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05: Jeff Weiss, reporting live from the fall of Rome

05: Jeff Weiss, reporting live from the fall of Rome

Sweeping the cultural disaster zone with the great rap writer.

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Jeff Weiss is probably the best music writer we’ve got.

We admire him not only for his radiant and voluminous prose – who else is gonna write 8,000 words on the Grateful Dead in 2023 and make every single one feel essential? – but his willingness to put gumshoe to pavement in order to dig up the real story.

That investigative instinct has placed him at the forefront of American rap scenes for the best part of two decades, from exposing the white devilry of Post Malone to reporting from the courtrooms of rap murder trials. And in 2021, after spearheading a campaign to deliver Drakeo The Ruler from the injustice of a life sentence, Jeff was witness to the assassination of one the greatest rappers of his generation.

Operating from his hometown of Los Angeles, Jeff has many strings to his bow: running the peerless rap blog Passion of the Weiss and its label, launching his own magazine, fighting back against predatory media barons and writing a (forthcoming) novel about Britney Spears.

He’s the perfect person with whom to dissect a topic close to our hearts: the collapse of the music industry ecosystem. But fear not, we also have a laugh about the glories of the 2010s blog era, the hyper-regionalisation of rap, why we’re still huffing the fumes of the ‘90s, and Andre 3000’s surprising media illiteracy.

The end result is something of an epic (“I’m more of a volume shooter,” as the ex-basketball ace admits) so we’ve boiled the transcript down to a strong concentrate while letting the podcast simmer for 120+ minutes. We hope you get a kick out of either, or both. You can listen to the full conversation above or via the usual podcast apps, and read the transcript below.

Jeff has kindly also put together a Spotify playlist for us stuffed with some of sickest rap cuts of the moment (and some weirder personal favourites).

Thanks for subscribing and for all your feedback so far. Tell your friends! Email us back! Leave a comment! Follow us both on Letterboxd!

Chal Ravens: Let's hear about this book that you're writing, which I don't think I actually knew about properly until we were researching this. It's a Britney book.

Jeff Weiss: It's a half-fiction, half-reality kind of memoir of the 2000s about a tabloid journalist following Britney Spears around. Her rise and fall, basically. It starts in 1998 when she shoots the 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' video.

Chal Ravens: Don't tell me her life goes off the rails.

Jeff Weiss: There is definitely a chapter on the haircut. I thought that she was such a metaphor for the death of the American dream and the psychological ruin that gets brought by fame and celebrity. Part of my working theory that I've had for a long time is that the three most American Americans of the last 23 years are Britney Spears, Kanye West and Donald Trump. Certain people that, for whatever reason, are tapped into the zeitgeist. And as the world continues to crumble you can see them go off the rails in various ways.

Tom Lea: I actually have a note here about whether the book is linked to Trump – I was thinking of different approximations of stan culture in terms of what happened to Britney and Trump's cult of personality, climaxing in the Capitol riots.

Jeff Weiss: Yeah, that's the last scene – Britney just comes in and kills the QAnon shaman [laughter]. I feel like when Britney shaved her head in 2007 that was a psychic break. I remember watching that at the time being like, “How is that even real?” But now you look back like, “Of course she shaved her head, it's the most natural response that anyone could have.” Really, Beyoncé is the only one who seems to have emerged unscathed from that sort of pressure chamber. I think Britney, of all of them, is the most blameless. She was like, “I'm not that innocent,” but of course she was pretty innocent. [The book] is somewhere between a novel and a non-fiction book.

Chal Ravens: What's the manoeuvre from writing in a journalistic register into writing fiction?

Jeff Weiss: I always wanted to write real books, to be honest with you. I never set out to be a journalist. I got out of university and I'd already started writing a novel. In school I was a baseball player and a kid on my baseball team had died in a hazing accident. I pledged and depledged a fraternity. I don't want to say I was sheltered, because I grew up in the middle of LA, but I didn't know what a fraternity was – I thought it was just a bunch of guys drinking beer. I didn't realise it was this whole weird misogynistic death cult vibe. I quickly got out of it. All the guys were on my baseball team and a few years later this one guy on my baseball team died in a car accident on a hazing trip to Las Vegas, and that galvanised me to become a writer. I was working on a book actually, again a fictionalised memoir. 

I was really inspired by the traditional cliched things you'd probably expect, like the Beat writers. All the stuff that we now call autofiction has always been my favourite stuff. When I discovered Eve Babitz a few years ago I was like, “Oh, this is what I've always wanted to write.” I don't know if y'all are familiar with John Rechy, who wrote the book City of Night? Highly recommended. The best way to describe it is like if On The Road was written by a gay male hustler. It's his travels through America in the early ‘60s. He's still alive actually, I think he's 93 now. I've interviewed him a few times and we've gotten to become friends, which is one of the more meaningful things in my life. It's an incredible book, a proto autofiction.

Chal Ravens: I was interested to find out that the first piece of journalism you wrote was this story about your friend, which has a sense of tragedy and injustice to it – it’s a news story as much as anything. So how did you end up in music journalism?

