Photos: Myles Aronowitz/Netflix, FOX/Getty Images, CBS All Access

How a Few Great Hip-Hop Journalists Won in Hollywood

Some of the genre’s best and brightest come together to talk about why they made the transition from rap magazines to TV and movies—and how

Aliya S. King
Published in
14 min readFeb 9, 2021

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Update 6/7/22: Level has a new home. You can read this article and other new articles by visiting LEVELMAN.com.

It’s easy enough to pinpoint the birth of hip-hop: August 11, 1973, when Kool Herc threw that pivotal back-to-school party for his sister at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx. Doing the same for dedicated hip-hop journalism, though, proves tougher. What we do know is that college student David Mays started The Source as a one-pager at Harvard University in 1988. By 1993, Time Inc. had launched Vibe; XXL would follow in 1997. While other titles like Rap Pages, Rap Sheet, Ozone, Murder Dog, and more would surface over the years, that Vibe/Source/XXL triumvirate would own newsstands throughout the late ’90s and early 2000s.

Around that time, the star writers at these magazines began to get itchy. They’d written cover stories and pivotal features about hip-hop’s biggest names, from Biggie and Pac to Nas and Eminem. What was next? Los Angeles began to beckon; the film and television industry offered more creative freedom, more money, and less drama.

It took some time, but over the past decade, a tight group of hip-hop journalists from that era has racked up credits in film and television both scripted and reality-based, from network series like Empire to acclaimed documentaries like Nas: Time Is Illmatic. Their work includes Oscar nominees and festival darlings, big-budget revivals and Marvel streamers, with more titles on the horizon. Recently, LEVEL brought some of them together for a conversation, in which they pull back the veil on how Hollywood really works. Sometimes it’s all about who you know, among other things—but when you’re doing it alongside folks you were in the trenches with in another life, that’s not so bad.

Aliya S. King: Let’s talk about getting started and the real deal on getting put on. This question is for you, Erik Parker. Every time I ask you for advice about making the move from journalism to entertainment, you tell me to just go do it. I say, “I want to do a documentary…

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Aliya S. King
LEVEL
Writer for

Aliya S. King is an author, freelance writer and editor.