Elliott Wilson is one of those passionate journalistic beasts that are determined to make his various hip-hop media projects succeed in corporate America. The editor, also known as YN, spent his earlier years pimping the pen at the College Music Journal (CMJ), The Source and of course, XXL where he held the Editor-In-Chief position for 87 Issues.
Additionally, Wilson co-founded the ego trip publication, which has since turned into a multimedia company that spawned books (ego trip’s Book Of Rap Lists and ego trip’s Book Of Racism), television specials on VH1 (a three episode installment of ego trip’s “Race-O-Rama”) and socially conscious reality competitions (“The (White) Rapper Show” and “Miss Rap Supreme”).
But in January 2008, Wilson, who often wrote brash, yet passionate editorials in XXL, was relieved from his post as the magazine’s Editor-In-Chief. Since then, he has remained relatively quiet within the hip-hop realm (unless he is your friend on Facebook.com, in which he posts notes on a daily basis).
With “Miss Rap Supreme” currently airing on VH1, however, the New Yorker has emerged from his cave and has consistently promoted the latest project from his ego trip company. In the first installment of this Ballerstatus.com exclusive, Wilson shares what he learned in the earlier part of his journalism career, discusses his departure from his Editor-In-Chief post at XXL magazine, and weighs in on his future in journalism.
BallerStatus.com: So early on in your career, you worked at CMJ.
Elliott Wilson: Yeah, I did what they call the beat box column, which is like the hip-hop column. So back then, you’d call radio DJs and get their top ten, and then I had to do a 3,000 word column where I had to pick whatever the hot album of the week was. The rest was up to me to fill out the word count with whatever I wanted to write about. The thing I really learned and appreciated was I learned about deadlines. When you got a weekly column, you have to get the sh** done. There’s no room for excuses. When you freelance and you get a couple weeks to do a story, you try to procrastinate and do bullsh**. But when you got a weekly column, your sh** has to get going. So that really helped out my work ethic a lot and by the time I got to The Source at the end of ’96, I felt like I was more ready for the monthly grind of getting a book out because once you do monthly, it’s a whole different level of sh**. That was a heavy part of my training — the whole CMJ experience. That was like my first real legitimate job, getting a check every other Friday and having to commute to a place. So I spent a lot of time on Long Island … a lot of empty Chinese restaurants, going out to have lunch in the Great Neck area.
BallerStatus.com: Those Chinese restaurants have awesome one dollar ribs.
Elliott Wilson: Yeah. I was tearing it up!
BallerStatus.com: Nice. You went to XXL in ’99, right?
Elliott Wilson: That’s correct. I did The Source from ’96-98 and then, from ’98–99, I worked on the ego trip Book Of Rap Lists, and that came out around the same time I got the XXL gig. So I was at XXL from September ’99 to January of this year. So I had a pretty good run (laughs). You might have heard about a couple of things that happen during my time there.
BallerStatus.com: I remember hearing about the editorials.
Elliott Wilson: Oh, I guess because you wrote for The Source, then (laughs). So I guess you were part of the battle or part of your time was over there? Was it a staff position or just freelancing?
BallerStatus.com: Well I interned with them in the summer of 2004, and then, went back to college. So for that following year, I did some pieces for The Source and XXL.
Elliott Wilson: Oh cool. You was all over the place. You were buttering your bread across the board. But you just sat back and watched all the craziness I guess.
BallerStatus.com: I was a journalistic whore.
Elliott Wilson: (Laughs) It’s like that, man. If you don’t have an editor post and you’re a freelancer, you can sleep with anybody you want. That’s the beauty of it.
BallerStatus.com: Yeah, well I’m still doing the same now.
Elliott Wilson: Oh yeah, well I’ve seen your byline a lot. I see you out there.
BallerStatus.com: Sweet. But yeah, I remember reading your letters from the editor and it’s like you gave the mindset regarding the cover story, but it also seemed like you were insulting publications like The Source, SOHH.com and AllHipHop.com. Was that for business reasons and competing against them, or do you generally dislike those publications?
Elliott Wilson: You know, it was mostly the competition of it. I just felt like when I took over XXL, my mission statement was to beat The Source and it seemed like an impossible task back then because they were so successful. But I kept putting the work in and then, a couple of breaks went my way and it went that way. The whole mindset with the editorials was just to get people a real insight to what I was thinking and feeling at the time, and it was the last thing I would write for the issue. After everything came in, I would get nervous because I hadn’t have my editorial done, and I would be passionate and honest with myself, and really express what I was feeling, try to sell the product I’m about to have come out, explain why this cover is the cover I did, why this issue is gonna be hot, and talk about the things I’m thinking about. If I was in the mood where something that the competition was doing that was pissing me off, I’d express that. If I was in love with a woman and was getting married, I’d express that. So I think it fits the way the world is now with this whole reality driven thing where people kinda wanna see what the behind the scenes is like and I think why my editorial was so successful and connected with people was because you knew where I was coming from or at least knew where I stood. Even if you didn’t like me, you knew I was representing how I genuinely felt at the time.
