Trends Of Culture: The New Gatekeepers

posted October 30, 2008 12:00:00 AM CDT | 19 comments

It could be argued that just as video perhaps killed the radio star, that the Internet ruined the rap star. Coincidence or not, the golden era of Hip Hops D-Day is not far from when most schools, libraries, followed by an economic trickle-down of families got modern to the modem. Although limited content and connection speeds made what could be done on the Internet minimal, the Hip Hop browsers information super highway is now jammed with billboards, boutiques and rappers holding up cardboard signs that theyre street veterans, willing to rap for attention, or at least a MySpace comment.

Every time a rapper hops in his car, it seems that a dashboard camera is turned on. Chung King sessions became the pinhole mic and Reason. Instead of a steady album every two years, rappers are doing mixtapes every week. Please listen to my demo evolved into Heres a ZShare, fams. Rumors swirl, pictures surface, playlists post, and everybodys Twittering away commentary.

However, just as quickly as a cynical soul can question the merit of the webs contribution to Hip Hop, there has been a genesis of genius. Parallel to the argument that the independent artist has the creative control that a major label withholds, the DIY writer, filmmaker and possible 2010 deejay are whats making Hip Hop truly remain fun, remain educational, and remain groundbreaking on the Internet. To call them bloggers might be the equivalent of referring to KRS-One or Ice Cube as rappers. It might not be inaccurate, but its surely not saying nearly enough.

Video technology has allowed Hip Hop to get more personal. Whether video allows Joe Budden to share his ladys assets or Prodigy teaching his son how to let one off, Hip Hop stars are letting us in. Inversely, were able to show them what exactly we think of them. Longtime Hip Hop luminary Jay Smooth uses video essays on his [click here] to analyze the senselessness of no homo or parody the video blogger altogether, including himself. Another onetime XXL blog affiliate, Dallas Penn has extended his vast Hip Hop commentary with buddy Rafi to use video to show Hip Hops rural, urban and international listeners a dichotomy of urban America, using observational comedy of staples such as check-cashing spots, with a mockumentary style that appeals to people far beyond the culture that arguably gave both creators a voice and a reason.

More overt comedy comes from brothers Eric and Jeff Rosenthal, with their weekly rap comedy sketches, [click here]. The show takes pages from comedic elements seen in The Office or Saturday Night Live and adds it to an inherent love and knowledge of Hip Hop, filling a void left by The Chappelle Show and In Living Color. Our whole lives have been around Hip Hop music and culture. Weve always loved it. Recently, we felt that Hip Hop was taking itself too seriously, and wasnt having enough fun. Thats not to say that gun talk shouldnt be around or different kinds of rap shouldnt be around, but we just felt that there was an element missing, and we could add something to it, says 27 year-old Eric. A film graduate of University of Syracuse, Erics filmmaking is hardly novice. Prior to ItsTheReal, an effort that began over a year ago, Rosenthal was doing documentary film work for Hip Hops elite, including Kanye West and Missy Elliot. Meanwhile, 24 year-old Jeff, a Boston University grad, had written about Hip Hop, interviewing artists for several publications, allowing the two brothers from Harrison, New York to fuse their love together.

We had a three-pronged program which we initially wanted to put on television. Really deep interviews 60 Minutes meets Angie Martinez, performances like MTV Unplugged, and then Hip Hop sketch comedy, explains Eric about their initial mission. Jeff adds, When we visited a lot of the places, a lot of these big companies loved the idea, they just didnt see the vision. That drove the comedic filmmakers online. Thats what ItsTheReal started out as, on a blogspot page, a year and some change ago. The videos now get upwards of 20,000 views, and have featured industry celebrities like Bun B, Charles Hamilton and famed Hip Hop editor Elliott Wilson.

Although these sketches, which include pokes at Def Jam Records buying up its own releases, a Lloyd Banks retirement party and Jews campaigning for Jay-Z do not pay the Rosenthals' rent, the brothers treat the hobby like a passion.

It takes a lot of time; thats a huge sacrifice. Were not making any money on this right now. The goal is to one day make a living at comedic writing, says Eric, who along with Jeff, market the videos Monday, write through the week, and film and edit nearly every weekend out of the year. As both artists and outlets like VIBE magazine and Shade 45 radio recognize the Brothers Rosenthal with interviews, it seems likely that the duo who also champion their often featured group of friends and other brother Dan, may get a different reaction should they revisit television. Still, as Jeff says, ItsTheReal intends to stay true to the medium that made them, We love television and Internet, and hope both are a part of our success.

The vast success achieved thus far proves to be a testament to the fraternity and mutual support within the Internet community. After acknowledging Elliott Wilson as a mentor, Jeff declares, Eskay at NahRight is the reason we are who we are. He deserves all the credit. He gave us a shot just by putting us up on his site for 50 something weeks. Every week, every Monday.

To even be a novice reader or Internet rap consumer, Eskays name holds weight. The self-proclaimed king of all bloggers celebrates his hard work, but the 30 year-old Yonkers, New York native is quite humble in his commitment to Hip Hop.

