” I’ve written for so many different people and it’s come from meeting people who know somebody who knows somebody. It’s getting out there and networking. “
If you’re a serious basketball fan you’ve undoubtedly come across some of Lang’s work with Slam Magazine. As a staff writer for Harris Publications he is consistently present as a writer for XXL, contributing editor and source for various angles for King Magazine, and online editor and key member of the Slam squad. After making the move from freelance to staff writer he had some good info for any up and coming journalists.
So to start give us some history of your career in the writing game?
I started writing about eight years for a weekly paper down in Atlanta where I lived. I went to the University of Georgia and I went to Georgia State and studied English. At the weekly paper they didn’t really have anybody doing hiphop at the time. I was in school with Outkast and Goodie Mob so I kinda grew up surrounded by the music. Right around the time I started writing Southerplayalistic came out, Goodie Mob had just come out, LaFace was getting pretty big and TLC was just coming out so it was good timing for them and it was also really good timing for me. All that stuff was getting huge when I started so I was able to get in right when they were getting popular. I did stuff for the paper there about three or four years, then I started doing some stuff for XXL. I did a feature for the Source and then I did some stuff for Slam. My fiancÃ© was going to move New York like three or four years ago so I called Russ, the editor of Slam who I had been dealing with for a while, and told him I was thinking about moving up. He was like we have this open online editor job and you can have it if you want it. That was like four years ago so I’ve been here since the summer of 2000.
You didn’t mention you write for King so I wanted to throw that in because that mag is the shit. How can I get down with King?
Datwon, the editor, used to be on the staff of XXL before I was there so when they started King he knew who I was and had read some of my stuff and I kinda knew who he was. The first thing we did was Mike Epps from Next Friday. They were doing a thing with him and they needed someone to write it. They were doing the photo shoot across the street from the office so they asked if I would do it. So I went with Datwon and did the thing and when it got done we were just hanging out. There is the Proof section of the magazine where you taste drinks and do a review about the drinks. So Datwon and I sat there and had this bottle of Hennessey left over so we just sat there and kinda finished it off and talked. I told him I liked what he was doing and he made me a contributing editor. Honestly, I have been pretty busy with Slam and XXL stuff so a lot of issues I won’t even write anything for King. I just come up with the ideas and pass them on and if I can’t do it I say you guys run with this.
The ideas are what makes the magazine ill. That’s the key part.
A lot of that is Datwon. He is the biggest hustler I’ve ever met out of all of the editors of these magazines. He goes out almost every night and a lot of the people they get in there is just Datwon meeting people and working those relationships.
When we were putting together this Hiphop in Print series I started seeing in a lot of mags it’s a lot of the same writers. I noticed how a lot the same writers float between King, Slam, and XXL. But even in other mags I see a lot of the same cats. It seems like it’s a small pool of writers that writes for every magazine out here.
Now that I work for Harris [Publishing] and write for Slam, King, XXL I can’t write for competition but there are some freelancers that write for everybody. Once you get established and editors know they can trust you to turn your stuff in on time, have it the write length and be what they are looking for they are willing to trust you to do something else.
Do you think it also might be because editors may be unwilling to give new writers a chance?
With Slam we have meetings once a month to decide what goes in the next issue. There are five or six of us full time. We’re all in the story meeting and we have the ideas we want to do and then we have people like Scoop Jackson that write for us every issue so by the time that stuff is divvied up there’s not a lot left. If you have good ideas and you can write you’ll find somewhere to write.
Your work is heavy in basketball did you play in high school?
Yea I did. When I was in the eleventh grade, our team was ranked in USA Today’s top 25. All five guys who started on that team ended up getting division one scholarships. Our ball boy was Shareef Abdur-Rahim. He was little. He was like 5’9 but we all knew he was gonna be dope when he got older. I played two years of varsity in High School and then I went to Georgia. I thought about going somewhere smaller to play ball but I kinda knew I wasn’t gonna have a future in the NBA so I figured it would be better to focus on something else.
What do you think separates Slam magazine from all of the other sport magazines out here like Sports Illustrated?
One of the main things is our audience. The people who read Slam are between fourteen and thirty. This is our tenth year and I think we reflect the culture better than Sports Illustrated does, at least our readers culture. The guys who read Sports Illustrated are usually businessmen and they like golf or baseball but with Slam it’s just basketball. It’s easy for us because that’s all we love. I’m up every night till 2 or 3 watching the west coast games on League Pass and so is everybody else. We come in to work at ten or eleven tired as hell but we’re all like did you see that Memphis ‘“ L.A. game last night. So I think the people we are writing for are ourselves and who knows that market better than us.