BallerStatus.com: Obviously, under your watch, XXL grew to become the top-selling hip-hop publication.
Elliott Wilson: Yeah, top selling … the battle is also about being the top-selling music magazine because we are outselling your Rolling Stones, your Blenders and your Spins, so the battle with The Source was about not only being the top-selling hip-hop book, but the top-selling magazine across the board on newsstands.
BallerStatus.com: Right and then, suddenly. Elliott Wilson isn’t with XXL anymore. That has surprised a lot of people.
Elliott Wilson: I like that, though. I like the crowded mystery. You don’t think it’s exciting? (Laughs)
BallerStatus.com: It’s exciting, but nonetheless, it’s like what the f*** happened?
Elliott Wilson: I think the people think I should’ve been there [forever]. I think it got to a point because of what I did and my persona, where people thought they could ever see a day that I wasn’t in that position. But that day has come and I moved on, and they moved on. I have nothing bad to say about them. I have respect for a lot of people who are still there. A lot of my team is still there and doing it, so I would never sh** on them or say anything negative about people I worked with, had an intense relationship with and accomplished great things with. But it’s a business and sometimes, decisions are made and I’m a big boy (laughs), and I can handle it.
BallerStatus.com: Well was the split amicable? Or were you and the Harris Publication big wigs not seeing eye to eye on the direction?
Elliott Wilson: I mean, things are fine. I don’t want to get into details. But I mean, it’s amicable. Everything was good. I was given a great opportunity. They gave me the opportunity to be the Editor-In-Chief, and I think I sure as hell did a great job and gave back to them. It’s like any relationship. It’s unfortunate when it ends, but I think it was ultimately for the best and I think they think the same way. It’s time for us both to move on and like I said, I’m never gonna badmouth them because it was an opportunity that enriched our situations. The crazy thing is I was doing it for so long, I could never really look at it and appreciate what I was able to accomplish because you’re still doing it. People can give you the attributes, the accolades and the props, but to actually still be doing this, it’s not like I beat The Source and then I stopped. I kept doing it. I kept putting the books out and kept trying to keep the product at a really high level. So now, I can look back at it and say, “Hey, this guy did 87 issues.” No one’s done it for this long forever. Can I see myself at 40-years-old doing the same thing? Probably not, so ultimately, it was going to end. I just didn’t know the ending was going to be.
BallerStatus.com: So what’s your status in the journalism world right now? Are you trying or looking to write with other publications, or are you moving on to other venues of the media industry?
Elliott Wilson: Honestly Bear, (laughs) there are many options. There’s no rings on my finger, I can pretty much do whatever I wanna do moving forward. I think I command a certain level of substantial offer at this point of my career and I got to make sure whatever my next move is the right move. I’m not gonna rush into any kind of deal, but I have a lot of offers on the table. I just got to figure out what it is, the revenue streams for the magazines, the Internet or television, or what the best move is for me. Besides the “Miss Rap Supreme Show,” which we’re working on now, I don’t know yet exactly what the next thing is gonna be, but I hope to have something poppin’ soon. This is kind of the longest I’ve been away without being active and documenting the culture, and honestly, I miss it. I miss being in the mix, I miss talking about Young Buck and why 50 Cent needs to let him go, and whatever the f*** I think about. I miss having that outlet being able to express what’s going on in this music and this culture. I think I’m gonna find the next right avenue for me to express that and hopefully, live up to what I’m able to accomplish, and keep my legacy where it needs to be and perform at the top level.
BallerStatus.com: Is there any chance we’ll see the revival of the ego trip Magazine?
Elliott Wilson: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think right now, we get so consumed in whatever the current project is and right now, it’s “Miss Rap Supreme.” We’re gonna give our all into that, episodes are still being tweaked until they get aired on Mondays. That’s our main focus, but once that wraps up, we all have to sit together and decide what our next move is, whether we do another magazine again, books, another TV show, so we have to make that decision as a group.
BallerStatus.com: Fair enough. Any insight into future projects though?
Elliott Wilson: Hopefully this time next year, I’ll be doing something that everybody is talking about. I definitely don’t plan to be away for long, but I don’t pan to rush into a situation unless I feel it’s right because when I do something, I give it 100%. So I’m gonna figure it out first and hopefully, get it up and running, and make an impact on the culture. I wanna stay in this. I wanna compete with the Bear Frazer’s out there, man. You know what I’m saying? I’m out there, man. I’m here with you, Bear. I’m competing with you, buddy!
BallerStatus.com: (Laughs) Seems like you’re a bit more popular than I, my friend.
Elliott Wilson: (Laughs) I appreciate it and I enjoy that exchange. I think I’m really an inspiration to a lot of cats. I’m the OG or the big homey. But at the same time, I’m still relevant today and I have to prove that, and I like that challenge of it. But also, I feel there’s that exchange that I get inspired by the younger generation and they’re inspired by me, and I think that’s what you need to do to stay relevant in this game. That’s my goal — to stay relevant and stay current, because none of that history sh** means nothing if you’re not hot now. So I’m not doing any retirement speech anytime soon.
(Check back for the second installment of Checkin’ In With YN).