“… I have to understand sometimes that people in our audience don’t have exposure to certain people and certain things. So I think it’s important for us to bring that to the show”
Angela Yee is an enigma. In an age when everybody is on social media screaming “LOOK AT ME,” she chooses to make her point, then shies away from the spotlight to focus on her many other projects. I find that commendable. Being elusive is so completely opposite of the social media world that we live in today. But for those of us who understand true celebrity, people like Angela Yee make the greatest impact. The time spent taking selfies while getting drunk at a bar could be much better spent on a board, running or starting other businesses, or inspiring others with non-profit efforts, which is exactly what AngelaYee does. We got a chance to talk to the host who makes up one-third of The Breakfast Club.
KEVIN ROSS: So, I want to talk to you about The Breakfast Club and how the show has evolved over the years. One thing that immediately comes to mind is that I have noticed, as of late, I’m seeing you much more on camera.
ANGELA YEE: You know, I never know where the camera is. I don’t pay that much attention to it, like I can’t tell because, you know, our video channel has cameras just set up in the room and they’re right in front of you. I can’t tell when they switch from camera-to-camera and then I think it’s the angles, too, where the cameraman stands is, like, to the side of me. So that’s what makes it kinda hard sometimes.
I noticed you’re not looking directly at the cameras either so I guess that would make it difficult because generally from your angle, you’re sitting in a totally different position versus Charlamagne or Envy, who could probably see better; that makes sense.
And truthfully, I’ve never been a real wanna-be-on-camera type of person, so I don’t mind not being on camera like that.
What have been some of the most memorable shows both positive and negative?
I would say some of the most memorable ones are, of course, when we have huge artists come on there that I think aren’t easy to get, like a Jay-Z or a 50 Cent, things like that are always memorable to me. Especially because like Jay-Z, I’m from Brooklyn. So having grown up at the era when Jay-Z was getting big and everything, you know, that’s always a big deal when somebody like that is on the show. But even having certain people, like a Tiffany Haddish when people didn’t know her as well, is memorable. She came on the show and “Girls Trip” had just come out and she told her story. I think things like that really resonate with people also because I love when people come on our show and it makes people look at them differently, or people know who they are after that. I think that’s one of the beauties of The Breakfast Club; where it could be an artist or a guest or a personality who people don’t know that well, and they come on the show and people are like “oh, wow, now I really like this person after I heard that interview. I’ma go buy their book, I’ma go watch their movie, I’ma go listen to their music.”
What do you see that is different about yourself now? For example, if I read a blog post that I did even three or four years ago, I’m kind of surprised that I wrote something like that. When you go back and look at some of your old stuff, do you think to yourself, “I’ve really grown from that” or “I would do that again” or “I’ll never do that again”?
I think that the growth that I really see is probably more from when I was on Sirius. When I was on Sirius and I had my own show, it was just way different than it is now. Having a cast of people now, it really is like having to sometimes double-dutch into a conversation, or sometimes it’s not the direction that you anticipate an interview going in, or you don’t even anticipate a topic. There are topics that, you know, for me being on a show with two guys, certain things are important to them, or there are topics that they might look at it a certain way that is different for me. Certain topics that I’m going to address from a woman’s perspective, they’ll never understand no matter how much I explain it or we argue about it off the air. And certain things about them as males, it’s just not as relevant to me.
I think a lot has changed in society. I think with social media that’s had a big impact on things, even as a far as how we report news and regarding how we talk about celebrities. I even think how we talk about women has changed a lot.
When I listen to the show, one thing that I definitely see that I like a lot about The Breakfast Club is how diverse it is. Your show is the only one that is friendly to many different people from various walks of life. I can’t turn on certain syndicated shows and see transgender people or Dr. Umar Johnson or I can’t hear or see Dr. Phil or white industry acts. For the most part, everybody really sticks to what they think will work for that urban audience or what they themselves like. How do you guys pick your guests?
A lot of it is a combination of our own personal relationships. Like when you said transgender women, we had Janet Mock on and that’s because I have a book club. So, I was doing her book for my book club and that’s how she ended up as a guest on the show. I also feel like for myself, personally, when I think about people that I want to have on the show, I also love to educate our audience on things that maybe we aren’t as aware of.