Jeff Weiss: I minored in English, I was a history major. I feel like what I do ends up being a first draft of history. But for music, you know, I just love music – I grew up in LA in the ‘90s so it was just innate, it was the classic age of G-funk and Tupac and Dre and Snoop and Tha Dogg Pound and DJ Quik, and it was just such a natural thing. I played basketball for most of my life, so you know, if you're playing basketball in that era it was just the ambient atmosphere surrounding you. It was just an exciting time. The ‘90s was the last time it felt like there was like a real culture that wasn't so fragmented. Not to say that great stuff doesn't break through, obviously it does, but we're still dealing with the fumes of the ‘90s. I mean, Britney Spears, perfect example – she was a ‘90s artist originally and she's now the most popular first-week memoirist in the history of time. I feel like the ‘90s was our ‘60s, in a way. Everything since then has been so fractured. The Britney book goes up until ‘08, when she goes into conservatorship, and I think the first eight years of the 2000s were this shift between analogue and digital.

So to answer your question in a predictably long-winded way, that is how I got into it. Journalism was already collapsing. I studied history and I minored in English and I was like, “I'm gonna be a novelist.” I thought I was gonna be F. Scott Fitzgerald or something, and then you graduate and you're like, “There is no F. Scott Fitzgerald, that doesn't exist, and even if you were, you could not be that.” There's no place for that. There was not even a Bret Easton Ellis for this generation.

So I loved music, and I really had such a deep affinity for hip-hop. That was the soundtrack to my parties when I was playing basketball and driving around LA. At the time, this is really early blog era, I didn't see people in the mainstream covering rap. The LA Weekly would never cover rap at the time. I mean, they did, but I always felt like the great hip-hop coverage was in the hip-hop magazines. I grew up reading The Source, and to me that was education. There were people on message boards [but] I never was super internet like that. I didn't know that there was this world of rap nerds trading verses and talking about obscure seven-inches. I was just somebody that loved it, you know? And I was like, “Well, maybe I can try doing this.” I was writing this novel and then I started the blog and I was like, “Give it a year, and if you can't get to a decent publication after a year, maybe it's time to give it up.” 

I think it was a year later I got into the LA Weekly and the LA Times. And when I was 25, remember when they used to have the Best American Music Writing book? I did a piece on Soulja Boy, and of course no one was taking Soulja Boy seriously at the time, they thought it was a fad. Hopefully I had a little bit of prescience there, but I was like, “He's kind of invented the future.” That was the first time where it was like, he came out and he had this YouTube dance and he had Soulja Boy merch, and it was just a fully-formed enterprise from the get-go. It was this viral phenomenon. It was the lonelygirl15 era, this weird "we're just figuring out the internet" time. And I wrote this essay and it got in the book and I was like, “Okay, I guess you can do this.” And then I was like, “Well, you'll just have your book sold in a few years and you'll have a screenplay sold.” [Laughs] I wrote a screenplay and, you know, you go through a different meat grinder of LA. You go into [Hollywood talent agency] CAA and you're this young writer and they're like, “Oh, you're a genius, you're gonna be the next Paul Thomas Anderson!”

Chal Ravens: So you did the screenwriter thing?

Jeff Weiss: Yeah. I've never sold. I had like three agents over the years. I was never one of those people that wanted to be like, “I'm repped at ICM” – you know, pinned tweet – “contact me there” [laughs]. As it is I have to kind of mitigate my naturally insufferable tendencies. But yeah, that was always my dream, and hopefully it still has the possibility.

Chal Ravens: You're back on track now. The novel is coming, the screenplay will come. The music journalism diversion is perhaps finally coming to an end? Is that how you feel about music journalism now? Is it moving away from you?

Jeff Weiss: I feel music journalism is kind of distant from all of us, you know – we didn't leave music journalism, music journalism left us! I interviewed Andre 3000 for the Guardian [about his] instrumental flute album. He showed up for the interview playing the flute, this massive Mesoamerican woodwind. It was an amazing interview but I got 2,200 words and it probably needed 5,000 to do it justice. I also got one hour of an interview and a 15-minute follow-up. I had to really grind them down to give me the extra 15 minutes, and I'm glad I did because I got the ending from it. But I mean, that is not a good way to write a story.

Tom Lea: It's not spending eight nights with the Grateful Dead, is it?

Jeff Weiss: No, and even then… I'm a master of self-sabotage. I spent three weeks writing that piece and I'm late on my book edits partially because of that. The money was, you know, no offence to Spin or whatever, but the money was not worth what I put into it, and I feel like that is what's required now – you have to do more soul-sucking work, whether it's bios or content writing or spon-con, to be able to do something that you care about. I mean, you guys both live in London, so you know what it's like. The cost of urban life is just not feasible for a writer, period. Let alone somebody that's trying to do stuff that is underground or slightly subversive. You know, maybe if you got that Taylor Swift beat reporter job you could afford to live in Nashville, but...

Tom Lea: Yeah, the Hessle Audio coverage at FACT Mag1 wasn't quite paying the bills.

