Rory and Mal Have Moved On. No, Really.

Mal and Rory. Photo: Jawad Mahmood

The implosion of The Joe Budden Podcast happened gradually and then all at once.

The talk-cast hosted by Budden, the former rapper turned media personality, along with Rory Farrell and Jamil “Mal” Clay had been an increasingly prominent concern among hip-hop circles since its launch in 2014 for its delivery of what Vulture’s own Craig Jenkins described as “a kind of people’s history of the modern hip-hop industry.” At its heights, the show achieved a level of fame to a point where the New York Times regarded Budden as the “Howard Stern of Hip-Hop,” and the production also had the distinction of being Spotify’s very first exclusive podcast deal, originally signed in 2018. That deal was exceedingly consequential, having been apparently so effective for Spotify that CEO Daniel Ek would later remark, “We should do 1,000 of these,” which the company eventually did, reshaping the podcast world as a result.

But all that came to a halt back in the summer, when Budden announced he had fired Farrell and Clay, who had been co-hosting the show from near the very beginning, because of disputes over finances. In the way things tend to be when two parties are intertwined with a grievance, what specifically actually remains a source of some contention. From the outside, the story appears in bits and pieces, a mess of disputes over accounting, profits, value, respect. There was a piece of leaked audio, where Budden berated his co-hosts for not sufficiently contributing to the show despite asking for more. In a public rebuttal, Clay and Farrell painted a convincing picture of the titular host reaching the apotheosis of a long-simmering power trip. The whole thing seemed to boil down to a fundamental conflict over power dynamics and the line that separates what makes a creative partner, an employee, and a friend.

All this, of course, was already taking place in the wake of another prominent scuffle: the one between Budden and Spotify, which resulted in Budden refusing a contract extension and blowing up his relationship with the Swedish streaming service. He accused the company of undervaluing the show despite the benefits it was bringing to the table and replicating the old exploitative power positions of the music industry. (The latter being a theme commonly explored on the show, by the way.) Now, one could make a compelling case that he’s done the same to Farrell and Clay.

Cut to the present, and both parties have long gone their separate ways. Budden continues to host The Joe Budden Podcast, though the show is no longer available on Spotify. Meanwhile, Clay and Farrell independently launched their own podcast, New Rory and Mal, back in July, which has been publishing new episodes weekly.

Today, the former co-hosts are making another announcement: They have signed with SiriusXM’s Stitcher, and the show will now be released through Stitcher’s new More Sauce label. The first episode under the new arrangement is scheduled to drop on November 2, with new installments every Tuesday and Friday.

Vulture caught up with the duo recently to talk about the deal, what they’re hoping to do with the show, and of course, Joe Budden.

I’ll admit to being a little confused over the specifics of everything that happened earlier this year, as it felt like a few different narratives smashing together. I don’t want to relitigate the whole thing, but I thought I heard that Budden had threatened to sue if the two of you started another podcast. I take it that’s not an issue?

Jamil “Mal” Clay: Yeah no, it’s not an issue for us. That’s something you would probably have to ask him, but it would be very funny — and a lot would be exposed — if he decided to do that.

Rory Farrell: That’s not a route he would want to go. I can assure you that.

Got it. Let’s start here: What’s the backstory behind this deal with Stitcher?

Rory: I mean, Stitcher made the most sense out of the whole group. Outside of them, we met with almost everybody, and we met a lot of people that were just trying to get their footing into the podcast world, which wouldn’t have been a great partnership. With a lot of other outlets, it felt like we were going to push them to the next level, not the other way around.

Mal: With Stitcher, the people there — Jazmine [Henley-Brown, More Sauce’s executive producer] in particular, she was really passionate about the show — and the things they had in mind, it just made sense with everything we’re about. There were other offers with more money on the table, but they didn’t align with what we were trying to do. We just didn’t feel the same connection with those other people.

Photo: Jawad Mahmood

What were your priorities in those conversations?

Rory: We definitely wanted to add some new elements into podcasting. I feel like podcasting has become pretty stagnant and a little oversaturated, where everyone is just setting up microphones and talking about the same thing every single day. It’s become, like, the new mixtape or the new merch line. It’s just this shit that everybody kept doing. After everything happened [with The Joe Budden Podcast], Mal and I sat down and were like, “Yo, I think the only way we continue doing this shit is if we can really do it in a unique way.”

So that was a big thing in these conversations. We wanted to add different sketch elements to it, different types of interviews, different types of people that would be on these podcasts. Our fan base has really gravitated toward the sketch stuff and the other things we’ve been adding. There’s live show stuff, too, though obviously with the elephant in the room being COVID, we’re taking our time with what that is going to look like. We do have two shows in November, in New York and L.A., but as far as really bringing live shows together, that’s going to come in 2022, when things are a little calmer.

Did you ever consider staying independent? Honestly, I was a little surprised to hear you were both going with another network after the whole thing with Spotify last year.

