Who has the most power in hip-hop media?
Editorial creative director for complex Aria Hughes recently published an article via complex official website reflecting the power or influence rankings of hip hop media personalities. Hughes starts the article by discussing the evolution of hip hop media coverage, identifying the two distinct groups that covered hip hop culture, the journalists who wrote for publications and the personalities who spoke on radio and television.
However in the modern days of the music industry the lines have blurred between being a personality and a journalist. Hughes uses this fact to firstly bring to light the current state of media in hip hop because frankly some personalities who may be well loved due to tv or radio fame. However Hughes makes it clear that influence alone does not constitute power in media, it is the ability to turn your passion and skills in hip hop and content into a multimillion dollar empire.
Obviously we wouldn't rank these hard working professionals with such a vague description and neither did Hughes as she give a deep dive breakdown of exactly which factors went into ranking these media creatives. Hughes along with complex staff (assuming) used a scoring method based on five categories: commentary and banter, star power of guests, consistency, viral moments and the integrity of content. Now lets get into the rankings.
From rappers to radio hosts to YouTubers to Twitch streamers and everyone in between, here is COMPLEX'S inaugural power ranking of hip-hop media personalities...
Jazzy collects high-profile interviews like infinity stones. So far, the 12-year-old prodigy has linked up with Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Nicki Minaj—and something tells us it’s only a matter of time before she gets Drake on the record. Her interview style relies heavily on generic questions like, “What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?” or “Who are some artists that inspire you?” But how much more can we ask from a pre-teen? Besides, the news cycle is already heavy and dark enough. Jazzy may not be the source you go to for big reveals, but she is filling a growing demand for lighthearted and fun content in the hip-hop media space.
23. Sway Calloway
Featured on: Sway in the Morning on Sirius XM Known for: Lighthearted hip-hop interviews, lyrical-miracle freestyle sessions, his signature head wrap Followers: 1M IG; 554K Twitter Most memorable moments: Kanye interview, Sway freestyle segment (Five Fingers of Death)
As one-half of ’80s Bay Area duo Sway & King Tech, Sway was one of the first hip-hop artists (turned celebrity host). Some might remember him from his days as a co-host on KMEL’s nationally syndicated radio show The Wake Up Show, or when he later joined MTV as a correspondent in the early 2000s. For the last 10 years Sway has hosted a weekday morning show on Eminem’s Shade 45 channel on SiriusXM, where “How Sway?” instantly became a GOAT hip-hop quotable. Sway even pops up in an episode of The Boondocks, voicing an animated version of himself in “The Story Of Gangstalicious.” Sway’s steady voice has been such a staple in hip-hop coverage for so long that it’s become like comfort food for fans of a certain vintage. He may not be as prominent as he once was, but he’s still an active media personality with immeasurable contributions to the game.
Featured on: No Jumper Followers: 3M IG; 4.6M YouTube Known for: Putting young rappers on early, creating controversy on- and off-air Most memorable moments: XXXtentacion, King Von, Blueface and Chrisean
Adam Grandmaison went from an unknown BMX blogger to one of the most influential figures of the SoundCloud rap era, but his journey has been marked by scandal. From a content perspective, Adam22 has undoubtedly been instrumental in breaking some of the most infamous hip-hop acts of this generation, from XXXtentacion to Tekashi 6ix9ine, well before mainstream media was tuned in. However, the lion’s share of Adam22’s content is more about being problematic than promising. No Jumper isn’t picky, and Adam22 has always been eager to put a microphone in front of any aspiring rapper with a modicum of IG clout. This ambulance-chasing mentality has built Adam22’s empire and created plenty of viral moments, but also feels like a cynical exercise in feeding the lowest common denominator. That stench is exacerbated when you consider Adam22’s long list of misconduct allegations, questionable comments, and most recently, his very public falling out with several No Jumper hosts. With his recent heel turn toward edgelord commentary (as in the long “debate” show with neo-Nazi Richard Spencer) and aspiring porn stardom (no links here, buddy), Adam22 and No Jumper’s relevance in hip-hop media may be in permanent decline.