Jeff Weiss: I mean, it's heartbreaking. The weird, cool, underground stuff, there are people doing it – No Bells is doing cool stuff, the writer Bill Differen has a really cool blog, hopefully I would put PoW in there – but at the same time, there used to be 30 of those places. Now there's two or three.

Chal Ravens: There used to be a kind of mid-tier that had the news-ier stuff, and then you'd have your PoW and your Tiny Mix Tapes doing weirder stuff. There was an ecosystem around it.

Tom Lea: That's the exact word I was going to use – I just feel like it's not an ecosystem anymore. I read PoW, I read No Bells, they're great. I obviously read a bunch of people's different Substacks, and I follow writers. But it doesn't feel like there's that same ecosystem, those same interactions, it just feels like a series of outliers doing cool shit against all odds.

Jeff Weiss: Totally, yeah. I have a label, the PoW Recordings label, and I remember starting that up and being like, how can I do this as a journalist? And then you're like, well, how could you even do journalism in a meaningful way? 

Tom Lea: Do you mean in terms of a conflict of interest? I had the exact same thought, that was my internal monologue for the first five years of my label. It's not the main reason I quit journalism, but it's one of them.

Jeff Weiss: I mean, it doesn't bother me in terms of the conflict of interest element. Maybe when I was an LA Weekly columnist I was very worried that if I wanted to work with somebody then I should never write about them. and I never crossed that line. But even doing the label, obviously I have a lot of journalistic contacts and I made a spreadsheet at one point – you know, hit up these people. Now, I think, not only are 75% of them out of journalism, but 75% of the publications they wrote for no longer exist.

Tom Lea: I have had that literal same experience in terms of the spreadsheet for people to hit up about the label. You just watch the emails bounce back over time.

Jeff Weiss: It's horrifying, right? I mean, think about the darkness of having to say that, well, actually, two of the best journalism enterprises over the last 10 years were run by a poisonous soda company that made toxic energy drinks and an e-commerce site for MP3s that don't even really exist in any kind of meaningful way, it's just people just being like, “Yeah, I'll support you!” You know, it's hard. I don't want to be negative. And I really admire the people that are like, “We're having a blog renaissance! It’s Substack!” But man, I don't know. You know what's cool? Budgets for journalism. Like, Young Thug is having a trial in three weeks. I have now covered two rap murder trials. The first one was Lil Boosie in 2012 and that was for Rolling Stone. They had no budget for me and I ended up getting paid $700 and spending maybe like $3,000 or $4,000 of my own money on hotels.

Tom Lea: This was when you were in Baton Rouge, right?

Jeff Weiss: Yeah, and that was a really formative experience for me. And that's been most of my career – working really, really hard for six to eight months, doing this kind of quixotic journalism thing that I shouldn't be doing for monetary reasons but I feel like I have to. I do it, make no money and then go back to the cycle to make the money again. And then I did the Drakeo murder trial. You know, money was the furthest thing from my mind, I was obviously trying to help raise attention to a case that I thought was a total miscarriage of justice. But even then, if you break down the hourly rate, maybe I was making what I would have made in McDonald's at best, and driving to and from [court] every day, the whole thing.

But yeah, I was trying to get someone to let me cover the Young Thug trial and everyone was just like, “We don't have the budget to fly you out to Atlanta.” Or if it's a mainstream publication, they don't see the value in Young Thug. They just don't understand what he meant. I think they hear the name Young Thug and they roll their eyes, even to this day. What's going on there is insane, and a total continuation of the Drakeo stuff I was doing, but there are no budgets. 

Going back to Young Thug, I think of 2008 as the year where we were moving into a dark, weird region that we hadn't figured out. But then obviously Obama gets elected and you kind of see this hope, and I thought 2008 to 2015 was… you know, the warning signs were there, but it looked like we were going to have the rebels striking back in some way. And there were elements of the blog era, especially 2008 to 2012, where it was like, oh, the majors are not understanding what these indie blogs are doing…

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Tom Lea: Well, it's the blog era and it's the mixtape era, right? It's the [mixtape hosting site] DatPiff era. That was such an exciting period for a lot of people. I had a conversation about it recently with Rob Pursey from Southern Hospitality, who’s in his mid-40s so he's a generation older than me, and our friend Rae who’s in her 20s. So you've got three different generations of people there, but we were talking about that specific era and how it was the last time that we all felt we had a really healthy, passionate relationship with absorbing new music in an enthusiastic way. There's something in that.

Jeff Weiss: Definitely. And being an Angeleno, just hearing what was coming out on Mary-Anne Hobbs' show every week, I tuned into that breathlessly, like, “Who's the next artist from the UK?” But she'd [also] be discovering new artists from LA, and then I'd go to [clubnight] Low End Theory and that was such a groundswell of excitement and creativity. You know, when I was talking to Andre 3000, I was talking about the Principal Skinner meme where he's like, “Am I so out of touch? No, it's the children who are wrong.” And Andre was like, “I've never heard of that.” [Laughter] I'm like, “Well, it's a good meme.” Awkward silence!

Chal Ravens: I love that he could be so insulated.

