Justin "The Company Man" Hunte is a true Hip Hop head. His passion for culture, music and writing inks into all that he does.
After working under him I realized that it's one thing to know who the Editor-in-Chief (EiC) of your favorite Hip Hop site is and another to actually meet him (or her). I mean, you always imagine them being really dope (and they are).
From being an employee for Banc of America Securities Financial Institutions Group in New York to becoming the EiC of HipHopDX in Hollywood, a dream come true, Justin's hustle goes unmatched. Banker to Hip Hop editing gangster, he has gained a substantial amount of understanding of all that comes with being involved in the entertainment industry.
Having no idea that he would become a journalist, it all started with his appreciation of Lupe Fiasco's word play and artistry that eventually became an e-mail thread. Consistent Hip Hop conversations soon became an addiction for Justin and eventually led him to create a blog titled "The-Quotable."
Justin then took the leap of quitting his job at the bank to pursue his blossoming passion of being a Hip Hop journalist and going full throttle.
Trials and tribulations, snowstorms and plane rides later, he finds himself living the dream as the EiC of his longtime favorite Hip Hop media outlet, HipHopDX.
Although, having to move to Hollywood from Brooklyn was not the easiest transition. As a writer habituated to his own space and ways in his customized apartment office to the modern desk of HipHopDX, changes had to be made.
My interview with Justin originally was of which I was the interviewee but being that Justin is so informative, a few questions from my end gave me enough to not only recognize him on my site and do a write-up but, also, taught me a handful.
As I walk through the interview and add my own side of the conversation, I hope you recognize Justin Hunte as an inspiration as much as I do (and not just as an aspiring journalist myself but, also, as a dream chaser).
The DX Layout
I had to mention to Justin the layout I noticed while being in the DX office. As an intern, I worked with each of the sections behind the site so I got a good taste of the functions for each section and the knowledge of the journalists behind them.
It was laid out in such a way that each section was made up of two uniquely different, extremely talented individuals. The partners balanced each other out while, also, challenging each other in such a way that everyday at the office is a learning experience.
Being the EiC, Justin has purpose behind why it is set up this way. It is an approach that he has seen in other organizations he has worked with in the past and highly favors. He believes that people can benefit from working with others that have opposite perspectives and provides an opportunity to learn.
JH: Group thinking can be a problem and we need to challenge each other all the time, even when it comes to the way we think about stuff. What are the right answers all the time? We don’t know. We’re creating art everyday. Everything we do is art, so we could do whatever. We need to know everything we can, as much as possible, about our audience and the people who really fuck with us.
Aside from the functions within the DX team, Justin also has his eyes on the outside of the office: the readers.
This is something I really enjoyed when I was interning at the office: getting to know the readers and talking to them. It was encouraged to reply to the readers whenever they commented on an article we wrote. Of course, not all comments were positive but that is something every artist has to get comfortable with.
Responding to the readers genuinely, intelligently, and professionally was fun for me because it allows the writer to build a relationship with his or her readers. It also makes the reader feel heard and recognized.
JH: Everybody just wants someone to listen to them and most people would rather talk more than they want to listen. So when they do run into someone who actually listens and gives a thoughtful response, then they’re much more open and honest and vulnerable because it’s a rarity.
Transitioning from busy New York to chill Los Angeles
Last year was a big adjustment for Justin, explaining that New York and Los Angeles are extremely similar and extremely different from one another.
JH: The access is incredible. If there’s something dope happening on the planet it’s gonna go to New York or it’s gonna go to LA. It can be Lebron James, it can be the Mona Lisa - it’s going to come to one of those places.
Being that access is great, living in each of these cities allows you to touch base on the most important things that, in this case, the music industry has to offer.
Although, the cultures are the exact opposite.
Even with the same convenient and beneficial access available in both cities, everyone and everything in New York runs with urgency.
JH: So everyone in New York is (snaps fingers), ‘cause New York is the headquarters for everything. It’s the media headquarters, it’s the banking headquarters, it’s the insurance headquarters, it’s the shipping headquarters, it’s just number one in everything. Where LA is number one in movies and television and they’re making a real run on music. Outside of that, it’s number two or number three in everything.
With this cultural difference, the first four months in Los Angeles were the toughest for Justin.
One thing that he pointed out, was, well... trust issues. No, we're not talking about the Drake song but rather, the fact that people in LA are very different from those in New York.
JH: ...I couldn’t tell who was lying to me in LA. Because everyone, also, with that urgency comes a real directness because no one has time to waste in New York. In LA it’s a different population. One, I think, part of it is just because the most common title you see on top of a resume is actor. People literally come here, run here to be somebody else, anybody else - literally.
The sudden, cold turkey transition was not a comfortable one but Justin soon realized that a situation is what you make of it and what perspective you choose to see things in. Upon realizing that, he saw the importance of changing his mindset.
