William E. Ketchum III With First Cover Story

Napkins, Ghostface Killah, and My First Cover Story

“Don’t worry about it,” my editor said. “I know you’ve been trying your hardest, but Ghost has been difficult. We’ll run the story either way.”

On that Friday afternoon in September 2005, a week into the fall semester at Michigan State University, I wasn’t taking “no’ for an answer. My diligent pitching and a review of U-God’s Mr. Xcitement (in retrospect, three stars was way too generous) had already shown Mike Cusenza, Editor-In-Chief at ELEMENTAL Magazine, that I was serious. He accepted my pitch of Trife Da God and Ghostface Killah for a feature story, and the interview was halfway done. Trife, who was unsigned and presumably hungry for press, was easy to contact and candid in conversation. But Ghostface – a standout member of Wu-Tang Clan, and a solo artist on Def Jam, rap’s biggest label – had stood me up three times for his part of the interview. Today was stand-up number four: they wrangled Ghost to do a photo shoot in NYC, but he hadn’t called me afterward like he was asked. I appreciated Mike’s support, but I wasn’t giving up: this story lost credibility without Ghostface quotes.

After three hours past my scheduled time with Ghostface came and went, I decided to visit the mall with Jessica*, a girl I was dating at the time, to spend money and blow off steam. Right after buying a crisp New York Yankees fitted cap (my cure-all at 20 years old), I got a call from an unidentified New York number.

“Yo, this is Trife, I got Ghost here.”

“Damn. Can you hit me back in like 30 minutes, so I can get back home to my recorder?”

“Nah man, I got him now.”

Years before I kept a Moleskine notebook in my back pocket, my journalism career was digital-only. I used a device I bought at RadioShack to connect my digital recorder and my cell phone, and I was sure to be in my Wonders Hall dorm room for at least 30 minutes before every interview. This time, circumstances were different.

I frantically scanned the mall and sprinted to the food court, where I grabbed a handful of napkins from Panda Express and borrowed a pen from Jessica. After running through the questions in my head for about 10 seconds, I asked Trife to put Ghostface on the phone. I was a huge fan of Ghost’s seminal disc Supreme Clientele, but this conversation was straight to business. How did he meet Trife? What did he see that convinced him to take him under his wing? I scribbled notes on the napkins as Jessica sighed and looked on.

Once I arrived home, I added Ghost’s quotes and emailed Mike with the story, photos of the napkins (seen above), and questions on any necessary edits. After a laugh-filled phone call the following Monday, he emailed me back saying he liked the story as I sent it. The next month, I received the issue in the mail: my first cover story.

Click HERE, or either photo, to read the story.

Thanks: Mike Cusenza for believing in me, Jessica* for not dissing me at the mall, Trife for the last-minute phone call, and Ghostface for inadvertently showing me what it takes.