18. Big Boy
Big Boy’s name has been synonymous with West Coast hip-hop for over 25 years, having started at L.A.’s Power 106 in 1997. (Check Vince Staples’ ‘FM!’ album for proof.) The veteran interviewer toes the line between funny and serious, and leans more conversational than confrontational. His loose, easygoing demeanor disarms his guests and puts them at ease, but his general style is very radio-centric—heavy on lighthearted banter and silly games—which means it hasn’t necessarily evolved with the times. Hip-hop media and coverage has historically been East Coast-centric, usually viewing everything through a New York lens. But Big Boy has long been the loudest voice representing the West Coast and garnering respect and attention from all artists, regardless of where they’re from.
15. Funkmaster Flex
Featured on: Hot 97 radio show Known for: Bombastic rap commentary and even louder sound effects Followers: 3M IG; 800K Twitter Most memorable moments: Black Thought Freestyle, Jim Jones interview, “Otis” premiere
Funkmaster Flex is not an artist, but his iconic voice is worth millions. The veteran Hot 97 hip-hop radio host/DJ is an indelible media presence because of his adlibs, late-night rants, and ability to book legendary artists to spit freestyles for his show. Flex became a host on Hot 97 during the radio station’s inception in 1992, and to this day his bomb-drop sound effect is a measure of a song’s heat (hello, “Otis”), so much so that rappers reference it in their verses. Flex’s occasional late-night radio diatribes also continue to move the needle and become must-listen content just to hear who or what got him so tight. With his legacy already cemented, Flex is now like a cool uncle who pals around with the O.G.s but can still relate to the younger generation (witness his unforgettable session with Tyler, the Creator). Just beware the wrath when unc gets cranky.
14. Angela Yee
Featured on: The Breakfast Club (formerly), Angela Yee’s Lip Service, Way Up With Angela Yee Known for: Being a prolific host who is also a great team player Followers: 1.7M IG; 865.9K Twitter Most memorable moments: Lip Service with King Von, Interview on The Breakfast Club with Birdman, Lip Service interview with Nick Cannon
Angela Yee was reporting hip-hop gossip and news long before her high-profile role as one of the three co-hosts on The Breakfast Club, where she was known for dishing out her Rumor Report and keeping Charlamagne and DJ Envy grounded. The East Flatbush native got her feet wet in 2005 as a co-host for The Cipha Sounds Effect show on Sirius XM’s Shade 45; since then, Yee has kept viewers engaged on both her syndicated radio show and her sex-talk podcast Lip Service. Recently embarking on the next chapter of her career, Yee officially ended her 12-year stint on The Breakfast Club to launch her solo radio show, Way Up With Angela Yee. The show debuted in February 2023 with Ray J as one of her guest hosts. Yee’s staying power is no fluke—she has superlative broadcast instincts, knowing how to pull compelling material out of her guests and when to let moments breathe.
Featured on: Ebro in the Morning, The Ebro Show, Rap Life Radio, Rap Life Review, The Message Known for: Being unafraid to share dissenting opinions or calling out artists if necessary Followers: 796K IG; 297.7K Twitter Most memorable moments: Kodak Black’s 2018 interview, 2018 beef with 6ix9ine
Ebro Darden has been in the media business behind the scenes since 1990, but most people recognize him for being the grumpy voice of reason for over a decade on Hot 97’s Ebro in the Morning. In 2015, Ebro gained more power when he was named the global editorial head of hip-hop and R&B for Apple Music, meaning he now holds decision-making roles at both a huge radio platform and a huge streamer—influence indeed. Ebro’s interviews tend to focus on music and the business side of the industry, and critics might say that he lords his gatekeeper status over artists and audiences alike. But every now and then, he’ll create a viral buzz, like when he called out Kodak Black about his rape allegations or caused stirs on Twitter for standing his ground with an unpopular opinion.
