Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Ivie Ani (CAS ’14), Music and Culture Expert, and 2019 MTV News Video Music Awards Aftershow Panelist

Ivie Ani
Photo credit: Olamide Studio
Ivie Ani, journalist and former Music Editor of Okayplayer, was featured as a panelist on the live 2019 MTV News Video Music Awards Aftershow and a judge at NYU's Got Talent. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Women in The World, The Village Voice, BBC, Teen Vogue, PAPER magazine, Complex magazine, Okayplayer, OkayAfrica, Grazia UK, and NYU’s Social and Cultural Analysis Journal. She has held positions at Facebook as a Trending News Content Curator, at BET Networks, and at Associated Press.

Ivie has done on-air commentary for BBC Radio, BET, Entertainment Tonight, Fox 5 NY, Genius, Hot 97, and Revolt TV, with more commentary that has been featured in Nylon, Tidal, Bustle, Racked, and more. She's been profiled in The Washington Post and APM Reports podcast and has appeared as a guest-host on Red Bull Radio.

Ivie Ani: her story continues

What did you study at NYU?

I had a dual degree in Journalism and Africana Studies. In the undergraduate Journalism program you are required to double-major in another discipline. When I started at NYU I knew that I definitely wanted to study journalism, but I changed my second major three times. I started in Linguistics, then switched to Music Composition. I had a background in reading music, since I used to play the clarinet in elementary school and middle school, but it didn’t end up being the right fit. Eventually, I settled on Africana Studies on the Social and Cultural Analysis track. It was something that I was invested in personally because I am Nigerian. Once I started in the program I loved it so much. It fulfilled my need to study history.

I do on-camera work now, but my focus was on print journalism when I was at NYU. I think it has been more helpful for my career than studying broadcast journalism would have been. The craftmanship of reporting can get lost in digital media. In my experience a lot of young professionals coming up in digital media in music criticism or cultural criticism are missing out on the experience and training of working in print. It is an entirely different editing process and writing process. Writing for print is a more fine-tuned process and I consider it a privilege to have had that experience and learned those tools.

Ivie Ani as a Judge at NYU's Got Talent
Ivie Ani as a Judge at NYU's Got Talent

What is your favorite memory of your time at NYU?

I am from the Bronx and I was a commuter student, so I never really explored the NYU area when I was a student. It is the one thing I regret. I was working full-time at Forever 21 in Times Square for all four years, so I was barely on campus outside of my classes. I wish I would have explored campus more. During my last semester it was hectic trying to balance work and school.

There’s no way I could have paid tuition without a combination of academic scholarships, federal grants, and my retail job. I was in the HEOP program (The Arthur O. Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program) for traditionally underserved, low-income New York State students which provided financial support. I am thankful for that. In my first year I also worked at the NYU Phonathon Call Center and those phone gifts from donors could have helped me directly.

My favorite memory is attending my first concert - the Big Sean concert at NYU. And while I was a student I also saw the Jay-Z and Kanye West “Watch the Throne” concert at Madison Square Garden.

How did you become the Music Editor of Okayplayer?

My first job out of college was at BET. I landed that job from an internship I had when I was a student. I was a production assistant on 106 & Park (a hip hop and R&B music video show) before they cancelled it in 2014. I worked on a few other shows at BET as well.

I was writing as a freelancer and building my platform on Twitter. I wrote a piece about rapper Missy Elliott’s work for a small publication. The piece gained traction online after Missy shared it on her Twitter feed and started following me. In 2015, the New York Times was launching Women in the World as a vertical – now it is its own website with news and features about women’s issues. The Times reached out to me to be a contributor for Women in the World about cultural and societal issues and I wrote a few pieces for them.

I worked at Facebook as Trending News Content Curator. And Village Voice reached out to me to write a few pieces about music. I later worked as a Village Voice culture fellow. The editor-in-chief at Okayplayer messaged me over Twitter to set up a meeting with me. She offered me the position of Music Editor and I just left a year and a half later. I had a great time there.

Now, I just signed with a literary agent and I am working on a book proposal.

How did you get connected with a literary agent?

It traces back to Twitter. When I was an editor at Okayplayer, I was overseeing the music vertical - commissioning writers, editing their pieces, and I was also writing and reporting on daily news. One of the news stories I wrote was about Dee Barnes. She is a very important figure in music history – she was the first black female journalist with her own show in hip-hop as the host of Fox’s show Pump It Up! It documented hip-hop in its early stages, in the 80’s and 90’s. Everyone in hip-hop knew her.

Dee interviewed Ice Cube after he left the group N.W.A. in 1990. A few months later, Dr. Dre assaulted her at a party in response to the interview. It caused lifelong physical damage to Dee and derailed her journalism career. What Dr. Dre did to Dee has always been the elephant in the room in hip-hop. Then, earlier this year, Dee did an interview with HipHopDX and announced on Twitter that she was homeless. I noticed that no one was covering the story, so I wrote up a news brief about it. It was a primer on who she was in music history and what happened to her. I Tweeted it out and it went viral. Dee shared it and many outlets picked it up. As a result, Dee went on The Wendy Williams Show where she announced that she had a book deal.

Dee’s agent, Connor Goldsmith, reached out to me to thank me for sharing her story and getting it traction. The same literary agent reached out to me a few months later after reading a piece I wrote about Beyonce and her Lion King album and its representation and misrepresentation of African music. He asked if I was interested in working on my own book. I was previously offered a book deal, but it wasn’t the right time. This feels like it is the right time with an agent who understands my work. Sometimes you have to bank on your intuition.

Ivie Ani
Photo credit: Olamide Studio

Can you talk about participating in the MTV News official VMAs Aftershow?

MTV News’ host Dometi Pongo had been following me on Instagram and Twitter and we have some mutual peers in the industry. About a month before the show, Dometi messaged me over Instagram and asked me to be on the panel for the live aftershow. It was a livestream video (see the link below).

Years ago I wrote a piece about the importance of Missy Elliott’s work and at this year’s VMA’s she finally received the Video Vanguard Award. It felt like coming full circle to have the chance to talk about her impact on air.

Had you done live on-air commentary before?

I had. The first time I did live on-air commentary was when I was working for BET right after I graduated from NYU. They were gearing up for the last few episodes of 106 & Park. There had recently been a police killing and the officer involved was not convicted. The trial had been huge and they needed someone who could talk about the verdict on-air. My job was to help with booking talent and I had booked a criminal justice lawyer for the segment.

Right before the segment was going to be filmed my producer told me to go on-air instead. I just said yes, even though I had no experience with on-camera work. They had me phone in and recorded my commentary live. I made the call from the NYU Journalism Institute, because it was too noisy in my apartment. Back then I was very involved in the activist network and community organizing and I was personally invested in issues around police brutality. It was also what I was writing about for the New York Times’ Women in the World at that time, so I felt comfortable speaking about these issues. I went on right after Barack Obama. That was my first time doing on-air commentary and it was live.

I have since done many podcasts and I did a segment for Entertainment Tonight earlier this year. I was never a good public speaker when I was growing up, but I learned it in my adult life.

What challenges have you faced as a journalist?

One of the things that I found challenging was trying to find a beat. I was focusing on culture, but there are beats within culture. I didn’t want to be limited to music, as I have also written about identity and history and politics.

Having to become a multimedia journalist has also been a challenge. The way the industry has changed with the importance of social media, I found myself recalibrating how I was approaching my writing and reporting.

We are in the world of influencers and I have had to reckon with not falling into the influencer category even by accident. As a journalist you are not supposed to be the center of the story. I believe that you do work that gets attention, you don’t do work for attention. If you focus on the work first, social media platforms can help elevate the work.

I get asked so many questions from students about how to navigate social media as a journalist, since things have changed dramatically over the past few years. I recently taught a Digital Media workshop to students at Wesleyan University.

What advice would you share with current NYU students?

Use all the resources that the university has to offer and research what those resources are, such as access to cameras and computers. Use the studios while you are here so you can start your work before you graduate. You don’t want to feel stuck or helpless when you first start out professionally. Go to office hours with your professors, read all the texts they assign. I still go back and read the texts from my NYU classes. I lucked out with good professors. Use your professors as resources and stay in touch with them after you graduate. Activate your networks, so that you are ready to grow and maintain those relationships.

Ivie Ani
Photo credit: Olamide Studio

Watch Ivie Ani on the 2019 MTV News VMA Aftershow Panel: https://twitter.com/MTVNEWS/status/1166192979385749504?s=20

BBC polled 108 critics from 15 countries across six continents to find out the best hip-hop song, including Ivie Ani. Read her top five songs here (Warning: Some of the song titles in this list contain language some readers may find offensive): http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20191007-the-greatest-hip-hop-songs-of-all-time-who-voted

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