Why do you think the urban youth is so passionate about basketball?
It’s easier to play basketball than baseball. Basketball is so easy, all you gotta do is get a hoop and throw it on a wall or a pole. With baseball, you gotta find room, people, and have a catcher’s mitt. Football is hard to play on the street. Basketball is just the easiest sport to play. All you need is one ball and you can play by yourself. Baseball and football you can’t play by yourself but with basketball you can shoot jump shots all night and get your shot right.
What makes it so complicated for many athletes to make it to the NBA and actually stay?
I think a lot of it is being able to do what the coaches want. Anybody in the NBA can score. When you get to a practice or a shoot around the twelfth guy on most NBA roster can hit nine out of ten shots anywhere on the court. What coaches want from most of these guys trying to crack the roster is rebounding, defense, or passing. That’s why a guy like Kevin Willis is still around. All he does is rebound and try to take up space. Guys like Michael Curry on the Raptors has been around forever and he never really scores. He knows how to do the other things. He knows how to be a leader, how to be on time and play defense. Guys like that are able to have long careers. Even so the average career in the NBA, five years, is the longest of any of the major sports.
Being that you write for hiphop mags and a basketball spot do you see any differences in the stories you write. Do you have to vary your styles and approaches?
To me every story is different. The main thing you’re trying to get across in any feature, at least the features I write, is who is this person, why are we using six pages to tell their story and what makes them interesting. Is it Dale Davis who made the All-Star for the first time after ten years? What has he been doing for the last ten years and why is he all of a sudden good enough? Or it could be the Dungeon Family. Who are all of these guys, where did they come from and why now are they worth listening too? I think all you’re doing is telling a story and if you’re a good writer you can get the story across and make it entertaining. I think the key to any story I write is to just be entertaining. I think the worst thing you can do is be boring.
How much research do you do to go about preparing your questions?
I know some people like Russ, the editor of Slam, who can read a whole bunch of stuff on a person, rarely write down questions and he’s good enough to sit their and ask questions and make it interesting. I always do the same thing. I print out as much stuff as I can, make a folder and when I’m on the plane I read everything and make notes on it. Then on a notepad I’ll write down all my notes, then go back to those notes and try to put them in some sort of order and off those questions make other questions. I want to know everything there is to know about the guy before the interview. Sometimes you’ll see little things. There is a new Slam that will be out next week and I interviewed Kenyon Martin for the cover story. I had read in like one or two stories him just barely mentioning he had a stutter. He never really talks about it and I was kinda curious about that. So when we were doing the interview I saved it for the end and he went on and on about it. It was pretty interesting. There are things like that, where if you don’t ask you’ll never find out. At the same time those are the hardest questions to ask. Everybody knows Jason Kidd has a thing with his wife in Phoenix but you still have to ask or asking Shawn Kemp how many kids he has out of wedlock. A lot of those questions are scary to ask.
Yea you gotta be like hey Jason why is your kid’s head so big? Haha. I noticed that about Kenyon Martin when he was interviewing with Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith but in this society it’s kind of rude to really ask those type of questions.
In a way yea but these guys know there lives are out there. If you pay me fifteen million dollars a year you can ask me anything you want.
Exactly but I think that’s why people shy away from it but I think that’s cool to go ahead and ask those tough questions.
Part of it to be honest is it’s a little bit scary because these guys are huge. When I got there to do the interview, he was angry, throwing balls off the wall and he was injured so he wasn’t in a good mode. I was a little nervous to sit down and talk to him. But then he sat down and he was really cool. It helps to be from Slam because for so many of these guys the first time they were in any magazine was in Slam when they were in high school or in college. So a lot of them like Slam.
How do you take that conversation and turn it into an actual story that people are going to read. Do you go in with an angle before hand or do you let the story develop?
I think it’s dangerous to come up with too much of an angle before hand because you can end up writing yourself into a corner. Then you get to a certain point where all the quotes you have don’t fit. Usually what I try to do is pick up something from them that makes me want to write a certain way. The other thing is I read all the time so I’m always looking for inspiration in other things and techniques that I can use. It’s tough because I also write a column everyday on the website, so between that and five or six things a month for Slam, a couple things for King and a couple things for XXL I’m writing all the time. I was talking to my mom the other day and she said don’t spread yourself too thin and I was like mom it’s just words. You can always use words it’s not like I’m digging ditches. It’s just getting the words out and being entertaining.
What’s your favorite NBA team?
