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As one of the first Black, queer duos to disrupt the political scene, Malik and Kyle engage their Millennials and Gen-Z audience in a way that better speaks to their experiences. Political staffers by day and cultural figures by night, the two draw from pop culture in order to break through the noise of local and national conversations via an irreverent, opinionated, and wildly progressive style.
PAPER sat down with the self-described "Bad Boys of Politics" to discuss the importance of voting, how civic engagement has always been the wave within the Black community and why they're next-in-line to take the political throne.
How did the idea of HOUSE PARTY come together? What inspired you to disrupt the world of politics?
We met back in 2013, in another life, on the set of a web series and ended up connecting on our shared love of politics. Over the years, as we both navigated turning that love into our respective careers, we found ourselves among friends that really lived for our back-and-forth conversations. Something most people don't realize is that our politics and government are run by overworked and underpaid young staffers — often Black and brown — in New York.
At some point, it clicked that what we do, what we say and the way in which we say it was really relatable to our peers, and the idea for HOUSE PARTY was born. As political staffers ourselves, we wanted to create a brand and show for our fellow broke-ass friends and colleagues to enjoy on their way to work. It had to be smart. It had to be authentic. And it had to be in your face, because we knew our people had finely tuned bullshit detectors. We didn't know what the fuck we were doing, but it didn't matter. When we dropped, it changed the game. Two black and queer, young politicos breaking down the ins and outs of politics in an irreverent and engaging way — it was radical and risky.
What does it mean to be a Black-owned business, especially when the Black Lives Matter movement is getting so much attention?
It's obviously frustrating at best — and sometimes depressing at worst — that in 2020, being Black is a barrier. We know the classic saying that almost every Black parent tells their child, that we must be twice as good to go half as far... and it's true. We can't count how many times we've been invisible in any of the spaces we've found ourselves over the years. But when it comes to this shit, we're not just twice as good — we're the best at what we do. There's literally no one in our lane. Political broadcasting and commentary are a straight, cis white male-dominated game.
Compared to more established political brands, HOUSE PARTY is dropping equally — if not better — entertaining, political content and analysis, but haven't yet scratched the reach or media attention of our white counterparts. But especially now, in a time of greater cultural awareness, being a Black-owned brand brings much-deserved, extra attention. Throughout our lives, we're told that success is based on merit: just be good, be great, be the best — and you'll reap the rewards. But people are realizing, in direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement, that that's not actually how things work for many Black creatives.
They say that two is better than one. What's it like running your business as co-founders?
Malik Wright: It's a lot of text messages. I don't know what it's like for other co-founders, but I think it's rare in friendship or business to meet someone who complements you, as well as Kyle and I match each other's energy. We share the same view of the world, but we enter it very differently. We always joke that Kyle will talk his way into the building, while I kick in the back door, but regardless, we're both getting in there! Our dynamic makes for really dope on-air chemistry, but also it allows us to work through all types of challenges of building a brand.
Kyle Ishmael: I always joke that I'm the Malik-whisperer. The two of us share a political philosophy, but definitely have different styles. Yet we complement each other in a way that really works for us. We can talk for hours (obviously) and ideate; and Malik's mind is incredibly creative and visionary — so I find myself playing the role of bringing him back to earth a bit so we can execute on the ground. Then we later go back to climbing into the hot air balloon to float above and dream new dreams to turn into reality with HOUSE PARTY.
What are the challenges in trying to be a voice for a generation? Is there any pressure there?
Malik: For me, definitely impostor syndrome. Oftentimes, we finish recording a session and I obsess over all of my mistakes. But when the session drops, it's all love and validation — people that I truly admire, discussing and sharing our shit. I've learned to trust myself and the editing process (shout out to our EP, Jon Cabral). I still get in my head, but I'm so much better than when we first started this journey with HOUSE PARTY.
Kyle: The biggest challenge for me is learning to trust myself. In no way do I think that I know all or have all the right answers, and I'm comfortable with that. I think I'm largely out of the imposter syndrome phase, but now I feel pressure to adequately represent my generation. To honestly represent who we are, how we move and what we value, and to do that with all the nuance and balance it requires. To do that as a leader, but also as a listener.
Your podcast has been lauded as the "Best New York political podcast" by top local and state media. What makes HOUSE PARTY that?
There's literally no one doing what we do. Yes, there are tons of political talking heads. And that's dope. But we created HOUSE PARTY as a brand to uplift the voices of our generation in a way that is smart, entertaining and disrupts the status quo. Not just for the sake of it, but because the world is changing, and we count ourselves among those who believe in dreaming up new ways of doing things better.
We've been super intentional about being fearless and raw with our brand. And in 2020 and beyond, it's critical to speak truth to power and say it with your fucking chest. We just do shit differently. We're not journalists. We don't have corporate sponsors or owners (which is why we may have to start an OnlyFans to fund HOUSE PARTY). We're Black. We're queer. We experience the impact of politics in our lives very differently than the white, male-dominated political talk world. And that shines through with HOUSE PARTY.
What advice would you give someone trying to break into politics and media?
Malik: Chop wood. Carry water. That's what my tattoos say and it's a zen saying that hopefully means before success you have to work and after success you have to work. I'm a naturally impatient and fiery person, so it's taken mad ups and downs to truly understand and accept that you will get your flowers. If you're patient, do the best work you can do, and keep it real, you're going to get your ass kicked in this industry, but then one day those things that haters told you are your weaknesses will be your strengths.
