When I was working at The Source, I was freelancing on the side for a few mainstream publications. I couldn't write for VIBE or XXL of course. But I would quietly write about rock bands for Seventeen and Teen People occasionally.
I ended up writing regularly for Teen People and I became a go-to writer for the Entertainment Editor there.
A lot of my assignments were given last-minute, which is normal in the game and I was used to grabbing my recorder and hauling butt to some concert or interview that was happening in an hour—or less.
So, the Apollo Theater was having a benefit concert of some sort and a lot of big names were scheduled to appear. Eve, Sisqo, Jay-Z and a bunch of other folks I can't remember.
The Entertainment Editor at Teen People called and asked me to go to the concert and get some evergreen quotes from the artists that they could use in upcoming issues. She didn't want me to cover the event. She just wanted me to ask questions like, "What was the best present you ever got for Valentine's Day?" so they could include it when their February issue rolled around.
She sent me the questions and they were all super basic and easy. (A little too basic. It was a real left turn from the questions I had to ask at The Source.)
I got to the venue and went backstage. I told the folks there that I was with Teen People and they hustled me to the area allotted for me. There was an assembly line of media outlets. As the artists came off stage, they stopped at each station and did a brief interview.
Sisqo came off stage after singing "The Thong Song." (I know, we want to forget. But we mustn't. It happened.)
I held up my recorder and asked my corny questions.
"What was your most embarrassing moment?"
"What do you wish you did more of when you were a teenager?"
"Who was your first crush?"
He answered. And then he moved down the line to the next interview.
Then, this dude walks up to me. He's holding a bunch of wires and tech-y looking stuff.
"You're with Teen People?"
"Why are you standing over here? We've been waiting for you!"
Dude hustles me over to a corner, puts a microphone in my hand and then clips something to the back of my pants. I'm thoroughly confused. Then he spins me around and walks behind a huge camera.
"Okay, she's mic'd" he says to a team of about four people.
I'm looking at the mic in my hand. And then up at the camera in my face. It dawns on me. These are on-camera interviews. It turns out I was supposed to interview the celebrities on-camera for some special segment Teen People was doing on a news show AND get the evergreen quotes for the magazine.
I did NOT get that memo.
I had never held a real microphone in my hand in my life. I had never been on camera and had never interviewed anyone on camera.
I started to have a panic attack. I didn't know how to do on-camera interviews! Where was I supposed to look? Was I just feeding the questions or was I actually going to be on camera too?
There was no time to ask questions. Jay-Z had just come off stage and was standing next to me.
I remember thinking. Wow. He is really tall. And I am really scared because I don't know what the hell I'm doing.
Jay looked down at me. I looked up at Jay. Then I turned to the camera guy and waited for him to tell me to start.
Dude behind the camera yelled out: "SPEED!"
I looked around, thinking maybe there was something wrong with the equipment and he needed something called speed to fix it.
Dude yells again: SPEED!
I look at him and just blink.
Jay-Z elbows me. I look up at him.
"Speed means the camera's rolling,” says Jay. “You can ask the questions now.”
My stomach sunk.
"Right!" I said, fumbling for my paper with the questions on it and trying to unfold it without dropping the microphone. My hands were shaking and I was sweating bullets.
"So Jay-Z," I said. "Th-this is…. is for um, for Teen People. The readers would like to know: "What's been your most embarrassing moment?"
"I can't think of one," he said. "But I know YOUR most embarrassing moment."
He walked away laughing that official Jay-Z cackle and I was mortified.
I somehow made it through the rest of the interviews but every time I got a glimpse of Jay-Z, he was still laughing at me.
If only the story ended there.
A few weeks later, I was at a concert. I can't for the life of me remember who it was. But I remember it was the first time I saw Puffy in person. He was wearing a floor-length black mink coat and I was awestruck.
Right before the show started I heard someone yell out SPEED! I spun around.
It was Jay-Z, just a few feet away, in the cut with his friends, cackling and pointing at me.
If only the story ended there.
A month later; another show. This one is packed shoulder-to-shoulder. There’s a VIP section upstairs and the industry heavyweights are sitting at tables drinking Champagne. (Hmmmm. Late 90s. I’m guessing it would be Cristal?)
I'm standing on the floor with friends, checking out the crowd.
From above, I hear someone yell out: SPEED!
I look up. It's Jay, sitting in VIP, pointing at me and laughing. Again.
I never interviewed Jay-Z again, unless you count that disastrous one-question interview in 1999. And I never saw him again after that last concert where he saw that little dreadlocked freckle-faced girl who didn't know what Speed meant and decided to tease her every time he saw her.
But I do often wonder, if I did interview him now would he remember and yell out SPEED and start laughing as soon as he saw me?
Honestly? I think he would.