Although it competes with any online Hip Hop magazine with its traffic, [click here], like the Internet itself, began as intended for a small circle. I started it as a way to aggregate content in one place for my friends. I was always the dudes out of my crew that had the latest mixtapes, the latest songs or MP3s; I knew whatever was poppin in Hip Hop, says Eskay, who adds, Starting the site was my way of bringing that conversation online.

With over 50 posts a day at times, Eskays built his kingdom on hard work. Audio, video and a readers digest of whats happening in Hip Hop, the creator knows his strengths. Theres a lot of blogs thatll take a day off; I try to never take a day off. I constantly update through the day and the night if it means being up till four in the morning, then thats what it is, he says, citing consistency as his key to success.
Having started in May, 2005, NahRight may be a driving force for new media departments everywhere. I think in the last year, labels really started to understand how important the blogs were and how many people we reach. But I feel like the respect still isnt there, reveals Eskay. And NahRight lashes back, doing what many magazines, both print and online, cannot he ignores. I feel like some labels think individual bloggers are just a promotional vehicle for them. Everything I post on NahRight has to be either something I feel strongly about or something that I feel will appeal to my readership in some way itll spark conversation. It might even be a song thats wack, but because of the subject matter, itll spark conversation. And whether its support of the unsigned, or tongue-in-cheek commentary on rap superstars, Eskays subjective opinion comes at a time when media sources seemingly drink the Koolaid of whats good anymore. Me, Im not doing a Yung Joc feature no matter what happens, says Eskay with a laugh. The power is back in the hands of the people. Whether or not you can impress a program director at a station or network, or an A&R doesn't matter, all you need is the ear and support of one of the new few.

Despite his embedded opinion, Eskay, like peer Lowkey, have parlayed their work ethic and abilities to be respected by then invited to the mainstream media. Earlier this year, Eskay left after a tenure as online editor, a position he took in the rise of NahRight's success. Twenty-six year-old Lowkey who runs [click here], is presently working for The South Brunswick, New Jersey native and Howard University grad admits hes ascended the ranks of the Hip Hop industry from working in a Double Tree Hotel a few years ago, but modestly declares his greenery to the biz. Im learning how to write as I go; Im not a journalist, he says with enthusiasm for his new life. I never thought a year and a half from that point that Id be sitting at a desk at BET talking to T.I., or just finish talking to 50 Cent. That wasnt in my mind-frame. My mind-frame was just to have fun, post music, and hopefully something would come out of it.

Something has. In addition to the nine-to-five and freelance careers established by some of its members, a select group of blogs established the New Music Cartel [click here], which reportedly began as a joke by Eskay with one of the groups seemingly-hourly audio premieres. We are the five or six sites that give you want you want, says Lowkey, also acknowledging and, among those interviewed. Whether its archived Jay-Z or just recorded Jadakiss, the group has claimed title when it comes to breaking rap records in 2008 and beyond. With the NMC bringing out exclusives together, doing mixtapes and reportedly soon making appearances, this group may pound their chest a bit, but still encourage newcomers. Mr. X of Xclusives Zone [click here], who started his blog less than a year ago, says of upstarts, Anyone could go to other sites, download a track and post. Thats not the way to go. I can think of a few though, that are not following the trend and trying to bring something new to the table. They have their own style and are trying to make it work. I have respect for these sites, and wish them all the success. Im sure you will be hearing about them soon enough if they keep doing their thing. Shake, of [click here] advises, "Be original. That's all I'm gonna say. There are far too many carbon copy ass sites out there that go no where. Be ... original." His site partner, Meka, offers another word of wisdom. Be prepared to spend hours upon hours in front of your computer, seriously. It also takes a lot of patience and dedication, as it never takes off in the start. 2DopeBoyz is known for its west coast character, celebration of sports and lifestyle, and strong design content. He continues, Most people think that if they do a few posts here and there they'd be set, but if you really want to be heard you have to take it as seriously as you do any other hustle.

But clearly, this hustle, albeit a labor of love, thrives on that passion. I love doing what I do for the site, so I don't consider anything I've done for the site to be a setback or sacrifice, Meka reveals. Eskay concurs, Its stressful, but I love this. I love Hip Hop and I love hearing new music and sharing it with people. I love talking shit about whatevers happening.

Like a Funkmaster Flex once juggling a radio, recording and club career, the long hours of these gentleman, whether behind a keyboard or a camera, has affected the consciousness of Hip Hop. There may be a greater parallel, if the blogger is the 2010 deejay. Eskay says hes thought so for several years, Cause you look at any new mixtape, anything on there, for the most part, Ive already posted in the last week or two. Anything I can do for up and coming artists, I love it; its my pleasure. Lowkey and Mr. X agree, with the later saying, You have to have good relations with both deejays and blogs now to heard. As you can see, a lot of artists are going the digital route and doing daily/weekly series, releasing free music to the Internet and droppin mixtapes/contests in association with blogs. The blog-released mixtape is a rising phenomenon. With Charles Hamilton recently doing a weekly venture with several major ones, and the OJayzis [click to read] efforts garnering MTVs attention, Shake says hes most proud of his deejay-like abilities, A (2)Dope Mixtape: Cadillac Edition is one of our best moments. It was dope to see that our name has branded itself enough to get artists from all over the west coast chipping in with exclusives. But our status (even if on the internet) alone is something I'm proud of. The fact that I can get introduced to so and so and they already "know" of me, trips me out. It's very humbling." Meka adds, "That itself is something I never even envisioned happening to me, and it's definitely something I'm proud of. The mixtape included contributions from Blu and Pacific Division, two artists championed by the Cartel, perhaps leading the latter to signing with Universal Records earlier this year.

