His name is Toure –just Toure –and like many of the musicians, athletes and celebrities he’ s profiled, he has affected the way we think about culture in America. He has profiled Eminem, 50 Cent and Alicia Keys for the cover of “Rolling Stone,” He’ s played high-stakes poker with Jay-Z and basketball with Prince and Wynton Marsalis. In Toure’s world, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. sits beside Condoleezza Rice who sits beside hip-hop pioneer Tupac Shakur, and all of them are fascinating company. “Never Drank the Kool-Aid” is the chronicle of Toure’s unparalleled journey through the American funhouse called pop culture. Its rooms are filled with creative, arrogant, kind, ordinary and extraordinary people, most of whom happen to be famous. It is Toure’s gift to be able to see through the artifice of their world and understand the genuine motivations behind their achievements–to see who they truly are as people. This is a searingly funny, surprisingly unguarded and deeply insightful look at a world few of us comprehend. Clutch was able to catch up with this legendary journalist/writer to find out more about his new reality show, his gig on BET and his upcoming projects.
Q: You started your career as an intern at Rolling Stone. Did you ever think you would be as successful and accomplished as you are today? Or did you always know this was your path and you were going to excel to the top?
Without sounding too arrogant, I did think even as an intern that I had the skills to become a successful Rolling Stone writer. I just had to find a way into being a writer, I had to find the door in. I can now see that I needed to learn a lot, but I always had the confidence that I had the skills, and what I didn’t have I could learn quickly. And I spent a lot of time reading old Rolling Stone stories and analyzing what made them good so I could figure out how to be good.
Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
I left college after my junior year in hopes of becoming a writer. Somewhere in my college years the dream began. I’m not sure where.
Q: Your most recent book Never Drank the Kool-Aid” is a collection of interviews/essays from your career as a Journalist. What’s the story behind the title of the book?
In the late 70s a crazy religious figure named Jim Jones led his followers to a plantation in Guyana, and then one day he told them all to drink a certain liquid. It wasn’t Kool-Aid but in the popular lingo, the Jim Jones story fused into the saying drinking the Kool-Aid to mean being a blind follower. So what I’m saying with the title is that I never drank the Kool-Aid that the stars I was interviewing were offering, I never thought wow, this person’s just great, and I’m going to write the story they want me to write. I always went into every story with an open mind and a challenging mind, asking tough questions and not accepting them as they want to be accepted.
Q: Who is your favorite writer/author of all time? Do you have a favorite book? If so, what is it?
It’s hard to pick one favorite author (I love Ellison, Didion, Rushdie, Amis, Roth…) but I think Nabokov is unbelievable. I’ve learned a tremendous amount reading him. Lolita is probably the greatest American novel of the last century.
Q: Lately, hip-hop and black culture are used simultaneously. How do you feel about hip-hop becoming the current representative of our image and culture worldwide?
Hip-hop has long been the lingua franca of my generation, and it’s only right because it truly represents this generation, for better and for worse. I think it’s a mistake to think hip-hop and black culture are synonymous, they’re not, there are many places where they don’t overlap at all. Black culture is perhaps more diverse now than it ever has been, and hip-hop is very racially diverse and it’s also international repped in Japan, Europe, South America, Africa, all over the world. Hip-hop comes from black culture and black culture often seems dominated by hip-hop, but by no means are they one and the same. There are many points of overlap but many points of disconnect.
Q: Recently you and Jeff Johnson (Cousin Jeff) hosted BET’s heated debate “Hip-Hop vs. America.” While most hip-hop artist don’t accurately portray the actual image and realities of Black America and do little in helping us kill stereotypes and generalization that are placed on us, do you think hip-hop has become a scapegoat for the problems and issues in our community?
Yes, I think the elder generation has become increasingly afraid of the impact hip-hop is having on the world which is funny because hip-hop is as tame as ever. But they’ve been scared of hip-hop consistently for the last 20 years or more. Every generation has to have music that scares their parents, but this is insane. I was actually very disappointed in the older generation for turning the Imus controversy into a referendum on hip-hop, which really allowed the racists to slip away. Why not a referendum on shock jocks or noose-placers? There’s been a preponderance of nooses this year all over the country, that’s much more dangerous than the preponderance of the words bitch and ho. What was lost in the Imus stampede was that nappy-headed ho was really the least of his comments. What he immediately went on to reference was Spike Lee’s School Daze and the scene where the wanna-bes faced off against the jiggaboos. He was calling those girls jiggaboos. That’s not a word that you hear often in hip-hop or anywhere in black culture; that’s one of those deep curses that you never hear thrown around because it’s too heavy. That’s where he took it and the massive pile-onto hiphop lost sight of the real enemy. But to the older generation hip-hop is the real enemy as was disco before us and rock n roll before that and jazz before that. But none of those musical cultures ruined their generation and hip-hop isn’t ruining ours. For God’s sake, heavy metal didn’t come under as great an attack after Columbine where many people died because older white people aren’t afraid of heavy metal.
Q: What do you love about being a Black man?
Everything. The power, the bravado, the force, the style. It’s a proud thing to be most of the time.
Q: What’s one thing every black man should do before they die?
Go to Africa and see the beauty there, the culture there, the poverty there, the history there. That’s where we’re from and if you don’t have some relationship with Africa, then you’re missing a part of yourself.
Q: What’s currently in rotation in your iPod? (Assuming you have one :))
Of course I have an iPod—never leave home without it. Top of the rotation right now is Jay-Z’s American Gangster, one of his best albums ever. There’s also MIA’s Kala, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, and Kanye’s Graduation.
Q: Right now we can see you on BET’s “Black Carpet.” How did your relationship with BET come about?
After I was fired from CNN, BET called. They thought I was someone who’d be a good fit for them, and I think they were right.
Q: Tell us about your upcoming show “I’ll Try Anything Once”?
It’s very exciting and very stressful for me. I go out and do crazy things, exploring people’s passions. In the first episode I participated in a real demolition derby in Indiana, the heart of derby country. In other episodes I’ll be a rodeo clown, I’ll be a wide receiver on a women’s semi-pro football team, I’ll be doing movie stuntman training, all kinds of things. I’m usually risking injury or embarrassment, but I dive in headfirst. It’ll be a lot of fun to watch, a lot more fun than it was to make. People compare it to a more intellectual version of Jackass, but it’s not about just doing crazy things just to do them. We’re exploring why people love to do the peculiar things they do. It’ll be on Treasure HD which you can get if you have the Dish or Cablevision iO.
Q: Do you have any other upcoming projects in the works?
I’m working on a novel about the second son of God, a little black boy named Judas Jackson who has all the powers of Jesus but isn’t really interested in helping people, he just wants to make money. And also on a book of essays about hip-hop culture.
Q: On an off day we can find Toure….
…playing with my new baby, Hendrix. He was born November 14th, so he’s still a little baby and there’s lots of little things to do to take care of him, but just holding him when he’s sleeping is awesome. I also love reading, going to museums or the movies and doing Bikram yoga.
To learn more about TourÃ© please log-on to www.toure.com