DJ Akademiks speaks on why he decided to enter the podcasting world, his friendship with 6ix9ine, BET and MTV being "out of touch," and much more in our exclusive new interview.
DJ Akademiks is etched into hip-hop culture, whether you love him or hate him. He's one of the most tuned-in, well-connected, and diligent hip-hop content forces on the internet, keeping millions of people updated on the latest trends, music releases, and much more on his popular Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch networks. He's known as a go-to source for news on your favorite rappers, and whenever he goes live on Twitch, you know that it will be an entertaining watch. Now, he's pivoting into the world of podcasting, and it's already proven to be a tremendous success.
Following the first few teasers, DJ Akademiks has officially launched his Off The Record podcast this week, and he's aiming to be the most popular podcaster in the world. "I only aim to be number one at anything," says Ak about his goals with the podcast. Thankfully for him, it didn't take a long time for Off The Record to be ranked at the top of the podcast charts, becoming the #1 music podcast on Spotify for a month, solely off the strength of his pre-launch episodes with 6ix9ine and Wack 100.
As Akademiks continues to have a strong grasp of hip-hop and pop culture, we spoke with the 30-year-old about his latest business endeavors, the new podcast, his friendship with 6ix9ine, and what he wants his legacy to be when it's all said and done.
Read the unabridged editorial copy of HNHH's new interview with DJ Akademiks below, and be sure to check out the premiere episode of Off The Record, where Ak speaks about Kanye West's DONDA and Drake's Certified Lover Boy, the Karen Civil drama, Gabby Petito's disappearance, and more.
Earl Gibson III/Getty Images
HNHH: What made you want to pivot into the podcasting world?
DJ Akademiks: I started as an Internet creator. Mainly because I felt the time and the tide was changing. The younger generation didn't really care much about radio and it felt like it was moving digitally. I was about to get into podcasting about seven years ago in 2014. However, I just thought that the attention span of most of the younger audience at that time was really small, like they wouldn't listen or consume things over ten minutes. Even now, even though TikTok exists and it's kind of the same for some people. But a lot of those people, they became straight all digital. They didn't watch cable anymore. They didn't listen to radio anymore. They will go to, for example, YouTube to watch their new favorite videos. They would go to Netflix to watch their favorite series. They would go to Spotify to listen to music or to listen to their favorite creators deliver podcasts. I felt this year and I've been watching my own audience always kind of figuring out what they wanted. This was the year that I felt they're ready for longer-form content. They watched me stream for hours, and that was a test of mine for years. Hey, you guys watch me do short videos on YouTube - will you watch all the content? The answer is a resounding yes.
What sort of topics will you be diving into?
I’ve got to be honest with this one. Off the Record is a show that is going to be housed by music interests. So essentially it's kind of like the barbershop in a way. You know, everybody in a barbershop might have a few rappers and that's always a conversation that happens in a barbershop. But a barbershop is not only where people are going to debate music. People talk about their girl. People talk about what's going on in their life, work, sports. People talk about a little bit of politics. And again, it's going to be all of that. You know, I want to keep it comedic. I want to keep it lighthearted. But also, we're not opposed to dealing with certain serious social issues. We might not be experts at sports and other things, but it's life. You know, me and my friends, we talk about music a lot, but we talk about relationships, we talk about the hardships to find the job, the pandemic, all these things. So you should expect everything to be talked about. A lot of it will be tied back to music.
In the preview for Off The Record, we hear portions of your interviews with 6ix9ine, French Montana, Wack 100, and others. Who else can we expect to hear you speak with on the show?
Well, first of all, I'm going to employ a few of my friends that I've met along the way to help me out a bit. You know, they might pop off for an episode or two and it could be like A Boogie, 21 Savage. Those two dudes have been really great to me, but a bunch of other dudes, too. But I also want to highlight the fact that Off the Record is not about flashy headlines. It's about real conversations, we're not here to interrogate anyone. So I do think it's going to be a place where we’ll have a lot of rare interviews with artists who normally don’t speak publicly. I have a rapport with a lot of these artists so I think they’ll feel a lot more comfortable talking to me than some of these traditional shows. You’ll see a bunch of different people on Off the Record, celebrities, artists, and regular people.
In addition to artist interviews, you also have two roundtable discussions dropping each week. Who are some of the people you’ll be bringing to your world, and what do they bring to the show?