Kyle: I think it's important to find your voice. And be patient with yourself as you go through that process. It will look differently for everyone but getting to the point where you know and trust and value your unique voice and perspective in whatever field you're in, gives you the confidence you'll need.
We're seeing more celebrities be more vocal about their political beliefs. Who outside of politics inspires you?
Malik: Issa Rae. She's not particularly political, but she's always been my best friend/ mentor in my head. I think her career is a masterclass in chilling the fuck out, staying on your path and trusting the process. She uplifts the Black experience in her art. She runs her businesses. She supports her people. And she looks dope while doing it. I often wonder how she does it all... nah, seriously does anyone know her secret?
Kyle: I've always been really impressed with John Legend's use of celebrity. I think it's very much in the mold of Harry Belafonte. He wears his activism on his sleeve, and it permeates throughout his art. To the point where you don't really hear folks attempting to tell him to stay in his lane. When he speaks, people listen. He challenges friends and foes alike. And he's not alone, but he sets an amazing example for other celebrities that want to do more than just shuck and jive.
You've managed to merge the worlds of pop culture and politics. Why is this particularly important in 2020?
People have so much shit being thrown at them on all sorts of platforms. It's sensory overload. So, what would people rather consume? A boring-ass press conference in the East Room, or a reenactment on TikTok by comedian Sarah Cooper about that boring press conference in the East Room?
If today's politics have tapped into anything, it's that — for better or for worse — people want to be entertained. On the surface, it seems sad to think that people will only engage in what's important so long as it's also entertaining, but people understand better and engage more fully when they can relate and enjoy whatever the issue is. But it's not simply HOUSE PARTY's goal to purely entertain. We talk about real shit while putting on a show.
Who are some people you'd love to collaborate with for HOUSE PARTY?
Malik: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Elizabeth Warren, Joy Reid, Bernie Sanders, Issa Rae, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Obamas (all of them — Bo and Sunny, too), Beyoncé, Rihanna, Megan Thee Stallion, and City Girls.
Kyle: Easily, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Honestly, she could legit be a co-host of our show; so, having her on as a guest would be great. I think she exemplifies the type of generational point-of-view that Malik and I share, and that drives the voice of HOUSE PARTY. I mean, her Instagram Lives could be a series on its own.
HOUSE PARTY has been able to bring attention to local NYC politics as well as state and federal, too. Any thoughts on how the Black community can gain better equity and rights throughout?
Malik: We're all in this together. We have to support each other. Ride for each other. Big each other up. If you see a Black woman going somewhere, follow her... she knows the way. Every great moment of change has been a work of collective action by any group. White supremacists came together to put Trump in office. We have to come together to put him out. Please don't get complacent. If we want something, we can't wait around twiddling our thumbs. Go out there and march. Tweet at politicians and leaders. Start a support group. Start a podcast. Power is never given; it's taken and that's our way forward. Also, protect Black and brown trans women and arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor!
Kyle: Black people have never been graciously given anything. We often have to fight for what we deserve. I think the key here though is "community." I've heard Issa Rae talk about the importance of networking across. The idea that the best way to move up is to reach across your networks and partner with your homies. Put each other on. Complement each other's skillsets. So, whether it's the fight for greater civil rights, racial equity, or other efforts to dismantle systems of oppression, we'll do better when we look to those next to us as opposed to those above us.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming election? What are ways that we can encourage Black and brown Gen-Z and Millennials to vote?
We really hope we're beyond having to encourage people to vote! Sure, in reality, we know we're not fully there yet. But, damn! The choice couldn't be starker. We have an opportunity to not just pick someone to fight Trump, but someone to offer a positive, affirmative new vision for the country.
Don't get it twisted, Joe Biden will absolutely give us a better direction for the country than Trump. But he's not offering a new direction. It's that new direction — offered mainly by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — that excited and motivated Gen-Z and Millennials to vote. But we are where we are in terms of the candidates. There are only two options, and we got to vote.
Young Black and brown voters have to understand that this is our shit. This nation is our fucking trust fund. We don't have access to it yet, but one day we will inherit the Earth that our ancestors built. So, to the extent that Biden can show us he'll be a president who leads with an eye towards the future that our generation wants, we should all commit to supporting him and then holding him accountable.
Fill in the blank: My Black is...
Do either of you have any political aspirations that you want to share?
Malik: I either want to be Mayor of New York City or the next host of Real Time on HBO. But the way my ambition is set-up, I'll probably do both.
Kyle: I'm a "head-down, hands-dirty" kind of guy. I believe good policy is good politics; and that if you truly care about doing good work, the titles that increase your authority to do even more will come. With that said, I love New York. I'd die a happy man having had the opportunity to help mold my state and better the lives of its residents as Governor of New York one day.
Thanks to you, politics can now be fresher and cooler. What's next for HOUSE PARTY?
There is literally no limit to what we can dream up. First things first, we have to finish 2020 with our health, sanity and democracy intact. But in the long-term, we'll keep on growing our business, our listeners, and our brand. We've spent hours on end ideating about what's next and how far HOUSE PARTY can go. We'd love to produce more digital shows with smart, irreverent young people like us.
We also just launched our HOUSE PARTY line of merch and Party Crashers membership program. And, we are in talks to develop and host a political docuseries with a major production company. So, with that in mind, we'd love to see HOUSE PARTY move to network or cable TV like Desus & Mero. A book deal would be cool, too.
We're incredibly grateful for the success we've had so far, and the future is super bright, so we'll keep growing HOUSE PARTY and see how far we can take this thing!
Photography: Dani B, courtesy of HOUSE PARTY