'Noisey' host and Maryland native Zach Goldbaum talks Vice's new music show

Q&A: "Noisey" host and Md. native talks Vice, exploitation criticism and his new music show.

Years before he was host of "Noisey," Viceland’s new music show debuting at 10 tonight, Zach Goldbaum was just another teenager growing up in Montgomery County, cheering on the local rock band Good Charlotte.

“I loved them because I was going through a little bit of a punk stage, but not really proper punk — like suburban pop-punk. So I was listening to Good Charlotte, and I thought they were this awesome local act from Waldorf talking about the struggles of life in Maryland,” Goldbaum, now 27, said on the phone from Vice headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y., earlier this week. “I was such a superfan. This was before they got really, really big.”

Goldbaum, mid-sentence, gets self-conscious, as if each word is a cool point being deducted. He lands on a concession: “I’m talking too much about Good Charlotte.” 

His tastes have shifted since, but Goldbaum’s enthusiasm for music and the people making it led to his new gig as the face of “Noisey,” one of the first offerings from Viceland, the cable channel from Vice Media that debuted on Monday. (How’d he land the job? After briefly pursuing comedy in D.C., Goldbaum moved to New York, where he was eventually hired as a production assistant on Vice’s HBO series, which led him to “Noisey.”)

The series premiere finds Goldbaum interviewing Kendrick Lamar — along with some of the Los Angeles rapper’s lifelong friends, who made their gang affiliation known to cameras — about their difficult upbringings, the lasting effects and more.

Like other Viceland programming, “Noisey’s” coverage takes an up-close and unvarnished view of its subjects. While “Noisey’s” previous online documentaries have found audiences around the world, some have criticized the brand’s hide-nothing approach to reporting as cultural voyeurism. The 10-part “Noisey Atlanta” documentary, which opens with a man cooking crack on a stove, was described as “Vice takes hipster safari through the traps of Atlanta rap” by Creative Loafing.

Goldbaum, a graduate of Wootton High School in Rockville, said he and his producers kept the criticism in mind while forming the cable series. He discussed that, the goal of “Noisey,” hanging out with Rick Ross and more in the edited and condensed interview below.

You went to Compton to interview Kendrick Lamar. What effect did it have on you seeing the world he grew up in so close?

A huge effect. For me, the characters and the people you hear on “To Pimp a Butterfly,” “Section.80,” “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” you have a deeper appreciation and understanding of that music when you meet the people it’s about and the place that it’s about. I think that’s what we hope the show can be – a companion piece for the music. You can get so much out of all of those albums. They’re just unbelievable pieces of art. But when you watch the piece, I hope you can come back with a deeper appreciation, because he talks about, maybe not directly, but he’s talking about these people he grew up with, about experiences in the church, experiences with guys like Lil L and [Hitta] J3. These are the guys he spent his whole childhood with. We spent weeks with them, so I feel like I have a much deeper appreciation of the music having done that.

“Noisey” has been criticized in the past from viewers and even subjects who weren’t happy with their depictions. It’s usually claims of exploitation. Was that discussed in the early talks of what “Noisey” would be on Viceland? 

We’re definitely aware of how the audience perceives the show. Like I said, we spend a lot of time with these characters. I think we are really trying to do justice to them by letting them speak for themselves. You know, it’s always going to be a fine line. This is immersive journalism. It’s going to be subjective to some degree. As such, the audience will have their subjective view about how we’ve interpreted what we saw. But by allowing the characters and subjects — people like Kendrick, Lil L and J3 and all of these guys — to speak for themselves and say their peace, I would hope it’s not exploitative. I know the guys from Compton have seen this, and most of them are proud about how they’ve been portrayed.

We do our best to do so fairly, but I hear the concerns. I think we’ve always discussed how we can be better at that. We went back to Chicago, for example, this season, where we had done the "Chiraq" piece. There were very positive reactions to the “Chiraq” piece, but of course, we’re aware of other people’s concerns, and we went back with that in mind. A big part of that episode is discussing how what we had done was perceived, and how the media plays a part in what happens in a city like Chicago. So we’re aware of it, and we’re making it a part of the series. 

What’s another episode you’re excited for viewers to see? 

We did one in [Las] Vegas, which is maybe a bit of an outlier for the rest of the season. It’s about electronic music in Vegas and how EDM has sort of landed there and is now this enormous cash cow for the city. It was a response to the 2008 recession, and people stopped gambling, and all of a sudden they hedged their bets on super clubs, which I didn’t know before we started talking about doing [the episode].

I saw you with Rick Ross in an episode.

Rick Ross has one of the greatest speaking voices in the history of rap and also just one of the greatest voices in the history of rap. He was incredible. He’s a poet. The way he talked — he’s a storyteller. I was a little nervous to sit down with him, just because he’s the biggest boss in the game – his words, not mine. We went to Wingstop. He owns 25 franchises of Wingstop. It’s his baby. He’s an entrepreneur. That was really cool. 

Ultimately, what’s the purpose of the show and what role are you playing as host to achieve it?

The purpose is to give people a window into subcultures and communities in different cities that maybe people weren’t aware of. I think we’re all aware of an artist like Kendrick Lamar, but we’re not necessarily aware of where he came from. I say in the episode, “His music was a window into that world,” but I also hope this acts as that as well. I’m just the avatar for the viewer. I’m a conduit for people to help guide them along, hold their hand and sort of help show them what’s happening in these cities.

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If you watch

"Noisey" premieres on Viceland at 10 tonight. New episodes air 10 p.m. Tuesdays.

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