11. Jason Lee
Featured on: Hollywood Unlocked With Jason Lee, The Jason Lee Show Known for: Humorous and direct commentary on pop culture, insider info, and fun interviews with A-list celebrities Followers: 3.3M IG (Hollywood Unlocked); 82.3K Twitter Most memorable moments: Kanye West’s 2022 interview, first image of Rihanna and ASAP Rocky’s baby, Kelis interview
At the heart of many viral moments is media personality Jason Lee, who parlayed Love & Hip-Hop fame into a burgeoning media business. At first, he merely documented the biggest news in music and pop culture on his blog Hollywood Unlocked. But in the last three years, he’s helped create explosive moments. In 2022, Lee nabbed an exclusive interview with Kanye West, in which the controversial rapper discussed his relationship with ex-wife Kim Kardashian and his kids. (Lee would go on to briefly work for Ye as his “head of media and partnerships.”) As the host of The Jason Lee Show on Revolt TV, he has already booked huge interviews with Cardi B and Offset, Blueface and Chrisean Rock, and Blac Chyna. While Lee has demonstrated a strong booking power, his content often dips into the messy side of the business. And he doesn’t always get things right (remember when HU prematurely reported that the Queen was dead?). Nevertheless, Lee is an entertaining personality who captures a very real shift in the rap media landscape in which viewers rather learn about artists’ personal lives over their music. Lee offers light-hearted, entertaining conversations with high-profile celebs, but also doesn’t shy away from being direct, honest, and harsh about them.
9. DJ Vlad
Featured on: VladTV Followers: 946K IG; 5.4M YouTube Known for: Controversial guests and outlandish soundbites Most memorable moments: Conversations with Boosie going off the rails, 21 Savage “Issa Knife”; Soulja Boy details his home invasion
There are those who think DJ Vlad is a culture vulture and that his show is a mouse trap for rappers to incriminate themselves on camera. There are artists, most notably Rick Ross, who flat out don’t like him, which has led to at least one public encounter that allegedly went way left. But what can’t be denied is that VladTV is one of the most recognizable platforms in hip-hop media. While Vlad might not get the A-list talent and star power that some of his contemporaries do, he still manages to go viral due to his ability to extract information out of his guests. He created viral moments with 21 Savage and No Plug by getting them to discuss the death of the late Bankroll Fresh. Both DaBaby and Soulja Boy memorably went on VladTV to detail their respective home invasions. If you are active on rap social media, chances are that there is a VladTV clip on your timeline at least once a week. His style of interviewing—with a camera trained on the subject and the questions coming off-camera—and relentless volume of interview clips has been imitated by newer rap outlets like Say Cheese and Art of Dialogue. If you can’t beat him, guess you might have to join him.
Yung Miami is a relatively new media personality, but her impact is already undeniable. The formula for her show Caresha Please is simple but bulletproof: invite a celebrity (usually a rapper or influencer) with a lot of baggage and grill them for answers to all of the questions you aren’t really supposed to ask, but you know everyone is wondering. On her inaugural episode with Diddy, she asked about the status of their relationship. With G Herbo, she questioned him about cheating allegations in his past relationship with Ari Fletcher. Sure, her show is built on salaciousness and gossip, but it’s her prowess for interrogating in a charming and sexy way that makes it so irresistible.
6. Kai Cenat
Featured on: KaiCenat on Twitch Known for: High-energy content and ridiculous skits Followers: 3.5M YouTube; 4.8M Twitch Most memorable moments: Kai FaceTimes Drake, Kai & Lil Baby, Kai & G Herbo pregnancy simulator
Twitch is the breeding ground for the next generation of influencers and cultural tastemakers, and Kai Cenat is the platform’s young king. The 21-year-old streamer started his career on YouTube, making his first video in 2018 and originally focusing on pranks, reactions, and challenge videos. Cenat reached new heights once he started streaming on Twitch in 2021. Thanks to his energetic personality, endearing sense of humor, and the ability to engage with his guests and audience, Cenat quickly climbed the ranks of Twitch and now sits as the most-subscribed streamer on the platform. Cenat has become a fixture in rap media because, quite simply, rappers enjoy hanging out with him. Some of his most viral moments came alongside the high-profile guests he’s been able to land on his streams—from playing NBA2K with 21 Savage (and making a bet with Drake mid-game) to having G Herbo try out a pregnancy simulator, Cenat lets rappers engage with him in a different way than they would with more traditional media. Cenat’s ascension is a reflection of where the rap media landscape might be headed in the next few years.