JH: I can't throw my judgements on my environment, I can only adapt to it. Otherwise, I’m either gonna be frustrated, become unhappy and leave, or I’m just gonna fail. So for me personally it was important to just change my entire mindset.
Justin emphasized the fact that Los Angeles is home to many, many actors; more than anywhere else in the country.
JH: ...If I came here to be an actor, I’d be acting all the time. I’d be acting at the gym, I’d be acting at the grocery store ‘cause I need to practice. I need to make sure I can get into whatever character. So I just be actin’ like people that’s on the subway.
This was Justin's turning point. After this "epiphany," so you could say, he went with the common saying that you should be completely honest, vulnerable, and open to people until they do you wrong or as Justin said, "give equal opportunity to let people shit on you once," (and that's if they do).
JH: Here, it presents itself a little differently. If you make yourself more available to let people shit on you, you learn faster who not to trust and it’s easier to navigate because you can’t be distracted by that stuff ‘cause you got a goal. You know where you’re gonna go anyway. You know exactly what it looks like, you know exactly what your work is on. I can tell you exactly, like to the fuckin’ tightened cell phone case, what my goals are. So anything outside of that or pulls away from that or distracts you, thats gotta go away either way. Once I learned that, I stopped thinking about how I couldn't tell who was lying to me. Now it's just like 'oh this persons never done anything wrong to me so I have no reason to treat them any differently or to ignore them.' That was the fundamental difference between New York and LA. Understanding that made everything much more relaxing. My hairline stopped receding, you know (he laughs).
Another big challenge that Justin encountered in this transition was writing.
Writers can be sensitive to their surroundings when they write. For me, I write much better when I'm near windows. I like the outside, the breeze and being around people (most of the time). I prefer it not to be completely quiet, nor too loud. Writers have it down to a science!
JH: My entire career was spent writing in my at-home office, "The Company Man" cave. And I wasn’t a coffee shop writer. I didn’t write at other events, I just would go out take notes, come home and I’d write for like seven years.
JH: Moving here was like... I couldn’t write in here. In the office it's weird to write. Still weird for me to write ‘cause theres so much other stuff. I didn’t have my desk where I was, everything wasn’t arm-reach away anymore. At my apartment the way it was set up strategically for seven years practice.
JH: The environment felt different, the energy was different. I didn’t understand the city, the pace, the people, the events, the performances, the venues. I didn't know where to go to find a rapper. In New York you could throw a rock and hit a rapper. That aspect of it was just so far away from... all those things were so ingrained in my every aspect of my approach to write. I write based off of my experiences and what they sound like and the way people talk about things and that lets me know everything I need to know about whatever it is.
It took Justin about ten months to be able to feel comfortable to be able to draw these kind of conclusions and write the way he would write in New York.
On the other hand, Los Angeles is much cheaper than the big apple (always a plus). In New York, though, walking to work, home, every where is the thing to do. Justin maintains this New York lifestyle in LA, this urgency, and applies it to the site too.
JH: New York is expensive. I could walk to work you know. I don't have a car. I take the subway downtown. I still have kind of a Brooklyn lifestyle. I haven’t left that. I set up my own existence here with a plan to not need a car, strategically. I needed to feel that urgency. That cannot go away for me. We put out, what? Thirty stories a day. We have the largest news section there is. We’re increasing the volume in features and adding on additional content opportunities in media. We do not have time to not have urgency (he snaps his fingers). Shit gotta be pumpin' because everybody that’s in our space, that we’re competing with, is in New York.
The advantage that Los Angeles has over New York is that a lot of artists in the industry live in LA, giving them the ability to slow down (just a little bit). They can map it all out - the set up, the interview, the time, and bring artists into the DX office.
The disadvantage would be: lack of urgency.
JH: The numbers tell us everything, the comments section tells us everything, our audience tells us everything. It’s easy. It makes it easier to not overthink. So as long as we continue growing, progressing, getting tighter in our storytelling as writers and our ability to tell the forest from the trees and walk between the raindrops, we’ll never lose. It’s going to be awesome (he smiles).
Being a journalist in New York Vs. Being a journalist in Los Angeles
JH: Honestly, LA, there is a lot fewer really talented writers than in New York. For two reasons. One: there are more people in New York. New York is two, three times the size of LA anyways so there’s more people. Two: there are more cities closer to New York. So DC, Philly, Boston, New Haven, all those places are at most four hours away from New York. So people go into New York and come out on the same day a lot.
Because of this, there is a lot of competition in the journalism industry. When pertaining to the Hip Hop industry, there is a lot of diversity there. May it be the type of Hip Hop or the amount of Hip Hop events, New York is the place to be for a Hip Hop journalist.