Now, this is important to me. I've always thought about my platform as, 'this is the fans' voice,' not the industry voice, not the friend of the artist's voice, not the friend of the friend of the industry, not the wannabe industry guy voice. This is the fans' voice. I remember back in 2012 when I was as detached from the industry as you could be, I didn't know one rapper in the world. And when I was consuming music and I was listening to whoever I liked, whoever I was cool on, or maybe somebody who I was skeptical of, I was able to give an honest response to my friends. And if that can't be done, I don't want to be a part of it, and that's how I've gotten away with, kind of, breaking into the industry without really being in the industry. It’s giving the fans a voice. So on roundtable interviews, I might have a well-respected journalist like Elliott Wilson. [I might] have my homie from college living in the hood who has a different perspective. It shouldn't be about the names. And I'll bring the name, but let's have an honest unfiltered conversation.
Many of the teasers have either been with 6ix9ine, or they’ve discussed his many controversies over the years. What’s his involvement in the podcast, and will he be appearing on many episodes?
69 is a friend of mine. 69 is very supportive of any endeavor and ventures I do. Now, I try to challenge him, but you know, with the culture these days, people try to take away platforms of people who they don't agree with.
Off the pilot episode alone, Off The Record became the #1 music podcast for a month in the US. Are you surprised that Off The Record has been such an instant success?
I'm definitely not that surprised. I’ll tell you why. I have a great audience that is super engaging and from early on, I made sure I figured out how much of my audience were platform-specific versus brand-specific. And platform-specific meant, hey, you're providing content on the platform we like - we're going to stay here. And then some people are saying, hey, we like the brand of Akademiks and they would go to Twitch, they would go to Instagram, Twitter, and they'll definitely go to Spotify. So I wasn't that surprised that we were having success on Spotify.
I wasn't that surprised that we became number one for a month. OK, by the way, I only aim to be number one at anything.
Charlamagne Tha God recently said that he thinks you should have won the BET Hip-Hop Award for Best Hip-Hop Platform, but you shockingly weren’t nominated. How do you feel about being snubbed at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, and who do you think should win the award if it’s not you?
Charlamagne is a mentor of mine and someone who I think has matured so much in his career. Egoless opinions like that where, you know, his show is nominated as well, but he didn't take that time to say, ‘hey, pick us’ because he showed grace and he showed fairness to even mention my name. I thank him for that.
"I think the reason why they didn't nominate me is probably one of the reasons why they're in the current state they're in. Like, if you look at just BET, MTV, and companies like that, they're out of touch with what the current youth want."
I think the reason why they didn't nominate me is probably one of the reasons why they're in the current state they're in. Like, if you look at just BET, MTV, and companies like that, they're out of touch with what the current youth want. So it's understandable and I'm not that surprised, but I hope, you know, at one point we finally get on their radar. I do think if it's not us that win, I'm going to go with The Breakfast Club. You know, 10 years into the game, they're still having impactful interviews, and all their hosts, they're branching off and furthering what could have just become a normal show. They're turning this into pretty much the greatest hip hop run, hip hop show run we've ever seen. So I think they should win.
How are you doing things differently with this podcast, as opposed to your work as a journalist/media personality on social media?
This podcast is where I want the conversations to really happen. Sometimes it's continued on other platforms, but there needs to be one place where the conversation can actually happen. A place for the people that drive the culture and the people that consume the culture to have discourse, and it be fair. On my Twitch, you mostly get me ranting, and you're going to get that on this podcast too, but you're also going to hear opposing views, you're going to have me bring people from different generations of media, and people with different musical tastes. We're always going to mix it up. Sometimes we’ll have live off-the-cuff conversations in real-time on Spotify Greenroom. Ultimately, I want Off the Record to host intimate conversations between different generations, backgrounds, and opposing viewpoints.
You’ve already built a legacy for yourself as a media personality. What kind of legacy do you want to build as a podcaster?
I want to build my legacy as a podcaster for being the person to bring the most entertainment. That's it.
What I realized is all I want to do is be myself. I want the podcast to host honest lively conversations. A lot of shows seem to settle into a little groove and stop pushing the envelope. I want to mix it up with everybody. This is going to be something where I share my perspective, but we will be inclusive of all opinions. Sometimes music is politics, and you need diversity of thought to have an honest show.