The music-writing bug hit me pretty early in life, but it didn’t strike me as a viable option (for various reasons) until I was in my mid-teens. Starting with the creation of The Source, young urban culture finally got a voice in the print media mainstream, It was closely followed by Quincy Jones’ magazine venture, Vibe. From the first issue of the magazine I saw (with a striking photo of Treach from Naughty by Nature on the cover), I was hooked. While The Source had hip-hop locked down, Vibe was the first multi-dimensional, multi-cultural publication for Generation X. A big part of Vibe’s success in the early days of the magazine was due to Scott Poulson-Bryant. Scott had already made a name for himself as a journalist prior to Vibe‘s existence, composing pieces for the likes of the Village Voice and Spin, but he managed to become an integral part of the Vibe movement, serving as an editor, writing many of the magazine’s most interesting articles, and even coming up with the publication’s name.
Scott’s pen has kept flowing since those Vibe days. He’s written for Rolling Stone, Essence, Ebony and The New York Times, covering all manner of popular culture. He’s interviewed Michael and Janet Jackson, as well as Prince, Eminem, Will Smith, Lenny Kravitz and a multitude of other superstars. He’s published two books (including “Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America”…a book EVERYONE should read), and will be releasing his first novel, “The VIPs” next summer. He co-hosted VH-1’s “Four on the Floor” and he’s appeared frequently on the network’s various “I Love the…” series. Currently working on his American Studies PhD at Harvard, Scott obviously still maintains quite the busy schedule.
Scott’s one of the four or five music journalists I was inspired by as a young writer (with the others being Reginald Dennis, Alan Light, Robert Christgau and Nelson George), and I got extra inspiration from him because he was a multi-dimensional black man in a society that tends to marginalize every brotha that doesn’t fall into some safe stereotype. If you’d told me back in my younger days that Scott would someday agree to be interviewed for my blog, I probably would’ve slapped you. Then I would have asked you what the hell a blog was.
At any rate, I am very proud to kick my “A Moment With” series off with Scott. Over the course of 10 rapid-fire questions, Scott discusses everything from homophobia in hip-hop to Prince’s soft hands to his infamous hatred for a certain cuddly toy from the Eighties. Ladies and gentlemen, with no further ado: the man, the legend- Scott Poulson-Bryant.
As an 80s/90s guy, what would you say was the best year for music and why?
Wow. That is hard to answer as so much of my favorite music spans from the 40s to the present day. That said, someone did say that you tend to always love (and remained biased towards) the music you love from 16 to 20. And I’d probably say, if forced, that as much as I love 90s hiphop/r&b—in particular 1994, which gave us TLC’s CrazySexyCool, Boyz II Men’s second CD, Nas’ Illmatic, Seal’s sophomore record, Mary J. Blige’s My Life, and Ready to Die…AND some other classics like Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, Hole’s Live Through This, Green Day’s Dookie, Blur’s ParkLife—I’m a real sucker for the 80s, when everyone from Pat Benatar to Journey to SOS Band to Shalamar were making glorious pop music. Also I’m a real “college rock” guy—that’s my generation—so R.E.M.’s 80s work is special to me, as is all the great alt AND pop stuff coming out of England like The Smiths, The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, Duran Duran, New Order and U2: ALL are among my favorites…and thus, “the best”…
Are you willing to go on record about who your least favorite interview subject was? If not, can you at least provide a couple of details about what made the interview unpleasurable? Who is your all-time favorite interview subject?
My least favorite interview experience was, by far, a sitcom star at the height of his TV fame and just about to go big in movies, yet, as far as I’m concerned, also at the depth of some kind of misery, cause he treated me like crap, and all I wanted to do was get my cover story done and in. He made me wait six days in LA while he decided to show up for the interview and photo shoot. We ended up photo-shopping into his own VIBE cover. If you think hard enough you’ll figure out who it is. Here’s a hint: It was 1995 and if you recall correctly, virtually ALL the sitcom stars of the time were once stand-up comedians. You do the math.