Certain things are happening in society and I want to make sure to bring awareness to them. I’ve always been a very open-minded person. I think a lot of that is because of how I grew up and where I grew up, so I’ve never had certain [negative] feelings, but I have to understand sometimes that people in our audience don’t have exposure to certain people and certain things. So I think it’s important for us to bring that to the show and bring those perspectives to the show. But we all have relationships, so it could be Envy’s out in the club and he runs into somebody and they’re like, “Yo, I wanna come on the show.” I have really had some great guests on the show and I have another guest coming on that I’m excited about because he doesn’t really do any interviews but I’ma wait until it happens to say who it is, because it should be happening on Friday. And by then I’ll be able to confirm it. But things like that are important to me — to get somebody right when something is happening and no one else has it. I love when we are able to break these stories or when people want to come to The Breakfast Club because it is the best way to get their story out there right when something happens.
When things have gone awry on the show if something didn’t work out, what’s the greatest lesson that you’ve learned from that. Like never do that kind of show again? Never have that person on again?
I think that things like that are always bound to happen; it’s never going to always be smooth. For me, I have found the best way to handle those things is to just let people spiral and I’m not going to go down that road with you. That’s just not me. Now Charlamagne is different and Envy’s different. For Envy, he’ll be like sitting there and he’ll be mad and then he’ll wait for you to ask what he’s mad about and then he’ll tell you why he’s mad (laughs). For Charlamagne, he likes the whole back and forth thing. And then for myself, I’m not engaging in that. So if you want to act a fool, I’m not going down that road with you; you can do that on your own and that’s just not what I engage in.
What do you do when you have situations where guests come in and they talk about racism? Sometimes I’ve even heard them mention people in the industry or mention things about the industry that they feel are racist.
You know, I’m never here to tell somebody what their experience is or isn’t because I might have a different experience with somebody than somebody else does. I think there are people that I might not like, but other people do because I might have had a terrible experience with that person. That is all subjective. For example, when we talked about people like Lyor Cohen or people might talk about Eminem. I worked for Eminem, so I’ll never look at him in a negative way because my experience was not that. I had a genuine knowledge. I think sometimes people have personal grudges and issues with people and maybe they have more information than I do about a person, so I’m not here to tell anybody how they should feel.
Like for instance, Lyor Cohen, I don’t know him like that. I look at him as somebody who has been in this business for a really long time from early, early, early on, way before I was. So the fact of the matter is, like certain things that he said in the interview, I think they sounded problematic. Yes, I will say that. Do I feel like he represented himself in the best manner? No. Do I think he’s a terrible person? I don’t think that either.
What was the general consensus after that? I don’t see a lot of record executives on there and I was rather stunned when I did see him. But then I thought, you know what, maybe it’s my chance to get to know him as well. I’ve never met him but I’ve heard things about him over the years. What was the general consensus as far as the response?
I think people had issues with some of the things that he was saying. But I also feel like it doesn’t matter what you say, people are gonna have issues anyway. So you can’t win either way. But I do feel like we talk about issues with artists that have drug problems, right? And we see it over and over again and he’s saying look, if it’s gonna sell, I’m gonna sign you. I’ll talk to you about the issues that I think you have, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not gonna sign you. I feel like probably most executives, black or white, would probably feel that way.
So you’ve been in the industry what about 15 years now?
No, more like 20 years.
What have you seen change for the better in that 20 years?
I think that now it’s more of an even playing field for people. It’s not that you necessarily have to have a huge marketing campaign behind you or a record label behind you. There are so many other ways for people to be creative and express themselves. So the people that I think have the talent, they don’t have to have those financial resources, and they’re able to make a lot more money themselves by being independent, doing endorsement deals and coming up with creative ways to promote the music.
Seeing how Chance The Rapper could do something with Apple Music to put his album out even though he’s still independent, and make all the money that he’s managed to make while not having radio play until he had the “No Problem” song. I think things like that are huge. He’s playing sold-out festivals. It has definitely leveled out the playing field so it’s not only affecting a few people making money, now there are a lot more artists that are able to control what it is that they’re doing.
So what else do you do besides radio?
I own a juice bar. I’m launching a fresh juice business. There are a lot of things that we do outside of the station that’s basically the core of what it is that we do [on the air] . Everybody has their own podcast and those are own our separate entities. [Radio] gives you a nice cushion that helps to jump-start [or complement] whatever else it is that you do or want to do.
