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Angie Martinez is the Talk of the Town

Last Updated: August 11, 2023
The legendary radio personality is a core part of hip-hop history. She sat down with Boardroom to discuss the roots of her love of hip-hop, her journey in the industry, and what’s next for the genre and herself.

Through the 50 years of hip-hop, there are some names that have become synonymous with the genre. Angie Martinez is one of those people.

Tapped as “The Voice of New York,” Martinez found herself in the halls of HOT 97 as hip-hop beats took hold of the nation. Her one-of-a-kind interview style has made space for a generation of artists to tell their stories and narrate the history of hip-hop. She even had her moment on the mic, releasing two albums in the late ’90s and recording an iconic feature on “Ladies Night,” which earned two Grammy noms.

Cumulatively, her work has solidified her spot in the hip-hop history books — and, as of next year, her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For Martinez, though, it’s always been more than just the music itself.

Now, as the radio industry evolves, Martinez finds herself harnessing her role as a storyteller to build her IRL brand. Beginning with her podcast, in which she sits down with the likes of Mary J. Blige, Usher, and Kelly Rowland, Martinez wants to create more opportunities for people to learn from and connect with some of the industry’s biggest stars.

The iconic voice of New York radio sat down with Boardroom’s D’Shonda Brown to discuss her love of hip-hop, her journey through the industry, and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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D’Shonda Brown: Tell me when your love for hip-hop first started.

Angie Martinez: It’s hard to say. There are different points, right?

There’s like points where sonically [you find yourself] just like being like, ‘wow!’ Like, being a little kid and hearing Sugar Hill Gang and things like that and just chronically connecting to it.

Then, getting older in young teenage years … “The Message” by Grand Master Flash and Furious Five just captured my attention in a different way. Later on, you know, artists like Rakim just made me understand just how deep it could go. It went from like kind of cool, I like this music to [becoming] a voice for a lot of people and so that’s when I started to resonate with it deeply.

Martinez and Rakim during HOT 97 Summer Jam in 2006. (Shareif Ziyadat / FilmMagic)

DB: Who would you say are some of your favorite New York-bred rappers?

AM: This is too hard to say. Too many New York rappers.

I can give you a laundry list, but I came up at a time when Nas, Jay-Z, Wu-Tang, but there’s been so many dope ones over the years, and some that don’t get mentioned as much as others. Like Grand Puba, who I always thought was super dope and didn’t get enough credit. Mobb Deep is one of my favorite rap groups of all time. There are so many New York legends, it’s really hard to just pick one honestly.

But Rakim is, you know, Rakim is definitely rotate to my top five all the time.

DB:  How did your journey in radio start?

AM: I was 18. I got an internship at HOT 97. I did everything that anybody ever that asked me to from every angle. And I kind of worked my way up and never left. [Editor’s note: Martinez left HOT 97 for Power 105.1 in 2014.]

I was in the right place and at the right time when they were creating this first full-time, full-steam hip-hop radio station. I knew the culture. I was in love with the music. I happened to be there while they were doing that.

I was able to be at the grassroots of creating this first full-time commercial hip-hop radio station in New York. I take credit for being a part of that. It wasn’t just me, obviously, it was [Funkmaster] Flex and a whole bunch of other people that made it happen. But just being there from the beginning and helping to create that space and that brand and I don’t know, something I’m really proud of.

DB: How did your title of “The Voice of New York” come about and how do you feel about having such a powerful title?

AM: The Voice in New York was something that was in a promo. Then, Ja Rule had a song called “New York” and he made a version for me on the air called “The Voice of New York.” And it just stuck after that. Every artist that came, they would do a drop for me or they just called me that. It just stuck.

Then listeners started calling me that. I never really called myself that [laughs], but it is kind of like an honorary name that people gave me.

You know what means a lot to me? People would tell me that they would leave town and then they would fly back to New York and they’d hear me on the radio, and they told me that they felt like they were home.

DB: How have you seen women continue to be the heartbeat of hip-hop?

AM: I think we had our moments where we probably were underrepresented, but [women have] always been there. From the beginning, they’ve always been there, whether it be in front of the scenes or behind the scenes.

Now, they’re thriving and I love to see it ’cause there was a point where you could count ’em on a ha one hand, you know? So the fact that we’re in numbers so strong right now is so dope to see. But, we always were part of telling the story. From executives to A&Rs to marketing people, journalists, I think we were always part of telling the story and being part of the story.

I think it’s just like anything else in the world. It’s not a complete story unless women are included in the narrative or the big picture.

Angie Martinez, Mary J. Blige, and Usher (Johnny Nunez / WireImage)

DB: Why is it important to listen to women in the music industry when they speak about their adversities?

AM: I don’t think it’s important to listen to women in the music industry. I think it’s important to listen to women in general. Our stories are important. The story of the world is only halfway told without us.

We’re people’s mothers. We’re people’s sisters. We’re people’s wives. You should want to know what makes us move and you should want to know our opinions. Because a lot of us are really smart and really capable of doing incredible things and have done incredible things.

I think anybody who has great women in their life knows that.

DB:  So how have you used your platform to allow artists and public figures that you interviewed to feel safe with you?

AM: It boils down to what’s your intention. I always had a genuine love for the culture, a genuine love for helping people to tell their stories. At a time when there was no social media, so artists couldn’t just jump on Instagram and tell you what they wanted about themselves. It was a time when people didn’t know much about their favorite hip-hop artists when I started. I was able to kind of create a space where people trusted me. It’s just about having integrity and, you know, and, and treating people with respect and having good intentions. And knowing your stuff.

I think after the years of that, you know, you build equity and you build trust in people and, you know, I’m super grateful for that.

DB: What do you want the next 50 years of hip-hop to look like?

AM: What we’ve been able to accomplish and the amount of people whose lives we saved and who we’ve lifted up, even just financially, in the business of it. The amount of money that people have made and that’s been fed into our communities from it.

But I think also we are still learning — we started as babies. I think we’ve made a lot of mistakes. We had mistakes in some of our views. We had mistakes in how we handled conflict. I think we’re growing.

It’s nice to have different generations within the culture now. Before it was only a young culture. Now we actually have a seasoned culture with people of different age groups, and I think that makes us stronger and smarter. And I’m excited to see what this next era will be like.

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DB: What does Angie Martinez’s next era look like and what can we expect from you?

AM: I’ve been kind of immersed in like, creating my own content at this point. Like, you know, I just launched the Angie Martinez IRL podcast. I’m doing these IRL live experiences. We just did one celebrating Mary [J. Blige]’s new show on BET. I have a couple of things in the work I can’t really announce yet.

Creating content with my IRL brand and my production company. I’m a storyteller at the end of the day, right? So it’s just evolving that vertical of my business a little bit more and helping to tell other people’s stories.

What sparked me wanting to create a platform to have these types of realer, deeper real-life conversations. I really didn’t know that people would open up in the way they have. That has really been a beautiful surprise and a blessing.

I mean, you hope it right? You hope it, you create something, but when you sit in the chair with people, you don’t know what’s going to come of it. I only want to talk to people who really have real-life lessons, ideas, ideologies, and experiences that they’re willing to share because that’s how we all learn is through sharing the things we’ve been through.

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