Picture this: it’s a nice day in the year 2008 and you’ve just returned from a usual day at school or work. With a few hours to kill, you head to your computer to browse the web, seeing a vast array of blogs posting records from what would be a new group of artists that rule the next decade. Excited to share this stash of underground records, you update your MySpace page and iPod playlist with your new findings, putting people on to this new class of freshman artists. This was the foundation for what would become the blog era
With the physical market of mixtapes crashing due to legal restrictions, artists and fans flocked to the newly popularized internet as a means to distribute music. Whether its sharing a project with a friend or uploading a song you recorded, the different platforms provided by the internet made it more convenient for music to be shared globally at a rapid pace. It took a minute for major labels to catch on to these new methods so the grand majority of artists discovered during this time clearly weren’t faking the funk. It was a time where authenticity flourished in hip-hop, coming to the forefront and shattering barriers placed by the industry. An era we definitely took for granted, this article aims to look back and highlight the aspects that made the blog era so special.
Amidst the thick of the flashy Ringtone Rap and Autotune era, the culture was struggling to find the next wave of stars that would bring the center of attention back to the core basics of hip-hop. Barebones beats and rhymes had been replaced with repetitious melodies and manufactured billboard reaches; but soon, all was about to change.
With the combined effort of YouTube’s rise in popularity and MySpace’s unlimited social reach, artists were able to find a way to get their records heard across the world, skipping over the middleman role that label’s played in the industry. Though it seems as if this changed happened over night, it would be a while before the general public would catch up to these new methods. Up until this point, these sites were seen more as social spaces for people with too much free time rather than an opportunity to grow a musical empire. But those who were regularly active on these sites formed a cul-de-sac of communities across the web, with music being the dominant form of media being shared.
This system would eventually translate over to personalized blogs dedicated to sharing new music. Websites like 2DopeBoyz, DatPiff and RapRadar would put the spotlight on new up and coming musicians, providing reviews and alerts for hip-hop fans to stay up to date with the progression of the culture. With labels catching heat for the fabricated formulas of Billboard-charting attempts, these blogs would be instrumental in spreading the message of artists who were sick and tired of major labels dictating what was hot in the culture.
While the internet would get its first dose of mixtapes through established acts like Lil Wayne and Lupe Fiasco, the world would experience its first byproduct of the blog era through a unique duo from Chicago known as The Cool Kids. Composed of ambidextrous hip-hop artists Chuck Inglish and Sir Michael Rocks, The Cool Kids would trailblaze their way through the latter half of the 2000’s with their newfound MySpace stardom, opening a lane for artists to succeed by staying true to their artistry. Their retro-styled production and modern twist on fashion practically birthed the online music hustle and shifted eyes to the social site for mini A&R’s to spread the word on up-and-coming talent.
Things escalated quickly after the rise of The Cool Kids as we began to see the new generation of hip-hop listeners find the bridge connecting modern hip-hop to its roots. But the real kicker of this era was the immense amount of risk-taking we saw artists undergo in their music, partially due to the lack of limitations and low barriers of entry. At this point, anybody could sign on and post a song but how could you stand out as an individual entity in an ocean of creative minds. Because of this, rappers would begin to branch out of the realms of hip-hop to find a newly fused sound. Artists like Kid Cudi and Drake would expand hip-hop’s palette by dipping into the alternative and R&B space for their respective sounds whereas a Smoke DZA and Curren$y would keep it barebones while traversing the nation’s different hip-hop scenes for inspiration.
An effective metric for how successful an era turned out to be would include the output along with the level of quality it held. Mixtapes would play a huge role in the blog era, serving as a promotional tool to build a core fanbase off of free music. The problem was prior to this time mixtapes were seen as compilations of loosies and recycled beats with no underlying artist value aside from it being a set of lyrical exercises (however, the initial mixtape era held its own weight of significance that remains overlooked to this day). With a variety a new wavelengths on the horizon, artist’s demos would eventually etch themselves into full-fledged projects that could perform as standalone albums. The high accessibility of the internet also made it easier for artists to release new material consistently. Paired with an unmatched level of ambition, this era would see a new wave of hustlers convert their pain into passion, pumping out new records on a weekly basis.
Being that music is subjective to the different experiences to each individual, every person has their take on what project really shaped the blog era. When the blog era veteran, Andrew Barber (also known as FakeShoreDrive) drew this discussion, listeners flocked to reveal the projects that perfectly represented this time in hip-hop for them. However, no project made waves in the culture at this time as big as Wiz Khalifa’s 2010 mixtape, Kush & O.J. What made this project special was its immediate connection to the current and upcoming generations of individuals who had just invaded the web. Instead of talking about where he comes from, Wiz rapped about the everyday things he wanted to do, opening the doors of accessibility to reach all sorts of listeners. While weed was a central focus for Wiz, the project perfectly captured everything that the blog era stood for: making music that resonates with you and having fun while doing so.
In a time where signing to a record label was near mandatory to even see a small wave of success in the industry, blog era artists were doing the impossible by reaching Billboard status while doing what they loved. Artists like Drake, Wiz Khalifa, J. Cole and many more were able to make that leap into the mainstream realm; and while some did stumble trying to find their path, their mistakes led to a new wave of artists being able to find success by doing it their way. From Black Hippy to A$AP Mob to Beast Coast, the latter half of blog era artists were able to capture the online intimacy with fans and expand upon their foundations to etch out their own legacies.
The strengthened bond between fans and their favorite artists is another aspect that really made this era special. For once, artists were accessible to their fans instead of hiding behind fan club posts and paparazzi photos. Being able to interact with your favorite rapper/singer through these social spaces sealed the deal for many leaning into fandom as artists were able to stay connected while being their authentic true self. There were no middlemen or publicists in the mix, which did cause some out-of-pocket viral moments at times, but a one-on-one connection with fans helps build a tighter core while keeping listeners engaged with your development.
In many ways, the beauty of the blog era comes from all the good, bad and ugly it endured. From the humble beginnings of MySpace fame to the Hollywood transitions we once loathed, the independent hustle to the overnight successes, the blog era was able to succeed the way it did because listeners were able to see their favorite artists on their journey to the top. Rather than consuming what the radio was feeding to the public, hip-hop heads were finally able to filter out the nonsense and uplift those who deserved the nationwide platform.
The blog era was truly a special time in that it helped bring the essence back to the sport. For a while, many felt the spark dwindle down as the culture fell victim to self-absorbed labels dictating the course of the artists. Just when it felt like we had lost all say in what succeeded in the culture, a new wave of misfits with a passion for their music changed the tide and brought the focus back to what really mattered: making music that would stand the test of time.