I have a saying that radio is not a recliner, it’s a springboard. If you have that radio gig, a lot of people around the country ironically don’t understand that concept. They think, “Well I’ve got a job, I can relax, I can just sit here and let everybody control what happens to me.” They don’t understand the power they have to go out and use that job [leverage] to do something else. Do you keep an eye on other shows around the country?
Not really, to be honest, because I can’t listen to another morning show because ours is on. So when I’m doing that, I don’t even bother. If I’m in another city though, I definitely love to turn the radio on when I’m there, but I don’t go out of my way to do it. But if I’m traveling I’m like, “Okay, if I’m in L.A., let me put on Big Boy.” I have friends that are on the radio, so I might be in Philly and be like, “Let me hear my girl Roxy,” you know what I’m saying? That’s the time when I do that, but other than that, not necessarily.
I’m sure you work an average of about 10 hours a day, more or less…
Yeah, definitely more than that. Today alone, we went to work this morning, did interviews after work. I’m working on a documentary also, so I was working on that for about two hours. Then I went to my juice bar. And now I just came home and am doing this, and I have another business launching soon, so I have a conference call for that in about 45 minutes. Then I have dinner at 7 o’clock, and I voted in between all that.
I’ll tell you what I do, I always make sure that if I’m working non-stop for a few days, I make sure that I have one day that I don’t have anything to do after work. So, if Monday through Friday I’m booked crazy, on, say a Thursday, I might be like, “You know what? Today don’t book anything for me because I need to make sure that I have one day to just have downtime and take care of my own personal business and then get back to it.” And I also plan vacations, but I do it way in advance. So I already know where I’m going in July now.
If you were in Atlanta and you were working on the air and you were only on in that market, what would your perspective be? Would it be the same?
I think it’s important to know what’s going on specifically that affects people in Atlanta. And that means knowing about the local businesses, local events, or anything that you can do to help people out that would mean something to them. I know a lot of times, if it means something to me, it will mean something to other people, as well. So anything that I can find out. I might be like, “Listen, if you don’t know anything about voting, go to this website and this will give you all the information you need to know about the candidates that are running in your area. Just put in your zip code.” I know, for me, that was important information. And when I said that, a whole bunch of people were like, “Can you tell me that information again?” Because I know if it means something to me, it means something to other people too. So, I think it’s important for us to be able to provide information that’s meaningful.
What are some of your suggestions that you have for other broadcasters to have longevity in the industry?
You have a responsibility to build a brand for yourself because it makes your radio show better. I think any job, any employer in radio should certainly understand that. I think one way that you could do that is by being a team player at work and, when I say that, I mean if there are other things that you can do that helps the station and helps you, then you should do that. If you’re like, “I have an idea for something that we could do for just digital because digital is so big right now,” that helps you with exposure.
One thing I learned early on doing radio when I was at Sirius was to get as much airtime as possible. If they’re like, “Hey we need you to come fill-in, we need you to do this.” Get on the air, let people know, get your branding done, come up with segments, do whatever it is you can do to get as much exposure as possible.
That’s something I had to learn and, even at Sirius with no budget, that was me having my intern film me. It might take like three weeks for me to get the video back, but it’s the reason people really knew who I was because of a lot of the things that I would do online. That’s when World Star Hip-Hop just started and so I would send Q – rest in peace to Q – I would send Q stuff from my night-time show because I had Lip Service when I was at Sirius also. I was doing that myself. Sirius wasn’t doing it for me.
So, I think you just have to make sure that the content that you do have, get some of those clips up. They’re not going to pay for a videographer for you. Invest in yourself, find an intern to come up there and do that. Send those clips out. Get those moments and, if you can, offer your services to the station and say, “Hey, we have an event going on, you want me to go cover it?” Or, “Let me go do this,” or “let me host that.” You should do those things.
Have you read Charlamagne’s book?
I read the first one. The second one I have not read yet. He didn’t give me and Envy a copy yet. We were both like, “Can we get a copy of the book?”
Is it possible to have true friends in the industry?
Absolutely. I have some really, really close friends, like Mike Keyser from Atlantic is one of my best friends and he’s in the industry. Just people that I came up in the business with, we’ve been in this business for so long. It’s people that I’ve been working with since we were 20-years-old and we’re still friends to this day.