Dylan Green, also known as CineMasai on the World Wide Web, is a writer of music and film, and host of their own podcast that blends the two worlds called Reel Notes. As a writer, they have written for Audiomack, DJ Booth, Pitchfork, The FADER, Vinyl, Me Please, and much more. They started their podcast, Reel Notes, during the pandemic that has them bringing on rappers, producers, journalists and others (examples such as Flying Lotus, Chester Watson, Suzi Analogue, Kelly Moonstone, R.A.P. Ferreira, Anonymuz, Navy Blue, MIKE, the list goes on) to talk about movies, music, video games, and whatever other interests may flurry into conversation. Reel Notes is currently on its 3rd season with over 100 episodes.
We got a chance to talk to Dylan about their relationship with music and films, getting into music writing, and their first-ever live event for their podcast with guests Fatboi Sharif and Steep Tipped Dove (an event we’re sponsoring!) taking place this weekend in Brooklyn, New York on August 12.
Online monikers are always intriguing to me, especially their origin. Tell me about the name ‘CineMasai’ and when you started using it.
fun fact: CineMasai started out as a much longer name. when I was writing nothing but movie reviews, I started out using the name Cinema Eye with Masai, Masai being my middle name. I brought the column to my college paper and was writing reviews of music and movies on my Facebook page and a friend named Tymon Brown saw it and suggested I shorten it to CineMasai. from there, it just stuck. that’s been my pen name since at least 2012/2013.
Do you remember your first memory resonating with some form of art? Whether it’s music, film, or an example of both.
The first movie I remember falling in love with was The Lion King. my pops took me to see it when I was about 3 or 4 years old and I stood up and leaned on the chair in front of me the whole time watching it: the colors, the characters, the scale of its story and the music. I was very young, so plot and things weren’t really that important to me, but as a sensory experience, it was everything. as for music on its own, it was always something I loved, but it resonated on some conscious shit when my parents would play their favorites around the house. pops was into doo-wop, R&B, soul, and dashes of hip-hop here and there. my mom was more of a rock, pop, and easy-listening person. before I started forming my own music tastes, I gravitated toward The Temptations, Brandy, Destiny’s Child, Sting, Will Smith, Snap! (I apparently used to know all of “I Got The Power” by heart as a yoot) and Aerosmith before Bow Wow began my long love affair with hip-hop in earnest.
How did you get into music writing? Do you remember the first piece of writing that you felt proud to have out in the world?
Music was always a part of my life, but for some reason, I had a hard time writing about it the way I did about film. I had jobs/internships with other publications beforehand (peace to Amanda and the team at Front Row Fanz) but it took working with one of my mentors Jerry Barrow at the website Watchloud.com before I felt comfortable enough to even try doing it again. He was someone else whose work also straddled the line between music and film, so just seeing how he moved and taking in his advice helped me pull the thoughts out quicker. The first piece of music writing that I was truly happy with was a eulogy I wrote for the group Ratking the day they broke up. I think it was called The Once and Future Ratking or something like that? it was a mix of personal anecdote, analysis of their music, and a retrospective on their career that I feel was the first piece of music writing that I can comfortably say “I did that shit.” felt like a breakthrough.
it’s disheartening to see how fractured the journalism industry’s become in the last 5-6 years, but I still hold out hope for those of us keeping it going and trying to keep authentic voices and reporting alive. it’s not easy and those of us still finding any way to make money and earn trust doing it are lucky and should do everything they can to try and make this environment better for the writers/creatives coming up. we have to be honest about both the pain and the pleasures of working in this field. it’s a ride but if it’s your speed, welcome aboard.
You’ve done more interviews than I can track down, and with some of my favorite artists over the (many) years. Do you have any memorable interviews you’ve done? Maybe ones that you thought you couldn’t land, or any interviews that will forever be a special memory?
I spoke with the Detroit rapper BabyTron for Audiomack a few years back. me and his team (manager Lando, publicist Ryan, and photographer Trevon) went to Popeye’s, got lunch, and posted up in Columbus Park in Manhattan. near the end of our conversation, a pigeon took a wet, runny shit on my phone screen and everyone naturally backs away. we all laugh about it and, without missing a beat, Tron looks at me and says “My bad, I prolly summoned that. ShittyBoyz!” I still laugh about it to this day.
I was supposed to interview Playboi Carti for The Face Magazine sometime after Whole Lotta Red came out but he was impossible to pin down. got some free tickets to the tour out of it so that was cool. as for truly special memories, speaking to Sean Paul for the 20th anniversary of Dutty Rock was a gem, as was getting Flying Lotus for the seventh episode of Reel Notes. real flex I was happy to be able to pull off so early.
I’m sure you’ve loved film and movies for a long time and were already doing interviews in a different format, but when did the idea of Reel Notes begin and what was the moment that made you take the plunge?
Reel Notes came about because of the pandemic. I had been looking for creative and interesting ways to combine my love for these two mediums and this seemed like the best option. I admittedly wasn’t much of a podcast head before then (though I have my handful I check in on periodically like It’sTheReal’s A Waste of Time and The Read) but enough people had been telling me that I should try podcasting that I took six months from the summer to the winter of 2020 conceptualizing the idea, coming up with a format and questions and figuring out how to get it pushed to the DSPs and made for YouTube. I had my homie Big Flowers help out with the visual aesthetic (the logo and art/music for the promo clips) and hit the homie JWords for the intro beat. Finally, I posted the first episode with Detroit producer The Lasso on my birthday in 2021, March 18, and I haven’t looked back since. It’s been incredible creating a space for myself that’s mine, where I’m the one in charge of all of the decisions and content that gets pushed out there.
What do you look forward to the live recording event of Reel Notes with Fatboi Sharif & Steel Tipped Dove? Can you tell us what we should expect from the event and this episode?
I’m really excited to be able to conduct this kind of interview in front of an audience because the energy’s different. artists, host, and audience are feeding off each other in a way that they really can’t through just a recording, and I’m excited to capture that for not just people in attendance, but whoever else winds up listening after I post the audio/video to the internet. it won’t be much different format-wise than the podcast as we know it, but that energy will help give things a big boost.
You seem to go a lot to shows around New York and stay in the loop on a lot of up-and-coming artists. Can you tell me about your perspective of that scene and your local music scene?
there’s a lot of doom and gloom around hip-hop’s lack of a #1 album in 2023, but I don’t fully buy into the idea of it being on the decline creatively because of how vibrant and diverse the indie scene is currently. I’m from New Jersey, so I can’t speak for New Yorkers who live in the city on the regular, but the sheer amount of creativity and energy coursing through that I’ve seen is staggering. it’s been beautiful to see artists like MIKE, Navy Blue, maassai, Kelly Moonstone, and others really take the torch for the NY indie rap scene and for other likeminded jits like MAVI, Sideshow, Nappy Nina, Semiratruth, Niontay, and way more find acceptance and community here. it’s also worth noting that the indie surge has benefitted older artists who didn’t really have the infrastructure/support to pop like they deserved, like billy woods and the artists on Backwoodz Studioz. they’ve been building their hub for 20 years and are just now getting the recognition and bread they deserve, and that’s beautiful to see.
New Jersey has a ton of fire talent coming out of it too: rappers like Fatboi Sharif, 89 The Brainchild, OneShot Once, Papo2oo4, and Reg Mason, and producers like Roper Williams, Driveby, Subjxct 5, and way more. and as much as I love the indie rap scene, I can’t emphasize enough how great it is to see the Jersey club rap scene exploding over the last few years thanks to artists like Cookie Kawaii and Bandmanrill and producers like McVertt. algorithms and stream-first mentalities are poisoning the music industry on a large scale and diluting the value of the music in the process, but that doesn’t means there still isn’t treasure to be found. regionality is becoming more prominent in ways that rap hasn’t been since the internet first theoretically democratized music access back in the 2000s, and whatever it winds up meaning financially, I’m excited to see how that translates to the talent and art we get from it.
As you ask everyone in the beginning of every episode of ReelNotes, what was the last movie or TV show you had a strong opinion about? Bonus: and/or music album?
hahahaha the last new movie I watched that I had a strong opinion about was Oppenheimer. beautifully shot and acted and easily the most human Christopher Nolan movie I’ve seen in years but also still kind of at a remove in a way that makes it a little difficult to invest in the story. he still hasn’t quite figured out the balance between analytical and emotional yet lol. but the actual last movie I watched is an old favorite of mine: Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth from 2006. Now that I think about it, this might be a better answer to your question from earlier about a movie that resonated with me fr. I’ve always loved the idea of translating fairy tales and other things normally associated with children for grown-ups, and I think the idea of turning a Spanish folk story into an allegory for this horrible, cruel war was an inspired choice. the movie looks beautiful, is tightly written, well-acted, and just gut-wrenching in all the right ways. held up beautifully since I haven’t seen it in like a decade. as for music, I’ve been stuck on this new album by Chicago producer ICYTWAT called Final Boss. super tuff.
Any shout outs?
peace to my family for the love, support and understanding. peace to my partner Desiree for all their love, support, understanding, and help. peace to Flowers and JWords for helping me bring my podcast to life. peace to every writing mentor I’ve had for their kind words and guidance. peace to my people at Pitchfork and DJBooth, particularly Jeremy Larson, Clover Hope, Anna Gaca, Cat Zhang, Brendan Varan, and Donna-Claire Chesman, who have molded my writing in ways they’ll never know. peace to all my friends and loved ones in and out of the industry who check in and provide sympathetic ears when I need them. peace to you, Ryan, for hosting me on your platform and sponsoring my first live event. peace to the couple I saw having sex in the back of the movie theater the night I saw the movie Sanctuary a month and change back. peace to the lady at Wawa who always makes my strawberry banana mango smoothie the most perfect store-bought smoothie I’ve ever had. peace to you for reading. peace to your moms for birthing you. peace to pineapple mango splash.
Follow Dylan “CineMasai” Green on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd. Sign up to their newsletter that sends out on Fridays where they round up all their favorite releases for the week. Check out their contributions on Pitchfork. Read their recent interview with Wiz Khalifa and debut at Men’s Health Magazine. And of course, get familiar and stay subscribed to Reel Notes!
If you’re in the New York area, you should look into attending the free live-recording of Reel Notes with guests Fatboi Sharif and Steel Tipped Dove happening this weekend on August 12. Info here.