[Originally published in LatinTRENDS Magazine Issue #91; September 2012].
By: Giselle Rodriguez
Angie Martinez is a hip-hop icon. And that’s not fan girl talk. The Puerto Rican-American jockey has dominated the game since hitting the airwaves over a decade and a half ago. The Angie Martinez Show, Hot 97’s powerhouse, has held its place at the top of ratings for years on end. Because here’s the deal: ‘The Voice of New York’ is heard around the world from the Big Apple, to the United Kingdom, over to Japan, and back down to South Africa. Then there are her acting roles, the hip-hop albums, Grammy nomination, a star-studded resume of interviews she’s conducted, the Cover Girl campaign – and most recently – her stint on Empire Girls (what’s Empire Girls, you might wonder? Read on…).
As if that’s not enough, there’s the stuff you don’t hear much about. For example: Angie’s Guest Closet, the charity she helms in honor of her mother, which is geared towards breast cancer awareness and research. Or, the time she worked with the Ad Council’s G.E.D. Pep Talk and shared her insight to over 35 million Americans lacking a high school diploma.
Google images of Angie and a plethora of photos appear with the who’s who of hip-hop (my personal favorite? A young Martinez flanked under the arm of Biggie Smalls, better known as The Notorious B.I.G.). Her celeb-worthy status is an easily accepted notion when you consider her list of accomplishments. Though her career reads like a recipe for ego inflation, it doesn’t happen with her. I experienced the humility firsthand.
The LatinTRENDS crew congregated at the Resorts world Casino in Queens, NYC, to photograph Angie Martinez, alongside Latinas Adrienne Bailon and Julissa Bermudez. The women spent the summer promoting their new reality hit on the Style Network, Empire Girls. The show peeks into the lives of both Julissa and Adrienne as they cultivate their entertainment careers in New York City. Martinez is weaved through several episodes as a confidante and life mentor to the duo. For Angie fans, her presence on the show is an opportunity to see her up close and personal in a new facet – on camera.
Martinez arrived at the cover shoot with her publicist, Tim Yates, and longtime friend-turned-manager, Margarita Sullivan. Polite and genuine greetings were exchanged, firm handshakes dispersed; I immediately liked all three of them. In a couture vintage t-shirt, youth-sized kicks, and without a stitch of make-up on her pore-free nutmeg skin, Angie looked more like a college student than most college students. She is disarmingly pretty without effort. So much so, in fact, that it seems like a waste not to have her on camera all the time. Obviously working over the airwaves has been good to her, and vanity is better left to the vain, but I’ll call it like it is: she should be on television more often. There were a few hiccups at the shoot, and subsequently Angie ran late to work, but no fault of her own. But not once did she complain, not once did she raise her voice. She remained gracious without fail. In fact, she asked to finish the interview over the phone at a later date to ensure she could give me her complete attention. It was my firsthand glimpse into her generosity of spirit.
Later in the day, after the shoot had ended (and Angie was back in the studio working), I found myself sitting at a late lunch across from Margarita, her manager; another kind, big-hearted businesswoman who seems unaffected with her position – and she happens to be Latina! We don’t speak much about Angie, though at one point she says, “Angie’s always been straight-forward. Even when we were younger, if a guy came up to her she didn’t like, she would be like, “it’s not gonna happen.”” She doesn’t tell me this as Angie’s manager; rather, she’s speaking freely about her friend. It’s true: the company you choose to keep yourself surrounded with is a reflection of you, and Margarita confirms Angie’s kind heart and genuine interest in people. When the bill arrives, Margarita grabs it from me, “Angie wanted to treat you.”
Over the days prefacing our follow-up interview, I take to exploring one of Angie’s latest ventures, www.TheAngieMartinezShow.com – a hub for music news, behind the scenes footage from her radio show, and slices of her life with both family and friends. Angie has put herself out there, opened the doors to her world in an unobtrusive way. She’s definitely doing it the right way; she isn’t sharing too much. What you’ll find are uploaded images of delicious meals, hot spots she hits up, and a sprinkling of picture with her son, or other loved ones (and you never know what famous face might make a cameo). But you never feel like you’re intruding in her life, she leaves just the right amount of mystery. Unlike most celebrity websites, it isn’t self-indulgent; it is more an entertainment social center for hip-hop and pop culture. Normally I would include a snippet about the beginning of my subject’s career and how it all went down, but I think you should see the website for yourself: read Angie’s online bio, click on random tabs and photos, and visit the website and play.
But with this much accessible information at the click of a mouse, what haven’t (can’t) we learned from media venues? She isn’t an actor hiding behind her characters; she isn’t a rock star hiding behind a persona. What you see is what you get with her. I end up in a state of mild panic trying to figure out what I can ask that isn’t necessarily prying, but will still segue into details her fans will appreciate.
