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Meet Adam22, Underground Hip-Hop’s Major Tastemaker

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Meet Adam22, Underground Hip-Hop's Major Tastemaker

"Come In, We're Awesome," reads the sign that greets visitors to OnSomeShit, a hip Melrose clothing store that caters to BMX lifers and hip-hop heads in Los Angeles, selling everything from hoodies to biking gear. The shop projects a rough, edgy vibe, but the real magic happens in the backroom, where owner Adam Grandmaison is quickly transforming himself into a major rap tastemaker, one blunted, in-depth interview at a time.

In the span of a few years, Grandmaison – better known as Adam22 – has built a DIY media empire that includes podcasts, vlogs, fashion and an ever-growing social media presence, bringing him to the attention of television producers and record labels, all of whom are very interested in what a 6-foot-3, 225-pound, shaved-head, heavily tattooed white 33-year-old who loves talking about drugs and threesomes thinks about the future of hip-hop. A professional hustler who's already had several lifetimes' worth of guises – graffiti artist, online poker player, drug dealer, high-profile BMX blogger – Grandmaison finds all his different sides coalescing brilliantly with No Jumper, an insanely popular YouTube channel that's distinguished by two things: freewheeling interviews with up-and-coming hip-hop acts and his chronicling of the random dumb shit he does during his free time.

But at this moment, Grandmaison is mostly just very hungover. It's a warm Sunday afternoon in June and he's about to record his latest episode of the No Jumper podcast. Anyone who's seen Grandmaison's interviews on YouTube, which occassionally generate more than a million views, will recognize the OnSomeShit backroom. In person, it's utilitarian: a nondescript storage area with a few tables, chairs, a couch and the lingering smell of weed.

Soon, employees and friends start convening, catching up on the wild party they attended the night before and setting up for the arrival of Grandmaison's guest, Peter Rosenberg, the influential Hot 97 DJ whose career inspired Adam to turn his hip-hop fandom into a living. Dressed in a black T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, Grandmaison is feeling the aftereffects of the evening's shenanigans. He didn't get to bed until six. But he's got a story to tell his boys.

"Hey, you remember those two girls from that podcast?" he asks sleepily. "I so could have had a threesome last night, but I was so freakin' geeked out of my mind and didn't feel like trying it." His pals give him shit, accusing him of wimping out for fear of displeasing his girlfriend, social-media celebrity Lena Nersesian (a.k.a. Lena the Plug).

Grandmaison tries to play it off, but he admits, "It's, like, you want to fuck other girls just to prove to yourself that you have no feelings, but then when you kinda do have feelings, it's like, 'Aw, fuck …'" He agonizes over what might have been. "At one point, I had my door closed in my room and they were smoking cigarettes out the window," he says, almost wistfully. "I'm sitting on the bed and both their asses are right there. I was thinking, 'I need to just grab their asses and start rubbing their pussies and this could totally get cracking right now.' But I just did not have it in me..."

Sipping from a Starbucks to-go cup, Grandmaison sits back in his chair and hops around SoundCloud and YouTube sampling different hip-hop tracks. He digs on Xavier Wulf and Chxpo Soicy, occasionally rapping along with casual authority. But he's far less impressed with "Running," the new cut from Kool G Rap with Termanology and Saigon. Dismissively, Grandmaison announces, "This is, like, all rappers that, at various points over the last 10 to 20 years in their careers, have dissipated into nothing. Now they're coming together and trying to act like anybody gives a fuck." He yawns and clicks off the track.

When Rosenberg arrives, he's treated with warm hugs and fist-bumps. The admiration is mutual: As Rosenberg sits down at the interview table, he explains to Rolling Stone that he views Grandmaison as an advance scout searching for combustible new talent.

"When I was trying to find out who the new rappers are, this was the only interview that I would ever find with people," Rosenberg says. "It's awesome that's someone's doing it, because I don't have enough in the tank to still interview all these new cats. It's awesome seeing someone who's knowledgeable about it and passionate. [No Jumper] feels small, but it reaches a shitload of people."

