Peter Rosenberg Talks Hip-Hop Squares, Positivity, and Funny Guests

From the hilarious digs that he makes at your favorite rap stars every morning on Hot 97’s Cipha Sounds and Rosenberg Show, it’s evident: Peter Rosenberg loves hip-hop. His role as the host of MTV2’s Hip Hop Squares (a remake of CBS’s game show Hollywood Squares), which premieres tonight at 11 p.m. EST, is an extension of his long-term affair with the culture, as he takes on a wide array of guests from Ghostface Killah to Amber Rose in a trivia battle royale. With excitement breeding, XXL got up with Rosenberg to learn more about the vibe on set, DJ Khaled’s unintentional humor, and why the show’s positive, collaborative spirit is of the moment for hip-hop. —Calvin Stovall (@CalvinStovall)

XXL: How did you end up on the show?

Peter Rosenberg: I had started doing stuff for them about a year ago. You know what? I ran into the person from MTV2, who’s now responsible for me being there, at the Freshmen concert last year at B.B. King’s. When I was hosting that show, she came up to me like, “You know, we always bring up your name at MTV2.” And I was like, “Please, don’t just bring me up. Let me do something.” She was like, “Okay, well follow up with me.” So I did and I ended up doing a couple of pilots for them over the last year. The shows didn’t get picked up, but they really liked me, apparently. They kept kind of using me for stuff, and then they started to mention that there was this Hip-Hop Squares possibility; that they were in conversations with CBS to buy the rights to Hollywood Squares. And I was like, “Aw man, that would be awesome.” And then eventually, only a couple months ago, they hit me up like, “You’re that guy.” And that was it. Then we started.

Did you watch the original as a kid?

I was in like the ‘80s era of Hollywood Squares. So you know, like, Jim J Bullock, this was pre-Whoopie Goldberg being a regular. My run was like ’86-’89. It started in the ‘60s. It was ’65-’81 [that] it had it’s longest run. And then they had that mid-‘80s run, which was probably when I watched it. Shadow Stevens, Jim J. Bullock, Joan Rivers—they were like the regulars.

What are your memories of it from your childhood?

I just remember thinking it was super fun. I didn’t think of it quite like other game shows because there were all these kinds of stars on the show. I remember thinking it was cool that you got to watch these stars pal around. Some of the stars were really famous, some were really random, some were just famous from Hollywood Squares, but I just remember being like, “Aw man, it’s just Hollywood. They just show up everyday and all these random people in Hollywood are just doing this show and kind of palling around.” I just always thought of it as a funny kind of vibe.

How’s the vibe on the new show?

The vibe is fantastic. That’s my biggest hope about the show—which the vibe that we had there comes through the television; because if you were to talk to anyone that did the show, they loved it. And the energy was awesome. Like, we hung out beforehand. We like did a toast before every show and everyone would get together in the green room and hang out. Like, literally we’d have this group of awesome current stars, and heroes of mine, and just all kinds of people in the same room. And the vibe on set was very much like that. You have different crowds all the time watching the show, so sometimes the vibe would change based on the audience that was there. But they would always kind of quickly figure out what the energy was. And I just hope that the viewer feels that same thing. Because to me, it felt exactly like the show I watched as a kid. It felt like I knew those people, which I do. And they know each other, which most of them did. And the ones that did had a funny, real life kind of awkwardness the same way there would be on the real show. It just very much to me harkened back to the original. And it just felt cool. It just felt like a really cool place to be.

It brings together the best people from across hip-hop—from Donald Glover to Ghostface Killah.

I literally introduced them in the green room. Donald Glover, he obviously knows all there is to know about Wu and regular hip-hop stuff so he’s all psyched. And Ghost has some idea of who [Donald] is, maybe not fully how much he has it popping. But it was really neat to see these dudes who are from such different worlds operate in the same space.

Ghostface is a regular like Charro and Whoopie used to be, right?

Ghostface was there for half the episodes. And then the other half, in the same square was Biz [Markie]. So it’s like, basically you have Fat Joe and Khaled on every episode. And they really owned it. Those guys—first of all, they loved being there. Second of all, they loved being funny. Khaled is this great mix of intentionally and unintentionally funny. And after a day or two, he understood the unintentional part, too. So he just really got into being himself and realized he just got laughs by being himself. He’s just an amusing character. Like, how seriously he took it was so funny. You have them as the anchors, they’re there everyday. And then Biz did half, and Ghost did half. And they’re both awesome in totally different ways. You have Ghostface who’s half-way serious, but really funny, and then Biz, who’s just Biz, and inherently funny no matter what he says or does. So, it created this awesome and like authentic, but funny feeling throughout.

What is it about this show format that makes popular culture keep turning back to it?

I think it’s getting to see your favorite stars in a very personal setting. When do you get to see Ghostface just sit there and get asked questions?

Not since The World According to Pretty Toney.

