Cool, some people are just cool. I'm not one of those people, but Raphal Yem definitely is. It's not because he's a popular host at MTV France or because he gets to interview famous stars, it's because he knew what he wanted out of life and he got it. How do some people do that? They wake up each day and simply do what they like doing. Though it hasn't been a simple path, it's been a good one for Yem. I met up with Raphal at the MTV headquarters in Paris and as we chatted about rappers and growing up in the suburbs I instantly felt like he was someone familiar from back home. I could have talked to Raphal for hours this day, but I had to stop asking so many questions and looking like I was crazy. Hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did interviewing Mr. Raphal Yem.
Where are you from Raphal?
My parents are from Cambodia. There was a war in 1975 and they moved to Normandy, France. I was born there and grew up in the 'banlieues', the outskirts.
When you were younger, what did you want to be?
A journalist. I knew that from a early age. My parents were strict. We weren't allowed to speak Khmer, only French. They left everything in Cambodia when they moved here, and they wanted us to be educated, do well, become something. I was really into urban culture and rap. I wanted to know more about my surrounding so around 17 I started my own magazine interviewing rappers, artists, and writing about urban culture. That's where the journalism journey began.
What is your job at MTV France?
I am the Host & Editor in Chief of 4 channels. Top MTV Base is one of the more popular ones.
Did you always want to be a MTV host?
No. Didn't even imagine all this. It wasn't a possibility for me because of where I grew up. When I was young, the kids in my building and I would try to find a way to get MTV for free because it was expensive. Working at MTV was a dream. Too big of a dream for me. I don't have the look for MTV, I don't have the background.
Since you wanted to be a journalist, did Normandy ever seem too small?
I didn't know anything else so no. I didn't know nobody in media, my parents wanted me to be a good student and around 17 my only dream was to work at the local Normandy Newspaper. That was the ultimate goal. I was interviewing rappers and artist and working on my own magazine. That's where it all started to come together. I was already a journalist in my own world. My interviews were not the professional, in a big studio type, but they were real, people could relate, it was honest conversations with artists. I had to make it where I was with what I had. As I got older, I felt like I didn't need to leave Normandy to succeed. The move to Paris wasn't intentional. I started getting a lot of work out here and there was too much going back and fourth so moving to Paris was more for practical reasons.
How did you finally get here, the job at MTV?
Someone had come across my magazine and eventually that lead to a opportunity in Paris. I also started working for Canal Plus TV in Paris on there channel called Canal Street about urban culture. I had a acquaintance who was leaving her job as a MTV host and she wanted me to audition for her part. I was working a lot at this moment, so when I finally heard from the producer that I got the job, I was happy but I knew my life was going to be on fast pace. I held multiple jobs that year and worked. A lot!
Favorite memory so far working at MTV?
The first time I was in front of the camera recording my first show. I interviewed a rapper. No training, no idea how to technically do the interview but once I started, it felt organic, it flowed. I remember the adrenaline.
Biggest challenge you faced ?
What I am. Where I come from, too young, too fat, from the suburbs, no journalism degree, I'm not your typical candidate to have gotten the journalism jobs I got and then to host my own show on MTV?! I had to create everything for myself in the beginning.
Best advice you ever got?
I'm a big guy, but someone once told me don't loose weight too much. It's more real, more who you are. Don't change.
Best and worst part about your job?
It's fragile. This could all be over and someone new could take my place. My contract could end. Best part? Well it's MTV. It's a institution. But I would say it's when my mom finally realized what I do. For the longest time, my mom didn't understand this business. The magazine I started, the interviews, all that. Then finally she saw me on TV one day and called me and said "You're on tv!? What are you doing on TV?" It was a good moment for us.