Jeff Weiss: So inspiring. I wish I had the money. I'm sure that's what that OutKast 2014 tour was: “I'm gonna get enough money where I can play flute for the rest of my life.” And he deserves it.

Chal Ravens: I loved to see last year that you interviewed Mike Davis, the great Marxist historian and geographer. That was an interesting assignment – or maybe you assigned it to yourself, actually. It'd be interesting to hear why someone like Mike Davis is important to you and what we can learn from looking at a city through his lens?

Jeff Weiss: Yeah. I mean, he is probably the great doom prophet of LA life. He's rarely been wrong when it comes to LA life. I remember reading City of Quartz in the early 2000s – that was just a different era, the way that LA felt and seemed. Maybe I was naive and he was totally right all along. But in the ‘90s, post riots, it felt like there was a boom in LA and an excitement, and I think it carried over for a while. But then in the last 10 years [Davis’ book] just felt completely real. 

I asked him, “How do you feel about being called a prophet?” And he was like, “Well, it's just, you have your ear to the ground.” And I thought that was really astute. He combined literary flair with an academic's depth of knowledge and countless hours at the library, and he'd had this fantastic career where he was a truck driver and a labour organiser. He was a total inspiration in a lot of ways. I remember talking to him right after the pandemic hit and he was like, “Look, these private equity companies are licking their chops.” And that's what ultimately will be the fallout of the pandemic. The powers that be will say, “We gave $2,000 to working people,” blah, blah, blah. But they gave millions and billions of dollars to the richest companies in the world, who were able to benefit from basically no interest rates, take this free money and just buy up everything. And now we're living in the aftermath, where it is actual feudalism. 

And that has an impact on culture, right? Because culture comes from, more often than not, cities. I mean, I don't know what the solution is other than to just kind of eminent domain [expropriate] large groups of private real estate. Around me, I've lived in the same neighbourhood – Los Feliz, Silverlake, on the border of the two – for 15 years, a long time. At first it was really bohemian, it was heavily Latinx, a lot of gay people. It was a historically famous neighbourhood, the site of this bar called the Black Cat which was actually the pre-Stonewall gay liberation [site]. I think it was the first time in American life, according to lore, that gay people fought back against police harassment. Needless to say, now half of it is a Shake Shack. [Laughter] It couldn't even have been an In-N-Out Burger, which would have a little Southern California feel to it.

Chal Ravens: We wanted to get into the current state of rap. There’s a sense now that rap has lost its dominance, which in a sheer numbers way seems to be true, in terms of chart dominance. And there's a feeling that rap is either splintering or scattering into hyperlocal scenes – that seems to be the way that it's being transmitted. So what do you think about this idea that rap's cultural hegemony is over, and how will that spill out in the next few years?

Jeff Weiss: That's really interesting to me, these little hyper-regional scenes. I would argue that's probably the most interesting thing in rap, and I'd probably argue it always was the most interesting thing in rap. Even back to the mid ‘90s, in Houston and New York and LA, and Chicago had a gestating scene. There were all these different hotbeds. The reality is that all art goes through cycles. If you look at jazz, there are periods of jazz where it was kind of moribund for a few years, and then an artist will come through and reinvigorate the form, and people follow. 

Unfortunately in rap, we are dealing with a form of holocaust in terms of the lives of some of the most transformative artists of the generation. Pop Smoke was a generational artist, he was the one in New York. Drakeo was the one in LA. And obviously it didn't get as much coverage but there was a kid from Sacramento named Bris, who was kind of in Drakeo's lineage, who was murdered in 2020. This kid Young Slo-Be was murdered last year, who was the guy from Stockton, which had emerged as a hotbed. You have a guy like Rio Da Yung OG, who to me was one of the most interesting Michigan rappers and is now in jail for a long time. You have 03 Greedo, who goes to jail for five years in his prime. You have Young Thug, who's maybe past his prime a little bit but still such an inventive artist and is potentially facing life in jail.

Tom Lea: Arguably the most influential of the last generation.

Jeff Weiss: I would argue that, yeah. Not to say we've never seen it before, I mean, I think there was a period in the last decade where Gucci Mane, T.I., Lil Wayne and Boosie were all locked up. But people want to pretend that art is removed from capitalism, and unfortunately in this late stage of capitalism, the two are seamlessly intertwined. You're getting A&Rs signing kids off TikTok [now]. That matters. 

There is only one Lil Wayne. It’s great that he had this incredible two-year run where he put out 8,000 songs and, like, 4,500 of them were great, and that's awesome that people can do that. And of course there's jazz where, you know, Miles Davis was putting out three classics in a two-year run. But more often than not, I think art really takes time to gestate, and I think the fast-paced thing has really impacted it. I think TikTok probably has a negative effect. I think artists are probably not playing shows and developing their live show. There's just all these different things, there’s not these locuses.

I think about the ‘90s in LA and I think of something like Project Blowed – if you don't know, it was almost like a rap graduate school, where all these amazing rappers from all over the city would come and freestyle against each other. It was very steel sharpens steel. The highest value of the art mattered, and they almost had an approach like jazz musicians. And I do think that on some level there is a value thing that has been lost in culture. It’s a slippery slope.

