"Music can bring people together": Angela Yee on Verzuz, D-Nice and doing "Breakfast Club" from home

The radio host went on "Salon Talks" to discuss the music industry, her juice bar, and those who risk their lives

By D. Watkins
May 5, 2020 9:34PM (UTC)
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Angela Yee (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images/Peter Cooper)

When coronavirus swept in, it forced every industry to change –– supermarkets now look like sectioned-off science labs, FedEx and UPS workers are dropping packages off in my neighborhood as late as 10 p.m., and late-night shows and radio programs are recording from their kitchens and living rooms. 

I caught up with Angela Yee, co-host of "The Breakfast Club," the syndicated radio show based in New York, and host of "Angela Yee's Lip Service" podcast, about broadcasting from her home in Brooklyn and how the music industry and artists are adapting to create entertainment while in quarantine.


Watch my "Salon Talks" with Yee here, or read a Q&A of our conversation below, to hear more about what Yee has learned from interviewing hip-hop artists from their houses, the birth of Swizz Beatz's beat battles on Instagram Live that are attracting millions of viewers, and how she has been using her platform to uplift her own Brooklyn community.

 This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.


You've been filming "The Breakfast Club" from home. How has it been making the adjustments?

I thought I would get a lot more stuff done personally for myself at home, but it's been hard. Yesterday it was all day until like 10 o'clock at night. I've just been going, going, going, going, going. I've really tried to be really conscious of budgeting my time. Just today I said, you know what? I'm going to regret later on not having taken care of things in my house. I'm picking an area of the house to focus on every other day and trying to give myself some time. Right now I'm doing my closet downstairs. I've been working on that for the past two hours and I just got rid of so much stuff. I'm just trying to get rid of stuff and clean up and get my house together.

Other than that, I've never sat this much in my life. Normally, I'm like running around. I also have to be really conscious of moving and walking places and going outside. I can go for days without even stepping outside and I'm starting to feel like I'm not doing everything I should be doing. I want to make sure that I also allocate that time for myself to work out and get on the treadmill or go for a walk. You get so wrapped up sometimes in the day doing different things. I think we're used to walking somewhere. I walk a lot. I'll go in the city, I walk around, I walk around in Brooklyn, but now I've just been in the house, so I just need to make more of an effort. What about you?


I started working on a television show and two books before this.

You are so productive.

I feel like that annoying person and I'm not that person who's going to get on the internet and say you need to finish this and finish that. I'm not that guy, but I do feel the pressure is on for me to produce because I don't have to go out and speak. I'm not back and forth to New York every week. I'm actually sitting still and I've been writing anywhere from four to eight hours a day. I have a newborn so I spend the rest of my time just playing with the baby.


Sounds like an ideal life.

Yeah, let her throw up all over my jersey and all that stuff. Cute little baby stuff. It's been cool. As an interviewer, it's difficult for me because I like to sit down and I like to watch how people respond to certain things. I like to capture their mannerisms, or I like it to be able to draw from how they see a topic or a situation and base my follow-ups on body language. Has that changed for you when you interview artists?

It's interesting because in a way it's a lot more eye contact because you have to look at the person you're talking to and not really focus on anything around you. I think sometimes people get distracted in interviews. I think people like to see people's backgrounds. We're so interested. It feels sometimes a little more intimate and personal when you're interviewing DaBaby and he's in his house. You get to see what they have behind them. I think that part of it is interesting, but there is nothing like an in-person interview truthfully. I will agree with you on that. I think when you have multiple people on an interview, it's difficult because there's a slight delay and so you hear it all the time on our morning show even when we're talking and then there's a delay and then everybody starts talking at the same time and then everyone stops at the same time. It's hard to get that rhythm right.


Everybody in the world listens to or watches your show. How have your listeners been responding to the new format?

I think people are happy that we're still on and still going. Some people like it. I still think the in-person interviews have done a lot better, even if you look at the numbers on YouTube. There's people that I've interviewed that I probably wouldn't have. You might not relate to this, but "90 Day Fiancé" is my show. I love that show. I managed to get Usman, aka SojaBoy from Nigeria. I don't know if we would have ever gotten him or even thought to do a Zoom video. I do feel people are more accessible at a time like this because there at home. If you ever wanted to interview somebody now is the time to make it happen.

People are looking for a reason to get out of working out in their garage. How do you feel a lot of artists have been adjusting to this unprecedented time? DaBaby has a new album out, for example, but he's not able to tour and get out and talk to the people.


For people who have children, they're grateful for the time to be able to be home, especially because a lot of times as artists they're on the road all the time. They're traveling, they're working and they never are forced to sit down like this. What I've been hearing for the most part is people are grateful to have time to be at home with their kids. I look at like Freddie Gibbs on his Instagram stories and he's home with his kids and they got a puppy now. Everybody's getting dogs now too I've noticed. People really enjoy that time because they might not ever have done that.

Even for DaBaby, he was talking about it. He's so used to being on the road and he has an album out so he would have been traveling. Now you really get to know every little intimate detail. Your kids are going to be so used to you being home. Especially for you, you have a newborn. This is an amazing time to be able to be at home with your newborn. That's going to be a different type of bond than you might've had otherwise.