JH: There are seventeen, eighteen different rap scenes in New York - scenes (he emphasizes)! There can be five, six, seven different shows going on in New York. All underground.
JH: So there’s never a shortage of opportunity to get better at writing about rap. It’s just always there, all the time. Writing here is more difficult to get better because you don’t get the competition but you have the advantage, again, of more quality time. The writing population out here, the ones that are really, really talented, are also really tied to the publications and there’s not that many.
Justin advises young writers, if possible, to pursue journalism in New York first. Although, he wonders if he would have the same mentality had things been the other way around.
JH: Had I spent the first ten years of my career in LA and now gone to New York and had to adjust to the cost of living, pace of living, weather and winter, polar vortex’s and stop and frisk, I can't get my weed from the store no more - I don’t know how well I would’ve adjusted because, again, I am from South Carolina, North Carolina.
JH: I’m not from here so you know in New York that you have to run. You know in New York that by the end of the day you might have lost it all just because of an inability to keep up with the pace and the urgency around you. But if you can get through that, if you can learn from that and survive and thrive within that and through that, LA is a breeze as long as you don’t get upset at the fact that you can’t tell who is lying to you.
"The Company Man" Hustle
Justin is, surprisingly, not a trained journalist. Justin originally went to school for finance (which explains his job at Investment Banking of six years).
He came up with the by-line "The Company Man" for a few reasons. Part of it was because was frightened about this new chapter in his life that he was creating. He wasn't sure if he was a good writer, he just knew that he loved doing it and he was passionate about it.
JH: I needed a by-line and I created "The Company Man" because I fuckin’ worked for a multinational company slaving away for somebody else’s tax-break and as that scene in "Next Friday" where Craig and Day-Day are smokin' in Pinky’s and Day-Day’s like, ‘yo man we gotta clean all this up. Pinky’s comin’.' And he’s like, ‘company man, company man.’ That’s how I felt.
Justin quit his job at the bank in New York in June of 2009. He spent that whole summer hustling on his own by attending shows (and paying for them), taking his audio recorder everywhere he went, and waiting for rappers to come out behind the venue.
JH: A company called Brooklyn Bodega, they put out the Brooklyn Hip Hop festival. They had a bunch of showcases and I had to cover those. One I went to, I said, 'fuck it, I'm just going to cover my own artists.'
Six months after quitting his job, Justin interviewed the man who ran Brooklyn Bodega and got offered to write for them the next day.
JH: So I got my first writing gig. It was not paid but it was a bigger profile. I was like, 'fuck yea man. Okay progress, six months in already.' Then that weekend, on Saturday, the day I got the offer, I saw a story on DX that the Editor-in-Chief of HipHopDX, Jake Paine, was going to be on a panel put on by this label called "Vegas Records" in Newark, New Jersey, which was holding an open casting call across the country for artists who wanted to get signed.
That Saturday morning, he woke up to a blizzard. A Brooklyn blizzard of about twelve, thirteen inches of snow. Again, Newark, NJ is two rivers away. Justin put all this into consideration and decided to call the venue to see if the event was cancelled.
JH: I'm already having a great week. I just got a gig. I was just going to chill. There was no part of me that wanted to get up and do that shit. I call over there, I was like, 'hey I noticed there's a blizzard outside, are you guys still holding this event today?' and they're like, 'yea we're going to do it. The show starts a little bit later, you know, give everybody a chance to get in. We'll start two hours later, we're still going to do it.'
JH: I was like, 'okay cool... fuck.' I was like, 'damn, man. Fuck it, just get out of bed and go see what's up.' Got out of the bed, trekked through a blizzard across two rivers, four trains to get to Newark, New Jersey. [There] were no cabs when I got off the station, walked eight blocks through a blizzard, twelve inches of snow to this hotel where this thing is, paid fifty dollars to get in (because I was just covering and everyone else had to pay $150), paid fifty dollars to get in to cover, sat through thirteen hours of the most mediocre talent American Hip Hop has to offer, just for the chance to ask the Editor-in-Chief of HHDX eight questions.
JH: The plan was to impress him so much with my knowledge of the site, its history, that he's enamored with my interview skills and offers me the opportunity to freelance for the site and it worked. That was it. That one thing. I don't get out of bed that day, we’re not talking right now. That was it, just had to go the extra mile. And it's even tougher when you have nature against you too.
HipHopDX has been Justin's favorite site since 2004. He always wanted to write for them but he never had a direct contact. He made it happen.
His first story went on the site on January of 2010 and it was called "Fiddy More Like Diddy." It was about how 50 Cent's career was going to end up more like Diddy's rather than Jay-Z's because he wasn't caring much for rap at the time.
That piece was well received on the site and did very well. He, also, pitched another story regarding how if skill sold, J Cole's career would have been Drake's at that point in time. That pitch was turned down.