I'll put it this way: there's a lot of music I love that comes out every year, there are hundreds of rap songs I like. And there's not support from indie labels the way that there used to be in rap – and I'm talking a long time ago. I'm not just talking about your Stones Throws, your Rawkus Records, your Def Juxes. You can also go to No Limit, which was an indie label, Cash Money was an indie label, Death Row was an indie label, Ruthless Records was an indie label. And TDE was an independent label. And now, I have my own biases, but [billy woods’] Backwoodz is probably universally regarded as the best indie rap label and that's an artist in his mid-40s who has been through the grinder for so long, and no one really understood him at first. It's a very go-at-it-alone culture. Even rap labels, even artist-run labels – I think of Rick Ross putting together all those artists or what Kanye did with GOOD Music, and there's not really an analogue for that in this day and age.

I don't think hip-hop is dead. People thought that when Nas was saying it and then it had a glory run. But I do think we are trapped in this kind of... I mean, look, Mark Fisher was right, the Gramsci epigraph about the new world being stillborn is kind of true.2 What was the last genre? Dubstep? Before the Americans ruined it? Or like, we tried with hyperpop and that was clearly just trying to make fetch happen as a genre. But look how much of it now is predicated on industry. 

So there's three ways to really make it now as a star: you either have the love of your hometown and you're a rapper and you get big on YouTube and you're from the streets. Or you're a TikTok person that somehow goes viral, but even then, from what I'm told, those are increasingly rare. Or you're kind of an industry plant, they put you on these Spotify playlists. People are not able to tour around America and grind out their careers and build these fan bases slowly – you can't afford it.

Chal Ravens: The thing that those three examples have in common as well is the reliance on existing platforms. So YouTube, TikTok, Spotify – plus your record label – is all you've got to work with. With independent labels, sure, that always required some kind of technological mediation – Facebook, MySpace, whatever was going on at the time – but the original models we're talking about are mixtapes sold out of vehicles, physical items.

People now have to see themselves as these individual rise-and-grind brands. They have to do whatever it takes to get their music out there and to try and find a deal, and that requires complete reliance on these platforms. And as soon as those platforms change in any way, the algorithm or whatever, then they're screwed. But that applies to everything! That applies to journalism as well, it applies to so many of the things that we're talking about.

Is there a way around having to rely on, like, five huge global companies that don't care about you at all?

Jeff Weiss: I mean, I've been trying to figure it out my whole career! You have to maybe get lucky and one of them gives you a chance at some point and then you leverage it and you do a short term deal and use them to build your fame and be like a ghost in the machine. You Trojan horse it. That's always been my dream, to get either a book that sells well or a documentary or a TV show or something, and then just use it to be like, “There's all this really cool stuff out here!”

But yeah, there's just so many factors. The internet was theoretically this great democratising possibility, right? For a few years, it was. But now – and I say this as somebody who's run an independent website, an independent magazine, an independent label, and I've worked as a freelance journalist for basically almost everywhere – I feel like there is very little hope unless you're a con man. [Laughters] And that is very demoralising to me! Because I've seen it, you know what I mean? I feel like I know the lies to tell people. I could walk into the room and be like, “Blah, blah, blah” – you know, [Vice boss] Shane Smith it. And then you look at who made it. Well, Shane Smith made it, and that guy was a fucking con man. [Cryptocurrency entrepreneur] Sam Bankman-Fried is a con man. We're such a credulous society, you know? You're always going back to the Principal Skinner meme, you're always like, “Am I a fool?!” 

The internet is such a powerful propaganda tool, and I don't just mean politically, I mean for art. That's what Kanye did, right? Kanye was like, “I'm gonna be a propagandist.” He was like, “I took things from Hitler,” and you're like, “Yeah, in retrospect you probably did – because people were really weird about those Yeezys and they weren't that cool of a shoe.” [Laughter] Except for the Red Octobers, those were cool. But other than that. 

I feel like there’s a few generations that got in. Gen X got in, right? They're just old enough to take advantage of all of the internet money and enslave millennials: “You're gonna get rich too!” And then they just took all the money, whether it's BuzzFeed or Vice or whatever. And if you're a millennial...

Chal Ravens: Can we enslave the zoomers? How do we control them?

Tom Lea: They're too powerful.

Jeff Weiss: No, you cannot enslave the zoomers, to their credit. They are not falling for it. They are totally blackpilled and they are just like, “We are not believing anything.” I saw a poll where half of them are voting for Trump or something, and I can't believe that's a real poll but also they're totally memelord nihilists. Imagine if your brain grew up and your nurturing amniotic fluid is, like, battery acid.

Chal Ravens: Can you tell us a bit about your experiences doing your independent magazine, The LAnd? We've said it to each other often enough, Tom and I, “Wouldn't it be great to have 50 grand to do a magazine?” In my mind, making a magazine is one of the most creative, exciting things that anybody could do, and obviously very difficult. But what was the vision for The LAnd and what's the current status?