Grandmaison and Rosenberg prepare for the interview, as the crew set up the cameras and lone spotlight. Soon, the two are engaged in riveting conversation that, over 90 minutes, covers hip-hop, Bill Maher's recent use of the N-word, Mike Tyson and Trump's decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris accords. It's Grandmaison at his best, letting the interview feel more like a hangout session between two rap nerds going deep on all the topics that excite them. The atmosphere is so relaxed that Rosenberg eventually lights up a cigarette and accepts a Pabst Blue Ribbon from the No Jumper crew while he's riffing.

"Dude, keep doing your thing," Rosenberg tells Grandmaison approvingly.

It's now a few days later, and Grandmaison is absentmindedly playing with a kendama while chilling on OnSomeShit's patio. He's pondering why he's been able to maintain a seemingly inexhaustible interest in new hip-hop when so many other folks his age are letting their tastes calcify.

"I feel like I'm stuck in a perpetual adolescent state," Grandmaison says. "I've never grown up. I've never really had a job as an adult. I never really had to do anything that I didn't want to do."

Raised in Nashua, New Hampshire by a librarian mother and social worker father, Grandmaison latched onto hip-hop at an early age, falling under the sway of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's Doggystyle.

"Snoop Dogg was when I first realized, 'Oh, there's this whole huge subculture within hip-hop,'" he says. "This was also the point when my mom made me stop watching wrestling – I was getting in a lot of fights, even when I was in first and second grade – and I remember her just being like, 'You're not allowed to watch this shit anymore.' I remember finding Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, and it just appealed to me so much."

His mother had to worry about him a lot. In his teens, he'd get arrested for fighting and graffiti. Grandmaison always possessed an aptitude for creative expression – he drew and wrote – but it quickly dovetailed with a comparable talent for scamming. After barely graduating high school, he went to community college before attending the University of Massachusetts Lowell, dropping out to focus on credit-card fraud. "I learned that from a kid from the Czech Republic," he recalls. "We went to some mall, and he bought me fucking fettuccine Alfredo on somebody else's credit card. I was like, 'All right, fuck school.' I just went crazy after that."

"You can't be just about the music now. Rap is really about character-building more than anything," Grandmaison says.

Along the way, he assumed that the trappings of a conventional life – regular job, even an apartment – weren't for him. And to make sure he wouldn't be tempted, he got tattoos. "A big part of me was like, 'You know what, you can just go get a job and do all the normal stuff,'" he recalls thinking. "But I decided I'd rather go to jail and fucking take all this crazy risk. I want to put something on my face or on my neck or on my hands that's gonna make sure that I have to keep trying. I'd rather strike out in a big way and feel like a fucking idiot who can't get a job at 30 than play it safe."

After years of supporting himself through online poker, he poured his energy into his passion for BMX, creating The Come Up, a website obsessively dedicated to the sport. "When I started that, it was a pay cut for sure," Grandmaison says, "but it was almost exactly like scamming."

Quickly, he hit upon an online model for communicating his fandom that paved the way for No Jumper.

"I did the BMX thing exclusively for 10 years – every day, get up, write these blog posts, try to pick the best thumbnail possible for shareability. Put it on Facebook, put it on Twitter. Chop up the best clips from a video to put on Instagram to get more people to look at it. This was 2008, so this was before this [model] became established – [now] that's what anybody who works in media is basically doing every day."

Eventually, he started pulling in six figures, hiring a staff and then needing to return to an occasional hobby – selling weed – to make ends meet. But after The Come Up tasted success, Grandmaison got itchy. "When I first moved [to L.A.], like, four or five years ago, I remember there was a moment where I was just like, 'Man, I'm not grinding anymore. I'm not waking up feeling like I'm chasing after something.' I knew I wanted a podcast at that point. I knew I wanted a bike shop. I knew I wanted to get way more serious about a clothing line."