My all-time favorite is harder to pinpoint: Will Smith was incredibly fun and gracious; Prince was necessarily mysterious and coy, but smart and fun to talk to; Dennis Rodman kept me around for a week instead of the originally-allotted 3 hrs and told me things he hadn’t told any other interviewer; Regina Belle treated me like family and fed me very well; Puffy launched my career to another level and never let me forget that I’d done the same for him…or so he says every time we run into each other lol…
As an openly bisexual journalist in the music industry, how did/do you deal with a lot of the homophobia in hip-hop?
Ice Cube told me he’d never talked to any gay or bisexual people. I laughed and kept on with the interview. I never stressed my sexuality when I was a journalist for a few reasons: my life is my life and no one can say or do anything to make me think less of myself; I knew a bunch of industry peeps (artists and otherwise) who were closeted and thus “performing” a lot of their own homophobia, which was just funny to me; and finally, when I saw it I called it out like I saw it. The most homophobic experience was when I wrote a very sexy profile of LL Cool J (ed note: I remember this very clearly), and there were people who told me to my face that hiphop shouldn’t be covered like that because it was straight music for straight people. To which I could only laugh, and keep on stepping…
What was the reaction of black men to your book “Hung” vs. the reaction of white men?
If I had to base it on my email and letters, HUNG’s many readers were mainly in this order: white gay men, black women, black gay men, black straight men, white women, and white straight men. Pretty much all the feedback I got from people was positive. It spanned the gamut from people who loved big dicks to guys who had little dicks. I think the book succeeded because I was honest about my intentions and clear about the importance of the subject to so many people. Most brothas who wrote to me appreciated my candor. Many white men and white women who emailed me wrote to tell me either of their love of big black cock or their guilt over desiring it. Whatever the responses, I was just glad to hear that peeps bought the book or read it!
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “majority ethnic perception” as it relates to a lot of situations and issues in popular culture. Do you feel that opinions on things like police brutality and hip-hop culture or public figures like Barack Obama, Michael Jackson, Elvis, Chris Brown are largely split between the two races?
It’s very hard to say, because pop culture affects so many people in so many different ways. And it’s hard to differentiate between public discourse and what people actually really feel about some issues. Perhaps the best way to gauge it is to look at some of the “comments” sections of blogs and websites… I see some of the most raced and racial responses to things there.
What’s the most difficult part of writing a novel?
Switichng my brain to stay in fiction mode. I love to do research—which probably explains why I’m in a PhD program now! And doing research for non-fiction purposes is sort of a different animal in some ways. That said, what I love about writing fiction is the ability it gives you to just be creative as all hell. Novelist Lawrence Block calls writing novels “telling lies for fun and profit,” which is another way of saying that the joy that comes from being able to sit and think of characters and plot, none of which is meant to be “true” yet still has to be credible, can be a great and galvanizing experience. When it’s going well, that is! The VIPs in stores, July 2011!!! Tell ya friends!
What was more meaningful for you: working for/at a magazine with a pronounced focus on urban culture (“Vibe”/”Giant”) or writing for a more mainstream-based publication like “Spin”.
They both had meaning. Reportedly I was the first African American Staff writer at a major music magazine when SPIN hired me in 1991. I had no idea what I was doing, writing a monthly hiphop column and doing cover stories, but I knew it was the place for me cause I loved rap as much as I loved Massive Attack or Happy Mondays or Morrissey. And I knew I had something to say relevant to all of them. That said, VIBE was an amazing experience cause we were the first of our kind, an urban culture hiphop magazine funded by a major publishing house and intended for whoever wanted to enjoy it. As a black man, hiphop provided a real outlet to talk about the issues that affected me personally, but also I felt like I was part of the creation of a new way of looking at African American artists and the culture they made.
Why *are* black barber shops always next to Chinese takeout joints?
Hahaha…Cause brothas gotta eat. And because they’re two of the most necessary businesses in the hood.
Does Prince really smell like lavender?
I don’t remember but I do remember his hands were as soft as his voice. To see him shred a guitar like he does I expected him to have crazy rough hands.
What’s the real deal with you and Teddy Ruxpin?
He scares the holy shite outta me. Those eyes! That mouth! Ugh! And now, because I told that story on VH1 a few years ago and they re-run “I Love the 80s” like it’s going outta style, I have been stopped every where from Boston subways to Berkeley street corners and asked, “Are you that guy who’s scared of Teddy Ruxpin?”