. So by the time I got to college at Michigan State, I already had done a fair amount of writing.

VS: Take us through your career path.

WEKIII: After writing in high school, I went to Michigan State and began freelancing. I eventually built enough of a byline where I was interviewing artists like 50 Cent, Nelly, and Talib Kweli between classes. I kept writing through college and landed bylines at VIBE, XXL, ELEMENTAL, SCRATCH, and other places I had a job with a company called Global Grind as I was approaching graduation, but I ended up losing that position. I later worked odd jobs around Michigan – everything from telemarketing, to retail, to nonprofit work – before landing a job at Flint Journal | MLive, a media company in Flint, Michigan, as an entertainment writer. I worked there for four years before the company reformatted. At that point, my brother and my best friend were both living in NYC, and they encouraged me to move there. I took them up on the offer, and bought a ticket for a few weeks out so I wouldn't take extra time and psyche myself out. I packed a bag and moved, lived with my brother for four months. I had so many relationships from my freelancing that I was able to build a life for myself out here. From there, I kept moving forward: I worked Okayplayer as a weekend editor, then became an editor at Revolt TV, and now I'm at VIBE as deputy editor.

VS: As the Deputy Editor at VIBE, you directly impact hip-hop culture. What have your proudest moments been?

WEKIII: I've had several proud moments here. I wrote my first cover story for VIBE, an interview with Swizz Beatz surrounding his album Poison and his art projects. I was able to interview Lupe Fiasco, one of my favorite rappers of all time, about his investment in a company that creates hydropanels and what he believes the goals of "conscious" music should be. I spoke to nearly a dozen artists for an oral history behind Dreamville's Revenge of the Dreamers III, and I spoke to Lil Kim and Lil Cease the date that they reunited after a rift that had lasted years. I also edited a powerful piece by Kiana Fitzgerald that looks at the connection between Kanye West's bipolarism and his interest in Christianity, and a piece by a queer black poet about the impact Odd Future's music had on his life.

VS: What were your favorite projects of 2019?

WEKIII: Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Bandana; Little Brother, May The Lord Watch; Raphael Saadiq, Jimmy Lee; Wale, Wow...That's Crazy; Danny Brown, uknowwhatimsayin¿; Skyzoo and Pete Rock, Retropolitan; Jahshua Smith, They Don't Love You Like That; IDK, Is He Real?; Rapsody, Eve; Kemba, Gilda.

VS: What was the favorite live show you saw this year?

WEKIII: Robert Glasper has a residency at Blue Note jazz club, and I saw him perform with Yasiin Bey. Glasper's band added even more dimension to Yasiin's music, and Yasiin is such a heartfelt performer. He told everyone in the crowd to put their phones away, and the audience seemed to oblige. And later that night, he brought out Black Thought and Bilal as surprise guests. Just a phenomenal show.

VS: What are you most looking forward to in music in 2020?

WEKIII: I'm looking forward to learning more about the international landscape in music, because that's something I haven't been as well-versed in as I'd like to be. I'm also looking forward to seeing R&B continue to grow as it has been. I'm also hoping to hear new albums from Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, and Drake.

VS: As journalism continues to change shape, what advice do you have for those pursuing the profession today?

WEKIII: Don't be afraid to be adept at multiple mediums: writing, video, audio, podcasts, etc. We're in an era where people are consuming in different ways and we need to adjust to that. Don't be afraid to challenge the audience, but don't intentionally go over their heads either. Also, focus on having your own perspective, but don't focus so much on your own experience that it's just your experience; you want to cover the industry, not write a personal blog or a journal entry. Too many writers these days are just writing diary entries and thinking that's journalism, but that's not the way the game works. Finally, find a specialty area – whether it's rap from a certain region, R&B of a certain type, music about social justice, etc. – that you're even more of an expert in than other areas. That way you'll have a signature genre/topic that people can associate you as an expert in.


Want to see more? Check out our recent interview with Fake Shore Drive's Andrew Barber.

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