If it was up to DJ Semtex, his new book Hip Hop Raised Me would be longer than 498 pages. The U.K. DJ’s adoration for the culture dates back to his early childhood, when Public Enemy’s 1988 sophomore album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back captured his soul. From then on, Semtex (real name John Fairbanks) was enthralled by the audaciousness of hip-hop: MCs were bold with their rhymes, DJs dictated the mood of their audience by just spinning a record. Because of that, Semtex sought out to be a hip-hop DJ in the U.K.
In 2001, Semtex joined BBC Radio 1Xtra, a digital radio station dedicated to black music. In hopes of bolstering the U.K.’s credibility on the hip-hop front, he gathered up his contacts and landed interviews with many notable rappers, including Jay Z, Kanye West, Eminem Nas, The Roots and more. He has since been with the station for 15 years.
Billboard recently set down with DJ Semtex to discuss his new book Hip Hop Raised Me, his fondest memories of hip-hop, his favorite interview of all-time and more:
Why do you think rappers in the U.K. have difficulty breaking into the U.S. in comparison to some of its pop artists, like a Sam Smith or an Adele?
“I think there’s a couple of elements to it. It’s like selling ice to Eskimos. [The U.S.] is the home of hip hop. I always say to people — even in a country where there’s like 260 million people, there’s seven million rappers. Let’s say, part of that seven million, there’s a couple of thousand in cycle, whether it’s online or booking shows. When you look at that and break it down further, there’s only five that mean anything. That’s Drake, Jay Z, Kanye, Chance The Rapper, and Future. With the kids right now, those are the big names. So, the top five of all-time is Jay Z, Nas, Eminem, Tupac, and Biggie. Now, you have Cole, Kendrick [Lamar], Drake, Chance [The Rapper], Joey [Bada$$] — that’s pretty much my top five.”
You mention Drake and he’s had an incredible run since the beginning of his career. How long do you think he can sustain his reign for in hip hop?
“I think he has 20 years. On top of what he’s got now, he has another 20 years, because he’s consistent with everything that he does. When you look at the history of who’s done this and who’s got to this point, again, it’s only Nas, Jay Z, and Eminem. They’re the only ones that stayed consistent. They’re the only ones that were the best of their class. Every year, they were at it. Every year, there was a concert. Every year, there was a familiarity of what you wanted, and they moved with the times.”
Below is one of the pages from the book where legendary Mobb Deep talks about Eminem:
You can watch the trailer of the book below:
You can buy the book on AMAZON here. Below is the cover of the book: