Twitter is now so all-encompassing that it almost feels like a public utility - water, gas, electricity and fire tweets - but it was only a decade ago that it didn't exist at all. On this day in 2006 Twitter founder Jack Dorsey sent the very first tweet ever, and like Thomas Edison watching that light bulb flicker on or Ben Franklin holding a kite in a lightning storm like a moron, nothing was the same.
At the time it seemed unthinkable that this "twttr" thing would take off, and it seemed extra-unthinkable that it would become a playground for rappers. In 2006 the internet was very much considered still a place for "nerds," let alone street rappers. While there were certainly some early adopters, props to Big Sean for being one of the first, it wasn't until around 2009/2010 or so that most of rap's current big names were on, and often only reluctantly.
It's prophetic then that we can use Drake's Twitter history as a microcosm of the social media site's now extraordinary impact on hip-hop. In 2009 Twitter still couldn't move the needle, it was a fun new way to directly connect with fans, not much more, not much less. But six years later even relentlessly "street" rappers like Meek Mill were happily letting their Twitter fingers do the talking, and it's important to remember that it wasn't through the radio or his album that he first launched his ill-fated war against Drake, it was via Twitter.
It's hard to understate how incredible it is that this initially dorky messaging service on the internet slowly but surely became the preferred method of communication for everyone from Young Thug to Lupe Fiasco, but that's exactly what happened. You can't write the history of hip-hop over the last five years, certainly over the last two years, without including tweet after tweet. On the DJBooth side alone Twitter has prompted a fight with Kid Cudi, Nicki Minaj follows Lucas on Twitter, which is a whole weird thing, and it's a common occurence for rappers to slide into our DMs with complaints about less-than-fawning coverage.
But that's just us. On a larger level and more recently, Twitter seems to have pumped the brakes on Desiigner's career before it even started, Twitter's where we go to get information on upcoming album releases from our favorite labels like TDE, and then of then of course there's Kanye's recent hijacking of the internet via his stream of consciousness tweets. In fact, The Life of Pablo could easily not even be titled The Life of Pablo if it weren't for Twitter:
Like all things, word to MySpace, Twitter will one day die a slow, painful digital death. And when the service does shut down, it's staggering to think of how much of hip-hop history will go with it, and I'm not just talking about petty beef and ridiculousness. The service has made the leap into the music itself - check Chance's "if God had a son on Twitter wonder if I would follow him" - and as much as I love Summertime '06 as an album, it's Twitter that allowed me to truly appreciate Vince Staples and made me a hardcore fan. When J. Cole wanted to give fans a chance to hear his now-platinum 2014Forest Hills Drive album first, he turned to Twitter to make it happen. Twitter is essentially the reason Rick Ross ever signed Meek Mill in the first place (live by the tweet, die by the tweet) and it's Beyhive and Future Hive, colonies that multiplied on Twitter, that have driven both artists to new heights of popularity.
As a music distribution platform Twitter sucks. Twitter Music turned out to be the Friendster of digital music - it doesn't significantly drive streams, video views or sales - but no social media platform's really cracked that code yet. What Twitter's done, for better and worse, is give us a living, breathing, real time look at hip-hop culture and broken down the walls between rappers, the media and fans. But the internet moves fast, and while Twitter was once the new kid on the block, it's now aging rapidly. 10 years might as well be 100 in digital time. Teens are already fleeing Twitter and Facebook in favor of new social media sites like Snapchat, and even if Twitter survives, it's influence will inevitably decline and rappers will have to find new ways to publicly bicker.
So thanks for the memories Twitter, it's been real and not-at-all-real at the same time. And in fairness, this was my first tweet, from way back before I even worked full time for DJBooth. Started from the bottom, now we here.