Jemele Hill has expanded her journalism focus from sports analysis (where my His and Hers fans at?) to cultural criticism to politics. So it makes sense the journalist can celebrate the third season of a podcast that, in past years, has had guests as wide-ranging as Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson to comedic legend Katt Williams.
The media maven (slash talk show host, slash podcast network launcher, slash Atlantic contributing writer) dishes on her new season of the “Jemele Hill is Unbothered” podcast, what actually does bother her, and the launch of “The Unbothered Network” on Spotify.
PLUS she announces her next two big guests. Read on for more!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ESSENCE: So let’s jump right into it, who’s the first guest of the new, third season of “Jemele Hill is Unbothered” and why did you choose that person?
Jemele Hill: Well, I feel like they chose me. Almost 30 years ago, when I first started listening to her music, it’s been a dream of mine at some point to interview Mary J. Blige, and that is who the first guest will be. Mary and I have met before, and I interviewed her last year for the American Black Film Festival. It was a little bit different, because that wasn’t my turf, necessarily. So this time, to have her on the podcast, it was really, really a dream come true. As I told Mary, a lot of young boys grew up with Michael Jordan as the poster on their wall. For me, it was Mary J. Blige. Her albums dropped at three very important points in my life. Mary J. was with me every step of the way, whether she knew it or not.
ESSENCE: Yes, Mary has been a part of a lot of our histories, including ESSENCE Fest where we’ve seen her famous Mary J. Blige bop, though she’s done it elsewhere.
J.H.: Well at ESSENCE Fest it felt like it was pronounced [laughs]. She’s just really been there. It was really a treat to talk to her in this environment [of my podcast], and she certainly embodies the spirit of what this podcast is. Given all she’s been through, how she’s overcome and persevered, and really been an inspiration to so many women, especially, obviously Black women, she was the perfect guest to start a busy season of “Jemele Hill is Unbothered.”
ESSENCE: How excited are you overall about the beginning of the podcast season?
J.H.: I’m really excited because—I made note of this when I was taping a few things for this premiere episode—but this time last year, when season two started, everything just felt really down and sad and heavy because it was coming off of state-sanctioned violence and we were in the course of dealing with a pandemic, dealing with, you know, some heavy racial conversations and things that were going on in the country. We’re kind of coming out of this pandemic a little bit, there’s a lot, there’s something to look forward to for everybody. And it just feels a lot different, where last year we were all isolated, locked in our home, for the most part. So the tone of even how I started season three is much better. From that standpoint, so I’m excited about it. And not that I wasn’t excited last year, it’s just like a different level of excitement.
Listen here for the exclusive trailer of the upcoming season!
ESSENCE: Now speaking of last year’s season, you had guests that are outside of entertainment, including Isabel Wilkerson, who I also fangirl over, because Warmth of Other Suns was just next level. What books or authors are you fangirling over now?
J.H.: I tell people all the time, [Warmth of Other Suns] is one of the more definitive, thorough, exhaustive books about race ever written, and I’m a huge, huge fan of [its author] Isabel Wilkerson. Right now, I’m actually reading—and I hope she’ll be on the podcast—but I’m reading Tamika Mallory’s book right now.
But season two—I don’t want to give too much of the guest list away—but these first three guests of the podcast pretty much set the tone for what you can expect for the rest of the season. The first guests are Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott and Michael B. Jordan. So that’s a high barometer.
ESSENCE: So the show title references you being “unbothered,” but is there anything in the news, or generally speaking, that is really bothering you right now?
J.H.: I’m bothered by everything! [laughs] I guess to narrow it down, obviously one of the foremost issues is all these purported attacks on critical race theory. This is something I will talk about in the first podcast. It’s such a shameful exercise. We have so many politicians who are in office, who are beneath the dignity of the office that they’re supposedly serving. I don’t know if the hypocrisy has been lost on anybody, but at the same time that we have a national holiday now for Juneteenth, we have a number of states and bad faith actors who have banned teaching critical race theory. Though none of these numbskulls actually know what it is. They’re using that term to excuse further marginalizing marginalized people.
ESSENCE: Now you’ve also expanded your partnership with Spotify and you’re launching The Unbothered Network. What prompted you to launch it?
J.H.: Well it was something maybe a year, year and a half in the making. Just looking around the landscape of podcasting, it’s still very white. And there’s still a lot of voices that are not represented, and there’s still voices that are being drowned out. And, you know, one thing that [happens] in this country is overlooking Black women, or just erasing their existence period until they need us for something. Everybody wants to talk about Black Girl Magic and “Yes, Queen” and all that stuff, when we’re in service to others. But when it comes to uplifting and amplifying our stories, and really highlighting the nuance of who we are as women and girls, then everybody’s silent.
I thought that it was time, especially with all the events of last year, that a space be developed, so that it can explore the entire nuance of Black women and girls. And, you know, Spotify they are such a great partner, we’re value aligned. They’re committed to a lot of the things that I’m committed to, and they trusted me, because of my voice. And certainly based off, you know, two decades of work as a journalist, that it would be something I’d be able to spearhead and really fulfill the promise of what I think it can be.
So it was really important to me, that not only that we have a network that showcases Black talent, and Black creativity, but the decisions be made by Black women, because that’s the other component. There are certainly instances where you see people trying to amplify Black stories, but then you peel back the curtain, and all the people making the decisions don’t look like the people that they say that they’re serving. That’s not going to be the case here. In addition to me, Christina Tapper is the head of content for this network. Christina is a very dedicated, committed, just smart, unbelievable, you know, creative thought leader, and so she’s the perfect person to run this network.