That’s tough. I’m from Atlanta and I like the Hawks but they’re so bad. This year I really liked watching Utah. They lost two hall of famers and their best scorer, Matt Harpring, got hurt a month into the season and they almost made the playoffs with a whole team of CBA players and guys no one ever heard of. What made it fun was Jerry Sloan. If you don’t play hard you don’t play. They would be nights guys would start, play five minutes and not play again the entire game. I enjoyed watching them a lot on League Pass just because they played their ass off. It’s hard for me to have favorite teams but I have favorite players. I like Steph a lot. Stephon was the first cover I ever did for Slam and he has always been really cool to me. My dog is named Starbury. Ever since then I always pull for him, I follow Shareef, there’s lots of guys I follow so it’s hard to have one team I pull for.
Do you have any one favorite player?
Probably Steph but then I’ve gotten to know so many of these guys that there’s probably one or two guys on every team that I check every morning to see how they did the night before. It makes it really hard when I do fantasy league because I want to get all my favorite players but that’s not always the best players to have. Like Dale Davis and Kevin Willis but you don’t want Kevin on your fantasy team.
I don’t know if you had a perception of NBA players or rappers before hand but as you’ve gone into it what were your thoughts on these people before hand and after dealing with them for years and years how do you feel about them?
As a basketball fan, I looked up to a lot of these guys. Dominique was my favorite player growing up. When I was a kid, I spent a whole summer mowing lawns in my neighborhood and bought one season ticket at the top of the Omni the year the Hawks had Reggie Theus, Moses Malone and Dominique. Even when I was in college I watched these guys and looked up to them and then when you start to go interview these guys it’s totally different. At first I was a little nervous about it because I was a fan, but the more time I’ve spent around these guys [you see] they’re just regular people. Some of them have stories, some of them are jerks and some of them aren’t. Part of being a good writer is having good personal skills and being able to adapt and adjust and get people to talk to you.
I guess it’s just like knowing regular people except they got a lot of money in their pocket.
How would you be? I don’t know how I would be. They’re dealing with something that they dreamed of dealing with they’re whole life and the rest of the world would love to have that problem of dealing with it.
Why do you feel people don’t cooperate when they are living a dream? I don’t understand why people start acting crazy when they get into professional sports.
All of us act like that from time to time with our jobs. You go to work and someone gets a story you want or gets a promotion you don’t get. All of us have a problem like that at work but we don’t have reporters waiting in the locker room when they get off work.
How difficult is it to have a career like yours and make the move from freelancing to full time?
It’s hard. I always compare it to the guy at the circus that spins the plates. That’s what a lot of it is from day to day. I’m sitting at my desk working on this story, that story, trying to get this idea going and trying to get so and so on the phone. There’s a lot of that going on. It’s not easy to break into but what job worth having is. I love doing what I do but it never does get easy. It always seems like feast or famine too. Being in Atlanta was good for my career because Slam and XXL didn’t have anybody there so I became their person there. New York is really hard because every writer in the world seems like they’re here. If you can get somewhere other than NY and establish yourself there it can be really good for you. You always hear it’s not what you know it’s who you know and that’s so true. I wouldn’t have done anything with King if I didn’t know Datwon. I’ve written for so many different people and it’s come from meeting people who know somebody who knows somebody. It’s getting out there and networking.
What do you think are some of the best and worst things you deal with as a writer?
This year I haven’t done as much traveling as I have in the past few years. I got married last summer and my wife is an editor at Teen People magazine. Since I got married I slowed down a little bit but what other job do you have where they let you go to all these places and watch basketball. I’ve been to so many NBA cities, you go there, you get stay in a nice hotel and watch basketball. That’s one of my favorite things. Then you have time to do other things when you are in the city. For someone who likes basketball and traveling it’s pretty awesome. I just like that my job is to watch basketball games. I’m up all night watching these games and I’m working. The worst thing is that sometimes you get tired of it. After the summer, you’re waiting for the season to start but usually around February it starts to get a little old and you get caught in a rut.
What have been your best articles and who are some of your favorite people to interview?
