Hip-hop Charlie Rose
TV host Jemuel ‘180’ Johnson wants to talk
At one side of a single round wood table is local emcee Dezit-Eaze, sporting a blazing-white button-up and gripping a red plastic cup. Facing him is Jemuel “180” Johnson, dressed to impress in a black vest and pinstripe shirt, his head cleanly shaven. Aimed at the duo are three TV cameras and a flock of blistering studio lights. Behind them is a black-curtain backdrop. The mood is at once serious and relaxed. The room is quiet.
This is the live taping of Half Circle, Johnson’s weekly Access Sacramento talk-show program, which highlights area musicians. Some call Johnson Sacramento’s hip-hop Charlie Rose; Johnson says he’s just trying to introduce people to Sac’s artists.
Just like that scene in Wayne’s World, the camera guy flashes his fingers in a countdown—five, four, three—and Dezit-Eaze and Johnson begin their half-hour chat. The rapper opens up about his family and kids and his love for God; Johnson listens intently, rocking forward and- backward in his nonswivel chair. When it’s all over, Johnson signs off: “Don’t be a flashlight burning in a drawer,” a message meant as much for his viewers as it is for this city’s talented musicians themselves.
Johnson was “always into talk,” so becoming the local Charlie Rose of rap was kind of a natural progression. Early last year, the 28-year-old musician/producer was looking for a career change in light of the recession, so he conceived Half Circle and began both producing the show and interviewing local rap, jazz and R&B artists every week on Access Sacramento.
In time, area musicians like Autumn Sky made guest appearances. Now, he’s got one of the hotter shows on free TV—and YouTube, too.
And so, a few weeks back, Johnson agreed to one of this writer’s crazier ideas: Turn the tables and let SN&R interview him on his program.
The resulting chat ended up more half-baked than truly Half Circle (visit www.youtube.com/jemuelj for evidence), but don’t blame Johnson. He was a killer guest; hosting a TV show, this writer learned, isn’t easy. The studio lights shoot at you like a cop car’s high beams. There’s too much pressure not to ask a boneheaded question or say a cuss word or fart or something. Hosting a TV show is like having a conversation with a girl that you like—everything is awkward mumbo jumbo, and you’re too worried about passing out to make sense of any real-life conversation. It’s like turning into Michael Cera.
I don’t know how Johnson keeps his cool. Yet there he is on every Half Circle episode, seated calmly across from area rappers like Bueno and Chase Moore, eagerly listening and asking all the right questions with the calming, seductive cadence of a true talk-show professional.
Johnson, a student of talk-TV history who’s read all the books, has a lot of tricks. Occasionally, he’ll rattle off one-word questions with a stylish tempo. Other times, he gets the interview back on track without a single word, just a piercing, curious stare.
And when the camera finally shuts down and the taping ends, he reaches out to shake your hand and eases back into his chair.
These days, everyone wants high-definition, explosive, bikinied, fake-tan guidette melodrama. Jemuel “180” Johnson just wants to listen.