We finally speak on the phone and a subconscious level of comfort kicks in; her familiar voice over the line throws me off. I forget it’s the Angie Martinez I’m talking to. It feels like she’s my prima from one of the boroughs – the one I catch up with every couple of weeks. That is, until she starts a sentence with, “when I worked with Jay.” Suddenly, I am brought right back to the reality of the moment. Like a good writer, I’m armed with an arsenal of inquiries, but when we get the ball rolling on the conversation, my preparation rolls away with it. It’s because she’s open and friendly, and unabashedly herself.
On Empire Girls, Angie is the voice of wisdom for Adrienne and Julissa. But, who is Angie’s mentor? Who does she look up to? “My mom,” she blurts out. “Definitely, my mom. A lot of women…Queen Latifah. Even Adrienne. Her work ethic is sick.” Angie’s ability to view Adrienne not only as a little sister, but also as a peer, is indicative of her humility: She’s able to understand she can learn from someone younger than herself. She understands inspiration is to be found in all the individuals you surround yourself with.
She readily admits to trials; no one is exempt from them. And thank goodness for that. It’s the tribulations we learn from. While doing my research I watched a video of Angie as a guest on a morning talk show. The women asked her if it was true Angie was one of the original American Idol judges. Angie confirmed the rumor. Turns out, Angie had traveled to a couple of cities with American Idol and the whole audition circuit before deciding the position was perhaps not the best fit for her. Not once does she speak negatively about the producers, or the experience – she simply replies, “it wasn’t for me.” “Why?” I push. Not for the sake of this article, but because I want to know – I want to understand why someone pulls out of an opportunity like that. I’m not disappointed with the answer.
“This Dominican girl performed and didn’t make it through to Hollywood because of me. Honestly, I thought she was good, and in any other place, I would have been like, she’s dope, she’s great, but for the show, I thought I had to be…tougher.” After the round of castings for the day, the girl came up to Angie and said, “Of all the judges, I thought you would have been the one to support me.” “It broke my heart,” Angie admits, “I’ll never forget her.” The words may sound a bit melancholic and dramatic, but it’s not meant to be, and it isn’t in reality – it’s simply the truth. It was a time in her life when she started to get lost in the hype. At that point it became clear Angie didn’t want the responsibility of another artist’s disappointment on her conscience. As we all know from American Idol’s line-up of judges, Angie ended up passing on the opportunity. I ask if she regrets it. “No,” she said. “Everything happens for a reason.” I believe her.
There’s a certain cut-throat attitude that successful folk tend to adopt as they progress in their careers. Yet, Angie continues to keep her moral compass intact when making decisions for herself. During the East Coast vs. West Coast “beef” running rampant through the hip-hop community, Angie flew to Los Angeles to interview Tupac. She walked away with a candid, intimate interview – but it was too much. She thought releasing it to the public ‘as is’ would create a backlash within the music world, and she couldn’t bear to be held responsible if anything negative were to come of it. Most of the interview ended up on the cutting room floor, and subsequently a lot of content most journalists work very hard to attain was never released. When I comment on her moral bravado, she’s quick to add, “I’m no angel. I’m not perfect. But when I lay my head down at night, I wanna feel good about the decisions I made.”
She seems happiest when she talks about family and home life. “I just reupholstered the chairs in my house. I can get all Martha Stewart. I love Bed Bath & Beyond and Target on a Saturday. I love it. And my son’s little league game; you can find me there on the weekends. My career is a huge part of my life, but it’s only a part of it. My family and friends mean everything.” (It’s official; she’s not popping bottles every night. But what decent woman is?) Word through the grapevine is she’s working on a cookbook with Fat Joe (well, the formerly Fat…) “Yes, yes, yes! It’s abuela’s authentic recipes with healthier, fresher ingredient options. It’s the food you grew up with, but now you can eat it without the guilt.” With a possible November 2012 release, it’s the perfect stocking stuffer or gift for that tia who doesn’t believe you can fry an empanada without the fat.
She’s so cool, I keep thinking. And I will candidly admit, I do not always think that during the interview process. I find most interview subjects tend to say things they think the media wants to hear. There’s a faux public persona easy to see through – you never get that with Angie. She really does – at the risk of sounding corny – keep it real. I’ll gamble that attitude is what has kept her on the uphill trajectory she’s paved her career on. Throughout our time together she says, “I love my career, and I am very lucky.” And that’s probably also why she’s able to get artists to open up to her. Her presence is refreshing. Angie is unaware of her own status – or maybe she isn’t; maybe she does realize her clout, and her game plan is to have us think she doesn’t. But then that in itself is kind of a brilliant tactic.
The work she’s done on her own accord makes her an artist in her own right. Martinez truly is a modern day Renaissance woman. Beyond her skills in the entertainment industry, she is a humanitarian, a mother, a friend, a daughter, and a positive paragon for Latinas, and all races of women alike. She’s still the eminence of old-school swag, but it’s evident Angie has entered a new phase of life – es una mujer hecha y derecha.