Jeff Weiss: I agree with you, it was a dream to do The LAnd. I got to assign myself a 9,000 word Mike Davis Q&A, no one's gonna give me that. I got to do it for the writer John Rechy and give somebody who I really admired, and was such a fundamental and under-celebrated part of the Los Angeles literary world, a chance to get their flowers in a big, beautiful spread. I was lucky to have several partners – Jen Swann was my co-editor for most of the issues, we did four of them, including a kind of mini election magazine. And my other partner was Evan Solano who was the artistic mastermind behind it and made it look gorgeous. We're all still friends and hopefully there will be another issue at some point in the future. It's kind of on a hiatus. I was really inspired by Andre 3000 when I did that interview with him and I was like, "Look, I have to ask you about OutKast." You know that the editor is gonna be like, “Did you ask him about OutKast?” I literally was like, “I'm sorry, I didn't want to ask you this but I just kind of have to.” But he was just like, “I don't know where the wind will take me. I would never rule it out. I don't know where I'm going.” And I mean, if anyone's earned it, it’s Andre. 

With the magazine, there are so many things in my life, especially journalistically, that have created a profound heartbreak. The LA Weekly being bought. This was at the end of 2017 and I'd written for the LA Weekly since '07, it was my first foray into paid journalism. That Soulja Boy piece was in the LA Weekly. And for those first seven years, the LA Weekly was great. I wasn't getting paid the amount of money that I should and there would always be periodic cutbacks and someone would get laid off, but I was able to write for them really consistently. If you look at my room right now, it's still a lot of LA Weekly covers [on the wall], whether it was Tyler, the Creator or Madlib or DJ Quik. 

It basically got bought by these, for lack of a better word, right-wing crypto-fascists. It was the very early Trump era. There's been a lot of bad actors, especially in the right-wing sphere, who I've realised can just buy up a publication and shut it down. There are very few alt-weeklies left. This guy has now bought the Village Voice and the LA Weekly and kind of runs them as shadow publications. They barely publish. It's kind of like a spon-con scheme at this point. And they have done a lot of right-wing stuff, in very bizarre ways. They failed, like every other publication. 

But in the wake of this I started a boycott of LA Weekly3 because I wanted to educate people, and I just wanted to make sure they couldn't use the name of what we built, sell what we built, and have the reality be something completely different and dark and sinister. And myself and a bunch of other people were able to successfully lead this boycott. In the wake of it, what are you gonna do? Be negative all the time? You have to present ideas, you have to present an alternative. I haven't succeeded, but you have to try. 

We put out four issues that I'm really proud of. I sold all the ads. I think the last issue we did I edited or wrote 80% of the stories or something. Obviously I had amazing people helping me with it so I can't take too much credit. But yeah, it was so validating. And people really liked it. But we were like, “We want to make this free,” you know, I wanted to make it for the people. And then you realise – this was pre-pandemic, right – paper has doubled in cost. So to make the issue cost $35,000, maybe $40,000, and this was before the editors got paid, because the editors didn't really make any money. And I would guess it would cost about $55,000 to do, so I don't know if it's even financially possible. 

I'm hoping that I can find some time to do another issue because… you just have to do the thing. I know it's a trite thing to say, but you have to divorce yourself from the results and you have to divorce yourself from the expectations of getting rich, because if you want to get rich, go work for private equity, or go into real estate. Otherwise, you're probably not. You're gonna have to be creative and hustle. And I've hustled, you know what I mean? Like, when I get off the phone I'm gonna write a bio. I mean, I wouldn't call it hustling per se, but you know what I mean, I'm never too proud. One of my favourite quotes is, “Sometimes you have to sell the shadow to sell the substance.” I feel like all artists now are forced to be these hucksters. Like, Burial to me is my hero, but we talk about this kind of reality versus perception of Burial and like, is Burial rich? I don't know if he comes from money or something, but is he rich?

Chal Ravens: I think he will be now, yeah.

Tom Lea: I think he just sells such insane units.

Jeff Weiss: Does he really?

Chal Ravens: He's Hyperdub's biggest selling artist, I think. And he gets synced all the time. He's on TV.

Jeff Weiss: Not in America! Nobody knows who Burial is here.

Chal Ravens: No, he's doing fine. Low overheads as well.

Jeff Weiss: He deserves it all. To me, Burial and Madlib were like the two coolest ones. You just now have to sell yourself in such a way. I mean, we talk about the blog era, Burial benefited from being one of the last ones in.

Chal Ravens: We should talk a little bit more about Passion of the Weiss. Number one, it's great that it's still there, still functioning. Congratulations.

Jeff Weiss: Somehow, someway, yeah. I appreciate that.

Chal Ravens: Maybe it'd be too crude to say, how exactly does that work? How are you managing to succeed? And have recent years presented more of a challenge in terms of keeping things afloat, or is it self-sustaining?

Jeff Weiss: I mean, success is probably the wrong word [laughs]. I've never really considered it a success.

Chal Ravens: The website is online! That is a success. 