Featured on: Drink Champs Known for: Drinking, smoking, and laughing with hip-hop legends Followers: 1.5M IG; 558K Twitter Most memorable moments: Kanye West’s problematic interview; Irv Gotti speaks on Ashanti, ASAP Rocky
N.O.R.E. first grabbed our attention as a chart-topping MC in 1998; since pivoting to a creator and personality in 2017, his show Drink Champs (with co-host DJ EFN) has become the premier interview platform for hip-hop legends like Kanye West and 50 Cent to spill some tea (while, as the name of the show implies, sipping on their alcohol of choice). Having a rich and extensive history with the host allows many of N.O.R.E.’s guests to get comfortable—sometimes too comfortable, as was the case with Kanye. After facing backlash for airing Ye’s comments about Jewish people and George Floyd, N.O.R.E. took Ye’s Drink Champs interview down; it was a moment that illuminated how unfiltered (and inebriated) candor can sometimes go too far. N.O.R.E., as he will often say, is not a professional journalist or interviewer—his tendency to interrupt and talk over guests can get annoying, and he’ll often abandon moments that beg for a follow-up or pushback. Still, there’s rarely a sense he’s prying with malicious intent, and segments like his rapid-fire “QuickTime With Slime” gives his guests space to get spicy without seeming mean-spirited. When a big episode of Drink Champs drops, it’s always appointment viewing.
4. Gillie and Wallo
There aren’t many personalities in hip-hop who offer the blend of comedic value and introspection that Gillie and Wallo do. With their Million Dollaz Worth of Game podcast, which launched in April 2019, the duo alternate between the roles of comedians, interviewers, and elder statesmen delivering wisdom—all in the same episode. Past interviews with King Von, Young Thug, and Pooh Shiesty feel even more relevant today due to the unfortunate events that followed (King Von was murdered in 2020, while Pooh Shiesty and Young Thug are currently incarcerated). In all of these interviews, Gillie and Wallo provide life lessons and wisdom to their guests without coming off as preachy. Gillie can relate to artists because of his past as a rapper, while Wallo acts as a voice of reason, using his 20 years spent in prison to offer life guidance. This balance allows them to connect with guests and make them comfortable, which oftentimes leads to must-see interview moments (and memorable musical intros). The rapid ascension of Million Dollaz Worth of Game over the past four years has been in large part due to the way the duo seems to genuinely care about the subjects they interview. Their relatable style of conversation and commentary is what has made them an important platform in today’s hip-hop media landscape.
3. Charlamagne Tha God
Featured on: The Breakfast Club, Hell of A Week with Charlamagne tha God, Brilliant Idiots Known for: Sensational commentary, asking rude questions, and his “Donkey of the Day” segment Followers: 5.32M YouTube (TBC); 2.1M Twitter Most memorable moments: Soulja Boy, Mo’Nique, Travis Scott’s post-Astroworld interview
Since 2010, The Breakfast Club has helped ordinary people make it through the humdrum of the work week, and the syndicated morning show’s success can mostly be attributed to one host: Charlamagne Tha God. For the bulk of its run, Charlamagne shared hosting duties with DJ Envy and the recently departed Angela Yee, but Charlamagne immediately established himself as the show’s boundary-pushing wildcard. Throughout his tenure, he’s been the puppetmaster of countless viral moments. Would the Birdman interview be as explosive if Charlamagne wasn’t in the room? And he never minces words in his infamous “Donkey of the Day” segment, where he unleashes incendiary comments about public figures (previous title holders include Joe Biden and Kanye West). We would be remiss not to acknowledge that sometimes Charlamagne gets it wrong. His sometimes inappropriate commentary toward guests (particularly women) has gotten him in trouble. However, since becoming a mental health advocate, Charlamagne has slightly toned down his rhetoric without losing his bite or influence. You can always count on him to avoid the usual softball questions in interviews and to push the envelope in pursuit of compelling content—now on both Comedy Central and BET.