JH: So after that I pitched... I know Homeboy Sandman, who I met a couple years earlier just running around in New York and Homeboy Sandman, because I was just on the ground after my first story went up on DX, he was like, 'yo man you think you can get DX to review my new album that's coming out?' and I was like, 'yeah I cant pitch it to them.' He was like, 'cool, I want you to write it.'
This was the first time Justin was ever handed an album by an artist. He was given this album four months before it officially came out.
JH: I felt so proud. I didn't tell nobody the project. There's no way it's leaking on me and I wrote this. I pitched it to DX and they were like, 'yo we like Sandman,' and I was like, 'I got it.' They were like, 'you want to take a shot at the review?' and I was like, 'cool.' I had this way that I was writing reviews. At that point, I had ten or twelve different ways to write an album review because when I started I just wanted to write the greatest album review of all time.
Justin had never seen any of the ways he would write these album reviews on DX but he gave it a shot anyways. It ended up needing to be toned down a bit and after that Justin had his first album review up on the site. After that, he kept receiving opportunities.
For two and a half years, he didn't reject a single pitch. Didn't matter what it was because Justin needed it, he desired to become a better writer. He ended up freelancing for DX for three whole years and meanwhile, he hosted multiple radio shows in New York and hosted and produced events across the country.
One day, Jake said he was quitting DX. At that time, Cheri Media (the company that runs DX) was having a camp in New York called "CheriCamp."
JH: I had to be there dumb early in the morning. I got there early 'cause I couldn't be late. Then after that sat through the whole day, asked a shit ton of questions, ‘cause I'm looking at backend number on DX. I'm like, 'yo, wait a minute what'd you say? What happened in two thousand… that's when the site changed, okay got it.' Write it down. Writing notes and shit.
He then went to dinner with Michael, Tommy, and Jake and they asked him some questions about his whereabouts. At this time, AllHipHop was looking to hire Justin... and so was DX. They told Justin that they wanted him to be the EiC of HipHopDX and that was that.
It is important to note though, that Justin had previously applied for a position other than being a freelancer for DX. He applied for the News Editor position but didn't get it because he lacked the fundamental understanding of the "behind-the-scenes" of the site and they asked him detailed questions during the Skype interview.
JH: I didn't get it but I was running Brooklyn Bodega at that point and so everything that I didn't know, everything that was asked about that I just didn't have an answer for in that interview I fucking took notes, studied my ass off, implemented them on Brooklyn Bodega, actually did this shit they were talking about, studied all this other stuff on the side and just got a lot better at it. I ended up getting more reps because i did all those things and by the time they were actually looking of an editor-in-chief they weren't looking for anybody else. At that point Brooklyn Bodega's numbers were actually creeping up ‘cause I was implementing the things that I learned from this job interview I didn't get. So Tommy already felt more comfortable with me because not only have we met face to face before but I'm a guy who failed and didn't give up.
So What Now?
JH: Dude it's DX. Literally has everything that I want to do for the rest of my life. My goal is to be the greatest writer ever, of all time and then have a consultant firm. I've got six years of investment banking experience, was a finance major, did nothing but go to leadership camps since high school. Now I've run two radio shows, now Editor-in-Chief for two different websites, hosted and produced events around the country... and I've got television experience. So it's not a lot of places in entertainment that I at least don't have some kind of understanding. And every year that goes by you meet more people, so you have more relationships. And as long as your relationships, your work product, doesn't get crap-tastic, then people are always going to be hitting you up for more opportunities. As long as you get out of bed in a blizzard, you'll go to those opportunities, it'll work out because eighty percent of success is just showing up. Like all you got to do is show up. Muthafuckas have a hard time just showing up, right. So you're eighty percent of the way there and if you keep going, keep getting the reps, that's priceless information
JH: Everything is predicated off the fact that I just love writing. So as long as I keep writing, keep getting better at writing, I'm never going to have to worry about anything else because if you can communicate, you can communicate in any way. I kind of write like I talk sometimes. My editorials are more like i'm talking to them than like I'm writing. News is news but that's how it's gotta be. But every time I hone in on my voice or try a new voice or try another voice or try another voice ‘cause all of my voices come from copying literally directly all my favorite writers: Scoop Jackson, Maureen Dowd, Bill Simmons. All my favorite writers I literally copied exactly how they structured their articles. I just put rappers in it instead and changed the metaphors but copied them. So over the years, all those kind of merged together and it's a brand new style that's never existed. Then there's other people I love, like Kris Ex. I'm studying the fuck out of Kris Ex right now.
JH: So as long as I keep improving as a writer, I'm never going to have to worry about anything because I just went three years in New York without a paycheck and it worked out. I get excited talking about rap.
To check out more on Justin Hunte and see his work, click any of the buttons below and to read the "preview" to this interview, visit my Personal Blog under "The J" tab on the site.