"Go Harder!" DJ Semtex On His New Podcast
DJ Semtex has been there almost from the beginning. A continual advocate for hip-hop culture and rap music in all its forms, he’s built his own platform, one based on impeccable knowledge and the utmost respect for artists.
His 1Xtra shows were the stuff of legend, while his current stint on Capital Xtra has brought some notable firsts. A DJ and broadcaster capable of joining the dots between New York and London, Chicago and Lagos, DJ Semtex remains at the forefront by continually challenging himself, while retaining his thirst for new music.
The broadcaster’s latest venture, however, could be his most in-depth yet. New podcast Hip-Hop Raised Me – the title mirrors his lauded book – launches this month, opening with an open, frank, and lengthy chat with Public Enemy leader, political provocateur, and rap iconoclast Chuck D. The episode simultaneously takes Semtex back to his roots - “His music literally changed my life… it woke me up!” - while launching something very new.
“I’ve always been interested in working with artists, celebrating the culture, documenting the culture, and just being able to get that insight on how they do what they do,” the host tells Clash. “I think with the podcast it’s like the director’s cut. You can go way more in depth that what you can do on radio.”
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“If you talk to an artist, it’s difficult to cover the wide spectrum,” he says of his day job. “With radio, you’ve got to keep it moving. It’s very fast-paced, it’s about the vibe, it’s about the energy. For me, it’s more about the depth and gaining an insight that you’ve never going to get anywhere else.”
“An artist can go on a promo run, they do the rounds, and some interviews you’ll see they’re saying the same thing – you get the same marketing plan and everything else. I don’t want that! I’m looking for the detail… I’m looking for how they started rapping, exactly what makes this a defining moment in their career.”
“I think because so much happens in the world on a daily basis the stories are always changing so you can interview an artist several times and get a totally different story each time… and that’s what I’m interested in. That’s what draws me to the podcast. Because you aren’t getting that any other way!”
An ongoing series, prep work on the new podcast began during the depths of the second lockdown in 2020. With clubs shut, festivals closed, and venues left in the doledrums, DJ Semtex knew he had to find a way to connect with his audience, and also to shake himself up a bit. “I think it does affect you,” he says. “I don’t even think I’d registered myself how much of an impact it’s made on me... just being forced to not go anywhere. It’s really, really affected me. In terms of talking about obstacles, that’s one that we’ve definitely overcome and I think it’s only going to make me more focussed and determined to deliver the best episodes moving forward.”
He adds: “I think the challenge is to make the best content possible and get the best conversation possible.”
At heart, DJ Semtex remains a hip-hop fan – he wants to meet his heroes, and find out how they tick. As a British voice in this conversation, he believes this sense of remove allows him to fulfill that role – he’ll only ever be a fan.
“The difference is perspective,” he insists. “I think that with America, they’ve got a different perspective because they’re closer to the culture – there’s things that they won’t ask, and there’s things that they do ask. It’s a different perspective.”
“I’m not trying to get into a race, though. I’ve never done that. I’ve never done that through DJing, I’ve never done that through radio… I’ve just done what I like doing. So, I think in terms of what am I doing differently? Me. This is the perspective of a hip-hop fan from the UK whose grown up on it all his life, rather than someone whose based in America who has been a part of it and knows all the in-jokes. That’s not to take away from anything that anybody does over there, but I’m just doing me!”
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2021 opens with another lockdown, and another set of challenges to be faced. For musicians, this feeling must be particularly acute – venues remain closed, and streaming presents a landscape riddled with inequality. For DJ Semtex, though, stepping back isn’t an option. “You can’t give up, you can’t get gutted or upset,” he insists. “You’ve just got to keep figuring out how to cut through.”
“It’s a fight for survival,” he continues. “It’s not about staying relevant, it’s not about getting your name out there, it is literally, how do you exist right now? And I think that applies to everybody, we’ve all got that challenge regardless of what field we’re in. Looking at it from a hip-hop perspective – artists and DJs - it is the survival of the most creative and we’ve got to look at doing new things. But what I will say is that out of these challenging times something new and exciting is going to emerge from it.”
Music remains a key point of inspiration in his life. During our conversation, DJ Semtex litters his answers with references to artists, from those who changed his life – the afore-mentioned Chuck D, and icons like Drake or Skepta – alongside new artists from around the globe. Nigeria is a key hub for him right now, Semtex explains: “There's more rappers and there's more artists coming through and the flows are just crazy…. I don't even know what to say, but for me it's just exciting. I really do need to do a crash course in Yoruba!”
For him, the coming year is laden with opportunity – it’s just about finding how to locate it. “I want to focus on the music, I want to do more mixes,” he insists. “And I want to continue making my radio show a great experience. I want to focus on the podcast and get that to a position to make up for everything that has happened with this pandemic.”
“Basically,” he says, “I just want to go harder and aim to do what hasn’t been done.”
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Subscribe to Hip-Hop Raised Me HERE.
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