Jeff Weiss: Well, at first it was not that hard. I don't know, it just seemed like we had more time. Maybe because I wasn't on social media. It just needed less money. Inflation wasn't as real. There were a few years where I was making enough money freelancing and then I did a couple of book project things and I would pay someone a couple hundred dollars a month to put the website online and I would do all the edits. And then we got a Patreon. The Patreon makes next to nothing. We finally got an ad guy, he just sold an ad. We maybe sold four ads this year. There's no money in it. I try to give at least half the money to the writers, but sometimes it ends up being 80 or 90% at the end of the month. I have one person that helps me put up the blogs and I have this amazingly gifted writer and editor, Donna-Claire, who's lately been helping me help with some of the edits. 

[In 2021, PoW published a piece on the murder of Mac Dre by writer Donald Morrison.] He was in college at the time and he came to me with an email out of the blue – he's some guy I noticed favouriting my tweets, you know? He was at the University of Oregon, had gone back to school and was a little bit older and a little wiser, and knew how to report a little bit. He's like, “Can I do a story about Mac Dre's murder?” And I figured it'd be some 1,000-word piece and I'd probably have to spend three days editing it, at a loss to my sanity. He comes back to me six months later like, “Do you have a budget for ordering documents from the Kansas City Police Department?” No, because he'd never written for me. I can't give that to some writer I don't know. I was like, “Well, this guy's really into it.” He comes back three months later and he's like, “Here is the outline of a piece that basically may have solved the murder of one of the greatest rappers in history.” Holy shit. And if my site didn't exist, I don't think that would have happened. 

It's really hard, and it gets harder every year. I have less time. One day I would like to have kids and I don't know how I could be a parent and run this website. I always was dreaming that there'd be some hungry 25-year-old that would be like, “Let me take it off your hands.” The older I get, the more I try to remember who I used to be and hope that I still am, you know what I mean? I want to always remember the mentality of the kid that really just wanted to be a writer and didn't care and knew that when I set off on this journey it was going to be difficult and not linear. I remember when I started the blog – and traffic has never really been our strong suit to be honest with you, it's never really been a juggernaut, it does well but not enough to make money off of – but I remember the first day I got 100 clicks, back when they had a site meter, or when I got a hyperlink off a cool blog in 2006 or something. And I think it’s important to try and retain that.

I don't know, I’m a bad quitter. I feel like if I shut down the site, it would be… I don't like death. You know what I mean? I feel like everything in me is motivated by this desire to avoid death, and I feel like if the site went it'd be like a death. Not to place too much importance on the site, because it's just a blog, but it would feel like the death of an era. I think independent media is so valuable. I think independent art, like labels, is so valuable. We’ve been watching them fall by the wayside one by one. And conglomerates, they're not interested in art. They're not interested in quality. They're just interested in money. I feel like our brains have also been terraformed. Do you know the [radical anti-advertising] magazine Adbusters? When I was younger I remember I used to see Adbusters and be like, “These guys are so insufferable.” I didn't buy it, I just flipped through it. And now I'm older and I'm like, “God. They were right.” I think they might have been right for the wrong reasons sometimes, but they were definitely right. 

Chal Ravens: Commercials do suck! Stop buying stuff! Yeah.

Jeff Weiss: And look, I'm a total hypocrite, I'm not some ascetic monk. I'm really grateful that I'm able to survive. I was complaining in therapy and my therapist just goes, “Sometimes you just have to adjust your expectations.” [Laughs] And I was like, “Yeah, you're probably right.” He's like, “Maybe you will never own a house.” That's how people are in New York. That's how people are in London. There's that great Dylan quote, “A person is a success when they wake up in the morning and they go to sleep at night and in between they get to do everything they want.” And I wouldn't say I'm there, but I'm closer to it than when I began, and I have to view that as some form of success.

Tom Lea: I also think it's really important to remember that success is also touching people, and to go back to those examples you're talking about of those articles in PoW, if you hadn't fostered something that isn't only a great blog but also has this community around it, those writers potentially wouldn't feel comfortable pitching you those ideas. And that's also success. I think it's important to keep sight of that.

Jeff Weiss: I think the excessive online nature of our lives has just made us forget how important and gratifying community is. One of the most wonderful things is when I'll see PoW writers hanging out in a different city or becoming best friends. That's really cool, to be able to help foster that in some way and be a connector. Or for the label, I'll see artists being like, “That artist you're working with is dope,” and they'll reach out and do a song together and you're like, “Cool, that's valuable.” Or I'll be DJing and somebody will come up to me and have this, like, weirdly affecting drunken conversation with me.

There was this writer, or rapper slash internet person, who after that Grateful Dead piece, because his dad and his mom actually edited a Grateful Dead magazine in the 90s, wrote me the most beautiful letter I've ever received and sent me copies of his dad's magazines. It was like a beautiful handwritten letter. I'm not the crying type, but if I was I would have burst into tears. It was about my career and he'd followed The LAnd and the website and different stories. Not to be super corny, but I just felt very grateful that anyone had been following.

Chal Ravens: We've got a couple of questions left. I want to talk about your actual writing for a second, because you've talked a lot about the big structural things, but fundamentally we just think you are the best music writer that we have – partly because of your reporting ability and the stories that you've written, but on the sentence level, you are a great prose stylist also. When did you first feel like you'd found your voice? And who are the writers that you've really looked up to and that you've wanted to channel into your writing?