As the Internet has likely increased the pace of Hip Hop from whats hot this year to whats hot this week, other sites and blogs have taken the deejay analogy and become masters of the niche mixshow or throwback hour. [click here] began as a Washington D.C. college radio show in fact, where Noz and friends would play the records they simply "wanted to hear.

In the years since, the effort moved online, where a collection of old school vinyl and cassette relics as well as oft unpublicized regional efforts are shared and analyzed. Noz, a 25 year-old Psychology graduate from George Washington University, works as a writer and researcher for a number of publications, as well as an editor-at-large for the dearly departed Scratch magazine.

Even amidst a culture that celebrates the new and breaking, Nozs work may be a counter to the fast pace, and the quality of today's rapper. He cites an example in one recent artist to really hit the 'sphere of sites that baffles him. I dont want to say I dont trust people who put Asher Roth songs on their blogs, but I will say you have to wonder how much theyre accommodating their connects in the game, and how much they really care about the music, says Noz, who on the other hand, provided a lot of context and recognition to the importance of artists like Killer Mike, E-40 or UGK at a time when many were not. I think Ive helped publicize UGK a lot. Obviously, Bun B was doing it to an extent. But I think with a lot of the east coast elitists who wouldnt ever approach those records started [to], Noz states as his biggest impact, along with writing about New Orleans bounce music.

Although he jokes that people seem to perceive him as some hipster, a term that Noz says he cant even define, the could-be elitist dodges a lot of credit. With the web, its such a conglomeration of knowledge; I dont want to take credit for things. Still, after a five year movement, he was one of the first and most seasoned self-made outlets on the web.

Despite his humbleness, taking an vinyl and cassette tape collection in the thousands, and digitizing it, its plausible that Noz has played a heavy role in reminding novice readers and youth why Too Short is timeless, an interview with Rammellzee or this writer why Soulja Slim was so deeply mourned by those who understood his potential and impact.

From a culture that began with Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay covering up record labels at Bronx block parties, its amazing that the sharing of knowledge and content that these sites yield.

Another example, [click here] started in March of this year. Propmaster JC and Ace, two Canadians, one in his mid twenties, the other in his early thirties respectively. Named of a barbed GZA bar, the site is a golden era Hip Hop archivists library, reflected in everything the two which have three other friends contributing and one programming do. Ive been diggin on and listening to Hip Hop since the late 80s. I didnt have an established role in the scene here until I was 16, 17 years old. For a lot of the period I was capturing footage and paying attention, and making scrapbooks out of Source magazines and all that shit, I was just a really passionate person, says Ace. Like Eskay taking his conversations online, or two dope boys colliding, this group of Hip Hop trivial pursuit masters decided to create a space for their relics. JC explains, There was a little bit of a void out there as far as old school footage. Yeah, there is some stuff on YouTube. But when we got started, there was so much material we had in our possession that we knew couldnt be found anywhere else. It just wouldnt make sense for us to post it on YouTube.

Adamant that content be from the golden era, TheMeaningOfDope showcases radio shows from Evil Dee, rare performances from Main Source and original versions of cassette maxi-single session classics that arent as you might hear them today. Like Noz with his altruism, Ace admits that hes anything but selfish about sharing. As far as my thinking goes, when I come across something that is ultra-rare, I want it to go up ASAP. He goes onto even celebrate a fickle listeners chance to redeem themselves. Obviously were sitting on a bunch of shit that would blow peoples minds, but I want people to see. Even the casual Internet browser who will come to the site and check it for 25 seconds, you touched somebody a little bit. The site collective even made memories of their own, helping promote D.I.T.C. and The Beatnuts at a Toronto this year. In true MeaningOfDope fashion, the even was marked with an extensive Diamond D retrospective on the site, sparking arguably a stunt or a blunt, but surely true Hip Hop.

Since there was an Internet, there's been Hip Hop along with it. From pioneering essayists and information sources like to message boards to the forefront of what could be the first television show to evolve from a Hip Hop-inspired video blog, to rap's present class of Internet superstar emcees to UGK debuting at #1 and EPMD reuniting - again, independent, unabashed websites might be the driving force in rap's future. As Lowkey tells it, this might just be content being slanged out of the trunk, redistributing power in the industry. Looking at his rise in the last year, he may say it the truest. I earned my spot, and Im still earning my spot. And I want people to know, its possible. Whoever is reading this can be at MTV a year from now doing the same shit or better.

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