Funkmaster Flex has worked his way up to being, arguably, the most well known DJ and radio personality of his generation. From his radio show on New York’s Hot97, to his car customization business, to his TV shows, Funk Flex has his hand in just about everything that interests him. With Flex’s new television show, Funk Flex Full Throttle, having debuted on MTV this month, RapReviews caught up with him to learn more about the show, his thoughts on the current state of radio and payola, and where his last album advance went (hint – it didn’t go to making an album). Funk Flex also revealed his very interesting prediction for hip-hop’s three hottest rising stars, which artist disappointed him greatly during their first interview, and why he’s following Justin Bieber on Twitter.

Adam Bernard: I know you have a lot of things going on, but I saw something on your Twitter page that I think needs to be addressed immediately. You follow Justin Bieber… What the hell?

Funkmaster Flex: Definitely. He sells a lot of records, so I’d like to know what he’s doing. Did you notice all of the people I’m following? It’s a different mix. I’m into a lot of things. I like to learn. I think it’s kinda easy to just follow a lot of things that are in your genre.

AB: When Bieber gets his driver’s license will you have him on your new MTV2 show, Funk Flex Full Throttle?

FF: He’s not of age? {*laughs*} Then I probably will. Did you ever see the footage of him freestyling on Tim Westwood’s show? It’s funny. I think that’s when I started following him.

AB: How is Funk Flex Full Throttle going to be different from all the other car customization shows that have been on the air?

FF: The difference for me is it has a little bit more of the reality of what I do during the day. I’ve never really put that on camera. It’s everything that I do before the radio.

AB: Did you really trick out a Ford Fiesta for the show?

FF: I will, but I haven’t done it yet.

AB: What are you planning on doing to it? Anything really crazy?

FF: I think our image of tricking out, I think a lot of people think Pimp My Ride, and over the top, but for me, when you think customization and what I like to do, think performance upgrade, suspension upgrade, body kit upgrade, paint upgrade, sound system upgrade. It’s important to talk about the trends of where kids are right now, then you can understand my customization. People want to feel more luxury in a smaller car that doesn’t cost as much to put gas in and doesn’t cost as much to customize. Kids are really leaning towards performance, hot colors, and in-car entertainment. I’m definitely not thinkin of making it hokey.

AB: Old man question – when you trick out a car, how much does it affect the insurance rates?

FF: Usually your insurance rate goes someplace high from the gate. Having a red car costs more, eight cylinders costs more, more horsepower costs more, if you have a top of the line car, those cars get stolen more, so they cost more, but customization is really for the individual. If you put $20,000 worth of upgrades into your car your car is not worth $20,000 more. A customization is really for comfort.

AB: Speaking of comfort, you’ve been comfortable at Hot97 for quite a while now. Since you’ve been in such a position for so long, I’m wondering if you could address the payola isue. How much does payola still affect commercial radio?

FF: I think things do exist; I think people do plane tickets, I think people do gifts, I think people do that kind of stuff. How I started in the business, I used to carry records for a lot of popular DJs and the one thing that I saw was people taking money. That’s why it was so important for me to not just have other businesses, but in the beginning I was very keen on becoming a big nightclub DJ because I knew that if I could make the nightclub money, and go to the clubs and play, then I would never need outside assistance. The way I talk crazy on the radio, and how sometimes I’m a dick on the radio, I always knew I could be that personality if I didn’t take money. I always knew I could speak my opinion and say what I want to say at all times. When you take money you can’t be as opinionated as I am. That’s me talking about me, though. In 2010 I think it (payola) still exists. I think people still do it. I think they’re a little more secretive because (former New York governor Eliot) Spitzer cracked down on radio a lot more, so I don’t think people do it as much, or as openly, but I think it exists.

AB: It’s amazing he had the time to do that with everything else he was, ahem, doing.

FF: It was an issue, and this is something about the internet that’s so key – it’s payola free. You put music out and people can discover it. If enough people discover it, then it becomes interesting. You can’t pay people to discover it.

AB: Unless you buy your own album so many times it ranks on the iTunes chart.

FF: At the end of the day that’s like Soundscan scamming. I think where radio is now, and people will probably get upset that I’m saying it, but radio does not break records anymore. You know what radio does? It develops careers and artists because the internet can’t do that.

AB: So the internet will only get an artist so far?

FF: Drake can have ten records on the internet, but radio’s what makes him a star, radio is what puts him in a place where he can be seen to perform. Radio is what plays all his records and tells you when his album’s coming out. BET and MTV is where you can see him and hear what he wants to talk about. Even though we’ve lost control of the music, it’s why certain radio stations survive. My show has a young lady by the name of Miss Info who gives news, and not just hip-hop news. The radio today cannot be solely about the music, it has to be an information center. That’s what the internet is, it’s not solely about the music, it’s an information center and (hip-hop websites) cater to a lifestyle. Hip-hop is sneakers, clothes, cars, video games, watches, phones, gadgets. They might as well just call it whatever’s young. Hip-hop’s whatever’s young and cool.