Jeff Weiss: I started writing a book when I was 20, I guess I was really delusional then. This was the book about my friend that died. The idea for the Britney Spears book came to me when I was 23 and it just took me forever to figure out how to write it. I had the title, I have old journals. For me, writing is my everything. I can't express it, I can only write it, otherwise it sounds hopelessly inarticulate. It would take me hours to think of something that doesn't sound completely cliched, and even then. But yeah, I started writing this book, and then with music writing, or with all writing, it's like you go through an apprenticeship, right?

My influences are probably pretty basic. I wanted to be F. Scott Fitzgerald at one point, I wanted to be J. D. Salinger, I wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson, and then I wanted to be Joan Didion and Tom Wolfe, and then Raymond Chandler, and Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, John Rechy. And then Eve Babitz, I was like, “Oh my god, she is the LA writer that I've been waiting my whole life to read.”

I've always wanted to write books that mattered, and hopefully capture this time, because it's so fleeting and frail, and it's always gone. I always think about that Gatsby quote where it’s like, “You can't change the past,” and he's like, “Of course you can, old sport!” And that to me is the great conflict of all of our lives, or at least my life, where I'm always trying to look through my past. How can I change it and refract it in a way where it makes sense to me?

Now I'm writing a book with Danny Brown, it's gonna be a collaboration. We'll hopefully make it somewhere between Prodigy from Mobb Deep's autobiography and the Wu Tang manual, maybe the Beastie Boys Book. Because [Danny’s] just a fun, intelligent guy. And then I really want to do a book on the Drakeo thing. It hasn’t been announced yet but I have been filming stuff for a Drakeo documentary which I would co-direct. I shouldn't announce who's involved but there have been contracts with a very, very huge hip-hop name to be an executive producer on it, so that's really exciting. And I want to write a book about it too, because that to me is one of the great tragedies. 

There have been some things in my life that I feel like… you have to find meaning, you have to build a narrative for yourself. I think Drakeo was the best rapper of his generation. To be able to go to court and develop this friendship with somebody and then to help in some way get him freed –people have told me that they think I did. I helped get him in the New Yorker and he was covered in the Atlantic, so this was a story that nobody was telling. He was really left for dead in jail. And then to be there when he got killed... It felt like one of those stories where everybody gets killed and they’re like, “You have to tell the story.” I've spent a lot of the last two years going back and forth. There's no happiness or gratitude, certainly, but if somebody had to be there, I'm happy I was there so I can at least tell the story. I never would pretend to be totally objective, but to be able to tell it with some clarity and insight… and you know, it's still an unsolved murder.

Chal Ravens: One final question.

Tom Lea: We've started asking everyone we interview for a film recommendation – and maybe a book recommendation from you too.

Jeff Weiss: My favourite movie is The Long Goodbye. I am a huge Elliott Gould fanatic. I saw that movie for the first time 10 years ago and I was like, “I see myself in the movie!” It's like this stoner, bumbling, Jewish version of Raymond Chandler moving through LA and he's got a cat that's always yelling at him. He's trying to be a decent person in a fucking world that is beset with corruption, and there's a great fake Ernest Hemingway writer parody, and he's always looking for his cat, and he's kind of mumbling and incoherent. 

And a book? John Rechy told me about this writer named William Styron. He's very famous for writing Sophie's Choice and he wrote the autobiography of Nat Turner, which is problematic but a really good book, actually. But he was talking about his first book called Lie Down In Darkness. It's about this decaying alcoholic family in Virginia in the ‘50s. Styron wrote it when he was 25 years old, and the beauty of the writing, the depth of thought – there's a kind of experimental avant-garde thing that doesn't quite work but I just love the idea of him doing it.

It's very Faulkner or Fitzgerald, but he's a writer that nobody knows anymore, and he hasn't held up because William Styron doesn't have a sexy press photo. He wasn't a part of any literary movement. He didn't do drugs, to my knowledge. He was just depressed! He wrote a landmark book later on about his crippling depression. But he was a real, real, real genius. So yeah, I love the people that slip through the cracks. Obviously in my own career I don't want to be somebody who slips through the cracks! But I do think it's the duty of everybody who cares to big up these people that maybe might be forgotten by history, but shouldn't be. So that's always part of my mission in some way too.

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Recorded at: SRP Studios
Theme music: Jennifer Walton
Branding: All Purpose


Tom and Chal both worked at London-based music website (and formerly print offering) FACT Magazine in the early 2010s. The pay wasn’t great but they published some damn fine listicles.


“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters,” wrote the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci in his 1930s prison notebooks, as quoted by Mark Fisher in 2009’s Capitalist Realism.


The boycott was a beautiful thing to behold, not least Jeff’s dogged insistence on referring to the magazine’s new ownership as “Vichy LA Weekly” every time he spoke or tweeted on the matter.

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No Tags is a podcast and newsletter from Chal Ravens and Tom Lea chronicling underground music culture.