Back in the 90s I would sit in my bedroom listening to music, flipping through magazines, and imaging what my life would be like when I grew up. Back then I’d picture myself living in New York City, mingling with artists and musicians and writing for the top music rags.
In my bedroom I’d fantasize about seeing my name in Vibe, the Source, or Spin like Bonz Malone, Toure’, and dream hampton. They were my favorites and I studied their every move. So when I recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of the writers who influenced me—a woman whose words I’ve studied as if they were required text—I was more than just geeked, I was honored.
dream hampton never intended to be a writer. Although she says she became a journalist by “happenstance,” words are one of her greatest gifts. Equal parts around-the-way-home-girl, ardent activist, and creative spirit, dream has been described as “your favorite rapper’s favorite writer,” and with a best seller (Jay-Z’s Decoded) under her belt, you know it’s just not hype.
Last month I had the opportunity to sit down with dream and talk about her famous friendships, how it feels to be a woman in a male-dominated business, her new film, The Black August Hip-Hop Project, and what inspires her.
Oh, and like her friend Biggie, she’s got a story to tell.
Clutch: I read that your dad named you “dream” after the Martin Luther King Jr. speech, so he was obviously inspired. What are some of the speeches that inspire you today?
dream hampton: Speeches in particular, two come to mind. One is “Ballot or the Bullet”—which I’ve memorized—by Malcolm X.
Another speech that moved me—I don’t have recorded, but in my mind I can remember it almost word for word—was by Angela Davis. One of my best friends from high school went to Spelman, she was a year older than me, and I went to go visit her campus one day and Angela Davis was speaking. She was speaking about “The Myth of Teenage Pregnancies.” She was talking about the fact that fourteen-year-old human females have had children since the dawn of time. It was one of the ways that I got to see feminist theory, principle, and analysis kind of applied to something current and meaningful to me.
I think I had been interested in feminist theory at that point, but I had no idea about how to practically apply it to anything. So that speech totally changed my life, and at the time, I was beginning a life-long love affair with hip-hop. She kind of gave me permission to use what little feminist theory or even inclinations—like my naturally feminist self—[to express] what I was feeling.
Clutch: Piggybacking off of the Angela Davis speech, there was an ad in New York City about the most dangerous place for a Black kid is in the womb, why do you think 1) abortion is under attack, especially since we seem to be becoming more progressive, and 2) Black women and abortion? Why is the media making a bigger deal [about it]?
dream hampton: Well, I think we’re a vulnerable community in general. We’re a vulnerable demographic—black women. That’s not the truth of who we are, but we are often under attack. Whether it’s Sister Soldier and the friggin’ Bill Clinton campaign…Just like when it comes to crime, like how you can have random white women in a state or city in this country say a Black man did it, and for a couple of hours the story will float.
Clutch: Or days…
dream hampton: Or decades.
And when it comes to family and the corrosion of America’s ideas of family ideals, then the black woman has always been the first group to get thrown under the bus. We’re the welfare mothers, we’re the ones who let our children to go to school with guns and create havoc and chaos, we’re the head of households that are failing miserably, so in that way we’re just vulnerable.
The other thing is that Black people, in general, tend to be incredibly conservative. And people talk about how the Democratic Party takes Black vote for granted; I would argue that increasing conservative groups are understanding that we can be pimped out as a community. The Black Christian community can be pimped out as they were in the George Bush elections with Bishop Eddie Long standing up there endorsing Bush. These incredibly conservative policies are right in line with most Black Christian, kind of, mores.
Now the problem with having these kinds of positions is that it is often in conflict with what you’re actually doing. Like most Christians are not practicing the teachings of Christ.
I have an uncle who’s a pastor and he preaches and he stripped all the women in the church of leadership [positions] after his mother, my grandmother, taught him everything he knows about the Bible. She’s an incredible theologian and Bible scholar. [She] put him through theology school. In fact, [he] stripped all the women in the church of any responsibility because of some obtuse verse about men not being able to learn from women and he has a real hardcore far right kind of conservative line on family. But guess what? My cousins—his sons—don’t talk to him.
Clutch: So how’s that working?
dream hampton: Exactly! The hypocrisy, when you start taking these morally authoritative positions, just kind of collapse. And today I tweeted, of course, that men can enter the abortion debate by wearing condoms every single time. They have a lot of power in that way, that’s not even me being an asshole.
Clutch: But that’s really interesting, because most of that conversation about how to prevent—especially for Black people—the out of wedlock birth rate, it always falls…
dream hampton: On us! Yeah! Look at how much power men have. Female condoms aren’t [readily] available. Humans happen to be sexual beings, that’s how we continue the race—the human race–so five year olds are humping each other. And that happens because we happen to be sexual beings. So stop talking about fucking chastity and all that bull shit. That’s not how humans survived as a species.
But, you know, the white man went and invented this awesome thing made of polyurethane, it’s called a condom. It cost about the same as a bag of weed.