One of my favorite ones I did was a Rasheed Wallace cover three years ago and the cover line was ‘˜Love and Hate.’ I called the Trailblazers and we asked if Rasheed would do it and they said yea so I was like I’ll come out to Portland. Then they called back and said we’re coming to New York in two weeks and Rasheed said he’ll talk to you then. They came to NY and told me to come to the shoot around in the morning to talk to him and he was just a total jerk. He was like talk to me tonight man I’ll talk to you later. He was on his two-way and didn’t even look up. So then I went there before the game and he said I’ll talk to you afterwards. I was like Rasheed I’m gonna need twenty minutes at least because this is a cover story and he was like I know it will be cool. Then as the game started he got a technical foul and almost got thrown out of the game so I’m thinking this will be great he is gonna be in a horrible mood. So after the game I go into the locker room and I’m standing there and there are like four or five newspaper guys standing there. That’s something we have to deal with a lot is these newspaper writers. Those guys have deadlines an hour after the game and we have a month to do our stories. So we usually clear out, let them ask their questions and then just move in after them. So I’m standing there and Rasheed’s getting dressed and the other guys come over and Rasheed turns around looks at me and says alright man go ahead. One of the other writers immediately says ‘˜Rasheed tonight in the game’ and he turns around and looks at the guy and says I’m not talking to you guys, I’m only talking to him and he points at me. They’re all looking at me so I ask him ‘˜Rasheed what did you think about the game tonight’ so they could all use the quote. He answered the question and they were cool with it and then someone else asked a question and he was like I’m not talking to you guys I’m talking to him. It happened like three or four times and they all got pissed and complained to the Blazers media relations person. I got my questions, talked to him for five or ten minutes and he left. So I had to write this story out of a ten minute Q&A with him but I had talked to the coach and a lot of other guys who were on the team. I ended up writing the first three fourths of the story about Rasheed without any quotes from him just the other guys talking about him. Then the last quarter I ran it as a Q&A including the parts where he’s like I’m not talking to you and saying I gotta go. So it came out and three weeks later we’re at the all-star game. It’s like 2:30 in the morning and we’re at the hotel bar, Rasheed comes walking in and I’m like oh great. In the story I talk about how he’s kinda been a jerk and no one really understands why he’s like that and we just want to understand him. So he sees me and walks over with three of his boys and he was like you wrote the story for Slam right and I was like yeah. He goes that was a good story man. I said dude I tried to be totally honest and he said I know that’s cool. Since then Rasheed will give us secondary quotes for articles. We did a KG article and he gave us all these quotes but he won’t talk to any other media generally.
I did a long interview with Shawn Kemp when he was on Cleveland and he talked about everything: the drug use, the kids, being an alcoholic. It was pretty cool to have a guy open up like that and be willing to talk about anything. The first cover I did was right after we moved to New York. I had been here two weeks and I had a negative balance in my bank account since I hadn’t gotten my first check yet. I had to do a Stephon Marbury story so I went to Coney Island. He is driving me around Coney Island in his Bentley and he had his boy follow us in his other Bentley. I just thought it was funny that we were riding around in two Bentley’s and I have a negative balance in my bank account.
What suggestions do you have for up and comers trying to break into the writing game?
One thing I’ve always tried to do is write as much as you can. Write everyday. Since I started doing the website it’s really helped me a lot. It makes you hone your thoughts, concentrate more, and learn the craft. I think the main thing is practicing. Basketball players play ball all the time. Why would you not want to practice. As far as the business side of it, it goes back to it’s not what you know it’s who you know. Meet people and get your name out there. I read somewhere money should never keep you from writing a story. You should never not do something you want to do just because they don’t have enough money. I’ve written a lot of stuff for free especially starting out and even now I’ll do stuff for free for people I know or people who need a little help getting going. I think that’s part of it too is just giving back. People email me all the time and ask me how can I get started and I always try to write them back and give them some answers and some help. There are people who helped me a lot. Mike Sager, a senior writer at Esquire, has been a huge help to me. Whenever I have questions, I call him up. So if someone calls me up and has a question it’s just five minutes of my time. That’s what I always try to tell people, give back, practice, and just do it.
The Bullets (stupid questions that we ask anyway)
What’s your favorite era in hiphop?
I think my favorite era was the whole DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince era because everyone hates on it. They were having fun and there’s not enough of that in hiphop.
Let’s say you doing your thing for Slam and you gotta fly out to Chicago and there’s a big musical tour going around and there are a lot of NBA stars there too. You’re gone for a week and there is a mix-up in your hotel suite. You think you have this nice ass room but now you only have two choices. Who would you roommate with Rasheed Wallace or Whitney Houston?
I’d say Sheed. I think he’d keep Whitney Houston out of the room.
Hot or Not
Cassidy and R. Kelly
Hot, I love songs that have a melody to em.
Puffy’s Da Band
Hot, there’s no other show like that on TV. I don’t hate on them
J.Lo’s clothing line
Hot, I got to say that because the 40-40 club is in the lobby of our building.
106th and Park
Not, I like just Musiq I don’t like the Soulchild part. He’s hot since he dropped the Soulchild but not before that.
Kanye West’s new album
Kanye West’s shitty attitude
Which album do you think was the dopest of all time Reasonable Doubt or Illmatic?
I saw Bonsu said Reasonable Doubt so I’m gonna go with Illmatic.