AB: That being said, you noted that DJs don’t break records like they used to. With that in mind, is there any way for an artist who is supremely talented, but has no budget for a radio promoter, to get commercial radio airplay?

FF: Oh yeah. I play records all the time. Drake was just hot… not hot, but he was just clever and persistent. You have to be clever and persistent. And you know what, your music doesn’t always have to be super clever, but your energy has to be clever and you have to have drive. Originally I got into the automotive business because I planned on it to replace the music business. I always have an attitude of hey, one day this is all I want to do. What I love is, and I don’t want this to sound cocky, but I hold that radio crown and I hold that customization crown at the same time. I’m sure you do a lot of interviews. How many DJs and rappers do you talk to that are just trying to figure out where the next buck is coming from?

AB: A lot.

FF: And I don’t knock that, man, but do you think Hot97 pays me a lot of money? Radio doesn’t pay nothing. It pays decent money. That’s not why I’m on the radio. I love being on the radio. Nothing beats the feeling when you meet somebody, or you know somebody, that tells you about an artist you haven’t heard yet and you go to find the song to make your opinion on it and if you love it you start playing it, and then you watch it to see if it becomes something. It makes your day not humdrum. A lot of people who’ve done as many years in radio as I have, they get a sour face when they hear a new artist, but I love new artists because they bring new energy and breath to the game

AB: In all your years at Hot97 you’ve had A LOT of artists come through for interviews. Is there anyone you’ll NEVER allow in your studio again?

FF: You want me to keep it one hundred, man? You know what, I’ma tell you something, and please, it’s important you print this right. There isn’t anyone I wouldn’t allow in my studio, but I didn’t enjoy my first interview with Yung Joc. I felt that he was more interested in convincing me how popular he was going to become than how much he loved the business, and I was disappointed to see an artist that early in his career almost not enjoying himself. I thought about that about two weeks ago. I saw him in the airport, he was super pleasant, I talked to him, but I remembered that first interview. It wasn’t good for me emotionally.

AB: On “2000 B.C.” Canibus said “watch Flex drop a bomb on it / about ten times on it.” I want to know, have you ever dropped the bomb on a Canibus song ten times?

FF: I haven’t, but I’m a Canibus fan. It’s so hard though, man, because I’m an LL groupie. When I was 16 I remember buying his records from the store, and to meet him, to see him come in the Tunnel at the booth while I was playin, it was unreal.

AB: I did an in-person interview with him a handful of years ago and when he walks into the room it’s like – it’s fuckin LL Cool J.

FF: {*laughs*} It’s bananas to see that guy. There’s something about him. I loved Canibus, too. I loved his style and the way he cracked that mic. Canibus knows I love him. I was so torn in that battle, that was so hard for me. You know who looks up to him a lot, J. Cole. J. Cole told me that’s his favorite rapper.

AB: Wow, that’s pretty interesting. It’s good to hear an up and coming rapper is looking up to someone who isn’t totally mainstream. Switching gears a bit. A while back you had your own shoe with Lugz. Do you have any new kicks on the way?

FF: No, I haven’t been with Lugz in a long time. I did a couple underground joints and that was basically it. I think that was a great time for me and I loved doing it, but I think that time’s up, man. It’s like the albums. I don’t make the albums anymore. You know, I may judge people on what they’re not excited about when they’re doing things, so I have to be honest about myself. I was never excited to do those albums. They were always a marketing tool for me. The Volumes, they were always a marketing tool in terms of videos and promoting my name nationally. I had my last one, I did like 900K or platinum, and I had to be honest with myself that it was time to stop. It wasn’t what I wanted to do and I was getting a little more unhappy as I was going along.

AB: If you’re not enjoying yourself then what’s the point?

FF: I got a story I’ve never told anyone. I took my advance and my recording budget for my last album to start my automotive business. I never recorded the album. I took that money and I bought a warehouse, I bought equipment, I got some employees and an office, and invested in myself and I never looked back. I owe that label that album to this day.

AB: Maybe you can give em a ride in one of your cars.

FF: Hopefully.

AB: Finally, give everyone one artist to watch out for this year.

FF: Drake and J. Cole and I think Nicki Minaj. I can’t give you one because I don’t think there’s one, I think it’s those three. The last Drake album was just a mixtape, Nicki hasn’t dropped an album yet, and J. Cole hasn’t dropped an album yet, and those three are, I think, highly anticipated… and I don’t think they’re all gonna do well.

AB: Wait, what?

FF: I don’t think there’s room for all of them to do well.