Rory: Definitely. Just knowing the past experience that Mal and I have had in podcasting, being independent was obviously something that made the most sense. But there are ways for corporations and creatives to work together. People have spent so much time making a status quo where the creative gets fucked over, and there’s just such easier ways for corporate and creatives to work together. Luckily, Stitcher is on the same page as us on that. It makes sense to have a machine behind you and still be able to own all of your stuff.

Mal: We’re not against being independent. Sure, we signed a deal, but again, it just made sense. They understand what we’re trying to do and what we represent and how important it is for us.

Rory: I think the whole world saw what Mal and I stood for, and where our heads were as far as what we were going to tolerate and not tolerate. We weren’t just going to do a deal just to do a deal. We’ve publicly turned down more money than most podcasters have ever dreamed to see. So we’re not doing something unless it’s a deal that’s fair.

Just to confirm, both of you continue to own the show?

Mal: Oh, absolutely.

Rory: We have 100 percent ownership of our show.

Was a deal with Spotify ever on the table?

Rory: I mean, we spoke with Spotify. It wasn’t a bad conversation by any means. It just didn’t make sense for us at the time.

In one of the first New Rory and Mal episodes, one thing you mentioned was that you’re hoping to do things that you weren’t able to with your old show. Could you talk more about that?

Mal: There were a lot of things we wanted to do in the old show that we weren’t able to because we just didn’t have as much control after a while. Looking back, that was the beginning of the end. Honestly, all that started when everytime we wanted to try something, the energy around it would just be like, “Ehh, I don’t know.” Despite the fact that this is our show, you know what I mean? And then there were also a lot of business meetings that were happening that we didn’t know about.

Coming out of all that was a blessing, because now it’s literally just Rory and myself having conversations about what we creatively want to do. Stuff that before would not have seen the light of day because the energy around it was just, “Ah, I don’t know, let’s think about that, let’s come back to that.” It was never, “Yes, let’s do it, let’s try.” With just Rory and myself, it can happen so freely now.

Rory: I’m excited that the creative agenda for this show will be to push the show forward rather than push a particular person forward. There’s so much we can do when egos are stripped, when our actual focus is not a personality, it’s the show. That’s what I’m excited for.

Let’s project forward a bit. What do you think the show will be 12 months from now?

Rory: It’s hard to say. In 12 months, I think we’ll just be in a place where we’ve collected as much creative data as we can on what we think is working and what isn’t working. We’re so excited to try new things, even if that means failing at them. What type of sketches work, what type of guests work, what type of interviews work …

Mal: … and what style of interview. We don’t want to just sit down and grill people and throw a bunch of questions at them. I’m not Barbara Walters. We want people to feel like they’re having a conversation and there are no cameras, no microphones. They’re not being asked the same questions that they were asked by 30 other outlets, you know what I mean? Just come in and kick it. Let’s just have fun. Let’s laugh. Let’s talk about real things. Let’s talk about issues.

A lot of people see celebrities and think that they don’t have the same issues as, you know, the common working people have, and they do. Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about how you worked through that and how you use that to create. I’ve had those same struggles. I have those same thoughts. I have those same apprehensions on certain things that I want to do when they hear that. And when listeners are able to see their favorite people talk about that, you know, it helps people.

I want to ask you a bit about how you feel now, coming out of a messy situation. Have you been able to move on, or do you still feel some sort of way about everything that’s happened?

Mal: Speaking for myself, I’m totally moved on in regard to that. I don’t even think about it. Where Rory and I stand now, looking back, it was the best thing that happened. I don’t have any reservations or any hard feelings toward anybody. I did, at first. I was in a very, very different mindset a few months ago. We just didn’t know what was going on, but as time went on, Rory and I got a lot of answers to the questions we had.

And you know, character is character, right? If somebody is a certain way with other people, you can only expect them to be that way with you, you know what I mean? Like maybe it’s just not your turn yet. Maybe that person hasn’t been that way with you yet, but your time is coming. That was a hard pill to swallow at first, especially since we thought it was a real friendship for so many years. But again, character is character.

This wasn’t something that just happened overnight. This was something that was building up for years. It was just bad business on someone’s behalf. It was a shady business. After a while, enough is enough. It got to a point where we weren’t even happy with going into the studio and creating. We weren’t uncomfortable because the energy was just … we knew that it wasn’t right. It was just something that just got to a point where we just couldn’t deal with it and tolerate it because it went against honestly everything that we represented and stood for. It got to a point where it felt like, “Are we being phony? Are we being fake?” Because this isn’t right. It’s a lot of business that’s being done that’s wrong. It was something that happened, but looking back, it needed to happen, and I’m happy it happened because now out of that comes something, you know, very unique and very inspiring for a lot of creatives that are in tune and that will watch what we’re doing.

Rory: I do think it was a blessing. I, um, kinda wish it didn’t have to play out publicly. I thought that was a little corny. I thought we were all better than that, but you know, it is what it is. It made for good entertainment, I guess.

Have either of you spoken to Budden since the summer?

Rory: I’ve run into him, but it wasn’t really a conversation.

Mal: I haven’t seen or spoken to him since my last day at the studio. I’m happy it went that way because if I had seen him or run into him, it would have been bad news.

Rory and Mal Have Moved On. No, Really.