"Don Cornelius...was an idol," Arsenio Hall says. "Oprah, an idol. But they didn't like Hip Hop. That was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Late-night talk show host Arsenio Hall recently spoke with VladTV about his early career as a television host granting interviews to rappers. Explaining his early stake in Hip Hop, Hall said Don Cornelius and Oprah “didn’t like Hip Hop” and that “that was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“I was talking to Russell [Simmons] one day, it kind of focused me,” he said. “He was telling me about this guy he knew, that he was working with, that was living with his grandmother. That’s how old this kid was, I think this kid might have been 19. The career was so young he called him James. After we continued talking about James I realized that him and Rick Rubin were working with a gentleman who professionally was gonna be called LL Cool J. That period changed my life because I put LL Cool J on my Fox show—this is before the Paramount Arsenio Hall Show, before Coming To America. I’m playing around for 11 weeks on this Fox show. I put LL on, I put Whodini on. The numbers popped as we say in the business. The ratings looked good.”
Generalizing about the role Hip Hop played in his early career development, Hall went on to detail the opportunity to broadcast the culture early in its commercial era.
“Basically, Hip Hop saved my life,” he said. “Hip Hop gave me a career. Sure there’s Bill Clinton and sure there’s all the actors and actresses that came along, but being able to put Will Smith on...and all those things. That brought a culture—and when I say culture I don’t mean Black, I mean the Hip Hop culture—it brought this whole new culture. Don’t forget, I had kids who had pants on backwards. They weren’t even sagging, they were on backwards...I was bringing this into the living rooms of people who could safely watch it and get to understand it. That’s really why it worked.”
Referencing Don Cornelius and Oprah, Hall also hinted that their reluctance to cover Hip Hop left the space wide open.
“Don Cornelius is an idol, was an idol,” he said. “Oprah, an idol. But they didn’t like Hip Hop. That was the best thing that ever happened to me. I think Oprah would be cool with me saying that. Until she started hanging out with Jay Z, it wasn’t on Oprah’s radar. Oprah wasn’t in Chicago, saying, ‘When does Common perform?’ That’s not what she was dealing with. I got to have all of that. That became the great story. Don Cornelius did not like Q-Tip, so I got all of that.”