Clutch: For more than just one…
dream hampton: And you can not have any conversation with any chicks about mutha fuckin’ abortion for your whole life.
[And] In terms of calling Black women’s wombs unsafe—fuck you. I’m not about to get into some conversation about that.
Clutch: As a woman in hip-hop, I know for me, just kind of growing up in the culture…people kind of look at you and are like, “Oh you like rap music?” How have you managed to be so ingrained in the culture and still remain on the “good girls” list?
dream hampton: Well, that’s not true. I’ve been gossiped about, are you kidding? And there’s some people who, if you mention me, they’ll say that I’ve slept with every rapper that I’ve interviewed.
dream hampton: Yeah, that’s a part of it, you know? And they won’t just say that about me, they’ll say that about Raquel Cepeda, they’ll say that about Margeaux Watson…
Clutch: So why do you think that is?
dream hampton: Well, I think that they’re standard. It’s just like calling Black men gay—that’s how you attack their masculinity. And the way to attack femininity is to call us promiscuous. So that’s very standard. Again, fuck you. I’m not about to sit here and make a list of the people I’ve slept with, do you know what I mean?
Writing, in particular, is its own self-defense. It’s not like acting or singing. I can’t sleep with Irv Gotti and you put some effects on my vocals, or get me a really good producer and get a hit out of me. I can’t be sleeping with Spike Lee and end up in one of his films and you edit a decent performance out of me.
Writing is done in solitude, and it’s consumed in solitude. So…if I just had a threesome with Lil Bow Wow and Romeo and whomever…I still have to get up and write. I have to walk my naked ass over to the computer and write. And Bow Wow and Romeo can’t help me with that. So you can’t fake it.
But I’ve definitely kept distance. Not distance in that I didn’t have relationships with these people. I certainly practice a kind of immersion journalism. I mean these were my neighbors. Biggie was my neighbor. [Jay-Z] is an actual friend, like he’s someone I talk to about shit that has to do with my daughter. When I’m about to make major decisions about my daughter, I freakin’ talk to Jay-Z about it. So, he’s actually a friend, you know what I mean?
But…I need access to people and one of the ways you lose access to heterosexual men is to sleep with them. So that was always a weird kind of theory about women journalist just, like, sleeping with dudes for access.
Clutch: How did you become a journalist?
dream hampton: Just…by happenstance. I’m a filmmaker and I was in film school and I had a job that was apart of my financial aid. And there was a posting for an intern for a photo editor at The Source, so I took the job. And later Dee Barnes got beat up by Dr. Dre, so I wrote an editorial. So, that was my first kind of writing.
Clutch: What has been your favorite article so far?
dream hampton: I really like the piece I did on Jay for Vibe called “The Life,” ‘cuz it was about—like Decoded—it was about more than Jay, it was about a generation of hustlers.
What else did I like? I liked the Snoop piece that I did in ’93. I like my Octavia Butler piece. I wrote a piece about passion and that was a good piece for me at Essence. I don’t know, I’m always writing. I don’t even keep up with all the stuff that I’ve published, you know?
Clutch: I know that you worked on Decoded and you’re working on the Q-Tip book, can you tell me a little bit about that one?
dream hampton: Well I can’t ‘cuz it’s in flux. I’ve been dealing with some health stuff and I’ve missed all the deadlines on the Q-tip book. So hopefully, I’m still working on the Q-tip book. Hopefully they didn’t replace me.
Clutch: They shouldn’t.
dream hampton: But it could happen. And Tip is my friend and he understands I’ve been going through some real shit. I didn’t want to tell him at first because even tweeting about having health issues was weird for me. I almost wanted to erase it right away. I just did a little single line tweet that said I’ve been dealing with this health issue and one day when I’m ready I’m going to write about it. And then the next thing I know Sandra Rose had a blog like, “DREAM HAMPTON, JAY-Z’S GHOSTWRITER, HAS CANCER!” Like in all caps, and I’m like, “What the fuck?”
So, I can’t imagine being a real celebrity. That’s why I always say that being a celebrity is corny, because your utterances are magnified…your mistakes and everything. And not that being sick is a mistake, but I just made a mistake by saying it out loud.
Clutch: What do you think of all that? You mentioned Sandra Rose and how she blew up the one line tweet. What do you think about the emergence of all of the gossip sites?
dream hampton: It’s basically our supermarket check-out lines basically dominating what we consider to be news and entertainment.
Clutch: Do you think it’s helped or hurt?
dream hampton: Oh, hurts…completely! I mean some artists and stars and celebrities may feel they’re getting more exposure. Someone like Gabby Union, we wouldn’t have necessarily known about her. But because of scandal—not necessarily on her work alone—she wouldn’t be a household name in Black households if it weren’t for some of the scandal. So some of them may genuinely like it. I don’t read it…and I honestly don’t read it, you know what I mean? I use the internet to shop. And now that I’m addicted to Twitter, I use it to tweet.
Check out part two of my interview with dream hampton next week!