We're lucky to have platforms and have places where we can publish our work. I've been thinking a lot about other artists. A lot of people who just freelance, they're being shut out. A lot of people who use their tour money for a huge part of their income, now they're stuck and they have to try to figure it out.

Yeah, The-Dream is doing an album on OnlyFans for his new album, which I think is so funny because I've had this argument about OnlyFans. I know a lot of people on there and they act like, "Oh, if you're OnlyFans, you're a prostitute." I'm like, everybody's not doing the same thing on there. You can do what you want, but they'll be okay with that. They'll be like, "Oh, she's on OnlyFans, she belongs to the streets." Then The-Dream is like, I'm doing my project and I'm going to do it on my OnlyFans page. They're like, yes, that's dope. There's a quite a double-standard there.


A lot of people that are trying to think of creative ways that they can make money right now too. How can I go online and figure out how to bring my audience in? Tory Lanez was very creative with Quarantine Radio and then the Verzuz Battles. I don't think that they would have had the same impact like they're having right now if it wasn't for this period of time. D-Nice has shown us what is possible and how music can bring people together and virtual parties. Diddy did the whole COVID relief Diddy danceathon. It's just nice to see people in a more intimate setting and coming together for good causes.

The Verzuz battles have been my favorite part of this whole experience. Even antics with Teddy Riley and Babyface.

Yee: Oh my God, the themes that come out of that, the jokes, they're like nonstop. I think things like that are going to be some little flowers that sprout. There are these little flowers that are sprouting.

What are some of the things that you think are going to last in the music industry when social distancing is over? Especially speaking on the industry in general because I feel like Verzuz is the next television show and I feel like D-Nice is going to be a school for DJs and be booked up for the next 20 years. What other things do you think are going to last forever based on what's going on right now?


A lot of people have started their own shows, their own podcasts, their own blogs at a time like this. I think those people who have managed to really just maintain their connection with the consumer, they're going to continue to think of really great ways to do that.

Erykah Badu did her virtual concert, and that was fire.

I think that's amazing. All of the concerts we've been seeing on television, BET had their concert for Coronavirus relief yesterday. All of those things, I think people are just learning how to get creative. I've seen Christopher Martin from BP records in Jamaica in his backyard do a concert and then people were donating for Coronavirus relief. Just to be able to bring all of these different worlds together, it is a good thing. At the end of the day we do still love to go out. But you know what, I realized there's a lot more homebodies than not. Some people are really like, I do this all the time anyway.

The last thing I wanted to ask you about outside of music and the industry is when we first started talking, you said you had some family members in the hospital and thank God that they're home because it's crazy out there. Have you been seeing in New York what has been happening in the rest of the world where African American communities have just been affected like crazy? The idea that we don't get a chance to be essential every day, but then when a crisis happens it's so many black people on the front lines. So many people that look like us, such as out there delivering the packages and working in the hospitals, collecting trash and doing all of these jobs that basically keep our country together. Have you been seeing that in New York?

Absolutely. There's things that we take for granted. The fact that my sanitation workers are still coming to pick up the garbage three times a week early in the morning, that's a huge deal. I don't know what this would look like if there was just garbage piled up. We're all at home now so we're all having a lot more stuff that we need to throw away. When I go to the supermarket, I'm always extra, saying "Listen, thank you so much for the job that you're doing and for coming to work." That's important, to see the person working the register, the person stocking the shelves, the person that's managing everything. Just to see those everyday things that we realized, man I can't do without this and to be appreciative of that. I'm really hopeful that we realize that these people need to get paid more and that even during this pandemic people that do work they should definitely get hazard pay and be compensated because people are dying. They are putting their lives on the line, for real, essentially putting their lives on the line and go to work every day.

Aside from all of that, let's figure out what's going on with our communities because we have so many underlying health issues that it's affecting our community so much more. Even in places where we're not even the larger percentage of a city, we're dying at a higher rate than white people. The real issue is what's going on with the health care system, with our nutrition, with everything to make sure that we are on track. That's always been something that has been important to me anyway. Just as far as having the juice bar and talking about immunity, talking about starting your day off right. Getting your essential vitamins and paying attention to your diet, all of those things. Making sure you exercise those things are important. I think we got to stress it and I think everybody has to have healthcare and at this point, as much as they talk about, "Oh it's going to cost too much." It costs way more to not have it as we can see than for people to be protected.

Have you guys been doing deliveries from your juice bar, Juices for Life?

People can come pick up. We can only allow five people in at a time. It is 1,100 square feet, so it's a pretty big space. We allow five customers in at a time and it's been a constant flow of traffic. I'll be there on Sunday, giving out face masks and stuff like that. I try to do whatever I can, little things. It's nice and people like to see you. It makes them feel good to see you out there. I do feel like the juice bar has been great for the community, just people coming in and I want them to continue those habits even when this is over.

D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a professor at the University of Baltimore and founder of the BMORE Writers Project. Watkins is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America” and "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir." His latest book, "We Speak For Ourselves: A Word From Forgotten Black America," is out now.

MORE FROM D. WatkinsFOLLOW @dwatkinsworld

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