2. DJ Akademiks
Featured on: Off the Record With DJ Akademiks Known for: Timely rap news, Twitch rants, controversy, and beefs Followers: 5.2M IG; 2.8M YouTube Most memorable moments: Clubhouse debates with NBA YoungBoy and 21 Savage, late-night Henny-fueled Twitch sessions
If you’re even vaguely interested in rap and spend any amount of time on Instagram, Twitter, Twitch, or YouTube these days, you’ll see DJ Akademiks’ name or face at least a few times a day, whether you like it or not. He’s an extremely polarizing figure who has an army of skeptics (many of whom bring up valid points of concern about the ethics behind his content and person). Still, he’s relentless, and his high-volume strategy reaches a massive audience. With dozens of new posts a day, his Instagram and Twitter feeds have become a go-to source for rap news, and his marathon Twitch streams (often going for over four hours at a time) are viewed by legions of die-hard followers. He has an innate ability to talk (and rant) about rap for hours in a row without letting up, and each stream invariably produces a handful of viral moments, whether an A-list rapper calls in without notice or he falls asleep during a late-night Drake album listening session. Naturally, he’s cashed in on the buzz with some major deals. Off the Record with DJ Akademiks, his exclusive show with Spotify, routinely tops the podcast charts, attracting guests like 21 Savage, NBA YoungBoy, and Rod Wave. Whether he’s breaking insider industry information on a late-night stream, inserting himself into a rap beef, or posting about breaking news before anyone else, he’s omnipresent. There are legitimate concerns to be had about the real-world consequences of his more sensationalistic content, including his coverage of the violence in Chicago’s rap scene and the Tory Lanez trial. On a list assessing the power and influence of hip-hop media personalities right now, however, Akademiks is undeniably near the top. For better or for worse—he is one of the most relevant (and controversial) voices in hip-hop media right now.
1. Joe Budden
Featured on: The Joe Budden Podcast
Known for: Pioneering the ex-rapper-to-pundit career path; being the most abrasive commentator in hip-hop
Most memorable moments:The standoff with Migos at the 2017 BET Awards
So for starters we want to say we only referenced this list to firstly highlight the achievements of the creatives mentioned. Secondly, to acknowledge the writer for their insights on the subject and exceptional ability. Lastly, we'd like to share a few points about these rankings and congratulate a few exceptional creatives included in the list.
As controversial as DJ Akademiks has been and with all the allegations against him, he probably shouldn't be considered the 2nd most powerful media personality, especially over veteran media personalities like Ebro #13, DJ Funk Master Flex #15 and Sway #23. Another interesting thing to point out is both Caresha #7 and Kai Cenat #6 rank higher than Angela Yee #14 and Jason Lee #11 which poses the question did star power play a bigger role in the ranking than integrity of content and consistency in the industry? As both Jason Lee and the radio personalities mentioned have been consistent players in the music industry for over 10 years and have provided quality content hiphop content.
In our opinion Akademiks #2, Vlad #9 should be ranked lower on the list trading places with Angela Yee #14 and Jason Lee #1. Also, Flex #15 should have made at least made the top 10 considering 20 plus years in the music industry, influential platform and quality of overall presence. When considering the five categories: commentary and banter, star power of guests, consistency, viral moments and the integrity of content, Jason Lee, Angela Yee and Funk Master Flex have the full package and we'd like to congratulate them on their feature in the list. Both Jason Lee and Angela Yee have new shows, and Funk Flex has a new position at Hot 97. Congratulations to Jason Lee on starting the "Jason Lee Show", to Angela Yee on launching "Way Up w/ Anglea Yee", to Funk Flex on becoming the new creative program director at Hot 97 and a special congratulations to Charlamagne and DJ Envy on their syndication to BET.