And while he was envisioning this future, he thought about his enthusiasm for under-the-radar hip-hop – which made him realize there weren't many people documenting the scene. "I think I was smart that I started [No Jumper] real small," he says. "I was doing interviews with underground dudes that knew me and respected me. I didn't have the perspective of, 'Oh, I have to go get an interview with somebody who's very significant.' To me, guys like Xavier Wulf were significant as fuck, 'cause that was actually who I was listening to."

Soon, Grandmaison wasn't just interviewing up-and-comers but giving them a platform. One of his major finds was Florida rapper XXXTentacion, who appeared on No Jumper in the spring of 2016 just a few months after his breakout track, "Look at Me," hit SoundCloud. It was an early indication of Grandmaison's ability to spot rising talent – along with conducting extensive interviews with acts like Lil Yachty and the Suicide Boys. But he can't pinpoint his secret for spotting budding stars beyond a gut instinct and a willingness to be open to what's got young hip-hop fans buzzing.

"When I interviewed X, it wasn't necessarily like I was the biggest fan of his music," he explains. "I didn't become a huge fan until a little bit after that. But the comment section for months [before the interview] forced me to check him out. The comment section knew way before I knew. I would go look at his Instagram – he might have had 15 percent or 20 percent engagement. Even now, he will get a half-a-million likes, and he has 2 million followers, which is unheard of – that's such a gigantic percentage [of engagement]. And that tells you everything you need to fucking know. The kids see stuff coming way before me – and way before anybody that works for a record label. You could feel the rumblings when you look at social media. You could feel what dudes are able to inspire such a passionate response out of their fan base."

Such a description of a burgeoning rapper's potential – valuing social-media engagement over artistry – may seem superficial, but in the wild west of SoundCloud and Instagram, presence and individuality are crucial.

"You can't be just about the music now," Grandmaison says. "Rap is really about character-building more than anything. I always compare it to wrestling – that's cliché, but it's totally true. You see people all the time who get way more popular 'cause they go to jail. They get way more popular 'cause they beat somebody's ass or kill somebody – or people think they might have killed somebody.

"I probably would be a rapper if I was born fucking 20 years later," he says. "But in '97, when I'm going through puberty, Eminem isn't even out yet. I feel very good about the fact that a lot of the kids that I deal with, they don't have that [negative] shit built into their head – like 'I'm a girl' or 'I'm white' or 'I've never done any street shit in my life.' That shit doesn't hold kids back from wanting to rap these days. It does feel a little bit diluted, in that it used to take a lot to become a rapper. But I think it's overall a very good thing, and that's why hip-hop is the language of the whole culture now. The sound is so expansive, but it can include such multitudes of different styles. And it's gonna keep getting so much crazier."

And now, guys in suits are starting to pick his brain to figure out precisely where the music is going. "X went out so far in front of everybody that it made everybody else in the [Florida] scene hot," Grandmaison says. "Like Lil Pump, Smokepurpp … all these guys start getting signed. And all of a sudden, I'm being looked at like, 'Oh, you're the dude that can help explain this to us.'"

Grandmaison has had conversations with label execs about doing business – "They just want to give me a bunch of money to do a joint label deal with them," he says – but he's not sure if that's where he wants to take No Jumper. He's very aware that much of the brand's appeal comes directly from viewers' appreciation of him. Just like the SoundCloud rap movement he documents, Grandmaison is a master of self-marketing and a crackling personality: chatty, funny, opinionated, brusque and thoughtful.

All these qualities shine especially in some of his most popular personal vlogs, which include the accurately titled "I Shaved My Head" and "I Had a Threesome and I Vlogged It." He's not someone who shies away from revealing his life on camera, and although his girlfriend (and frequent costar) Lena tells him when she thinks he's crossed a line, he prefers being as honest as possible – whether it's about his drug use or his sexual proclivities.

Asked if executives have chafed at his honesty and told him to tone it down, Grandmaison replies, "If they ever were to say anything like that to me, it would be: 'Conversation over.' Nothing could happen that would make me be like, 'Oh, I'm gonna not show this.' I don't know how to showcase a version of my life that's not offensive and that's not real."

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