Exactly, which were classics. You get to see this random collection of people just being themselves. People may not have an idea of what Amber Rose’s personality is, people have no idea what to make of her. But the truth is, Amber Rose is super cool, and super down to earth and awesome—[she’s] this Philly chick, just cool. And you get to see that that’s what she’s like in terms of how she interacts with the contestants. In addition to getting to see these guys be funny and cool, they’re also trying to win people money. And they’re happy to see the contestants do well. So like, there’s just a really casual situation with stars that you’re really familiar with. And especially in hip-hop, where people tend to take themselves very seriously, it’s great to see people not taking themselves very seriously. There are jokes—everyone gets joked on. I poke jokes at people; the stars poke jokes at each other. And for hip-hop, it’s new ground. It’s a place that we need to go. It’s like, come one man, we know that competitive wrestling is not a competitive sporting event. We know that hip-hop is not non-stop danger. These are guys who are professionals, who are making money, who are smart people.

Who are holding press conferences.

[Laughs.] Right, which was actually more like WWE. But getting to see them interact, it’s just appropriate. It’s where hip-hop is. We are such a big part of the culture that it’s really awesome to get to see it be a part of something that is inherently not too serious and inherently mainstream. It’s where hip-hop is.

Are there any awkward moments you can share that won’t make it to air?

I had the real benefit of knowing almost everyone that was there, so I wasn’t in awkward situations as much as I was just in awesome situations. Like, sitting around in the greenroom and Biz starts beat boxing and Common starts rhyming. That literally happened. There was a moment when Common and I were both in hair and make-up. So we’re both getting our hair taken care of, which in both of our cases—

—I was about to say.

Exactly, not a whole lot of hair going on. They were literally shaving our heads and we just had an impromptu conversation that turned out to be like a 20-minute interview that would get mad views if it were up online. Like, we started talking about his first album, literally the production on Can I Borrow a Dollar? transitioning to Resurrection, his first tour, which I remember not being allowed to go to when I was a kid, and like this awesome conversation about his history. And it’s just happening totally organically, right before we go out and do this show. So if you can take that vibe and know that’s what exists in the hallways all over the place, that’s happening between everyone. And then that transitions into us doing the show together. The result is an amazing camaraderie between everyone.

Does the liquor in the greenroom contribute to that camaraderie?

You know, the greenroom being there, and also a meeting before the show. Some people would have a drink, some people wouldn’t. There were people there like, Lil’ Duval doesn’t drink. But the vibe was just there. Because it wasn’t just that there was a bar. There was a bar, but there were snacks, Footaction had a mini shoe store set up in there—it was just sitting around in this room and hanging out was just a great way to kind of set off the day. We would get in and give a toast everyday. I’m sure some of them will make it to air, but whether they do or not, there was this energy of every time we raised a glass, there was a sincere, “We’re so happy to be here, this is a big step for hip-hop.” And to hear people like Khaled say that, like, this is a big step for you? Dude, you’re killing the game. It was such a cool thing, it made me think, this really is an awesome thing. You take a guy like Khaled, who really has the utmost success—like I joked throughout the whole season, “This guy lives a dream life for a hip-hop DJ. And here he is on my show and he loves being there.” It just got me even more pumped up about the show.

That collaborative spirit is growing in hip-hop, this show is one of those signs that we may be entering a new era.

It’s true, the days of hip-hop being about beef are coming to a close. We saw the way Common and Drake’s beef ended in a friendly conversation. I always joked when Drake said, “You like the finish line, we can’t wait to run into you,” but really he means, because when we run into each other we’re going to have a great chat. We’re going to sit courtside and just hang. And I say that as a joke, but I’m not mocking him. Of course that’s how it should end. These guys are professionals.

They’re grown men getting money, at a certain point the positivity outweighs the negativity.

And honestly for me, it was a real relief to just be part of something that was constantly positive and fun. And being on morning radio on Hot 97, I often get caught up in these situations where I’m saying things about people and blah, blah, blah. It wasn’t like, Rosenberg, say something really out there that’s going to get people to talk. “What’s your opinion on this record? Don’t you think this sucks?” That’s like half of my life, people coming up to me and asking me if I think something sucks. And sometimes I do. And in this case, it didn’t matter what I thought about music, it was just like, “Listen, we’re all in this genre together, hip-hop is the main part of all of our lives,” and it was so cool to just get to have that common bond between everyone who was on the show.

So it feels good to finally get to be the happy-go-lucky host and not have to play the role as “the hater”?

If you ask me to say something negative about X person, I’m sure I could find it. But, in reality, I don’t hate that person. I might think something they did was wack, but I don’t go home and think, “Damn them!” It was nice to have a vibe where there was none of that. It was just comfortable, happy, and positive, this is a good thing for hip-hop. But I say all that and also say, [it was] never cheesy. When we were in the room, no one walked away being like, “We’re on a game show!” Once everyone got up in the square, and you’re clearly on a game show, it really just felt like hanging out with people that I respect and know. People I got to meet and thought were really cool. That was sort of the energy that kind of existed on set. And I think it certainly felt that way to the people that were there and I’m hopeful that that’s how all the viewers will feel.