“Sure, everything is ending," Jules said, "but not yet.” —Jennifer Egan (A Visit from the Goon Squad)
Napster is to millennials what fire was to cavemen. In both cases what the dawn of their ages brought is nothing compared to the dominoes that fell in their aftermath. I was there as LimeWire rose from the ashes of Napster’s lawsuits, one of many programs that made music piracy as simple as a game of Minesweeper.
Having an infinite number of Lil Wayne remixes at your fingertips wasn’t the same as being Jesse James or John Dillinger, but a generation of thieves picking from the same cultural pocket was enough to disrupt a complacent industry. LimeWire made raiding heaven for halos effortless, but accessible back doors rarely remain open, and it was a dreary day when the inevitable locksmith arrived.
The end of LimeWire felt like a closing door, but in actuality, it was a revolving one. What Napster did for many—and what LimeWire did for me personally—was introduce the internet as a source of unbounded discovery. It was the search for new avenues to uncover music that lead me to blogs and bloggers.
I missed the period in history where record shops were the nucleus of attraction for people enamored by the latest and greatest records. Best Buy was good for buying retail albums, but there was no substitute around me for the cultural significance of an Amoeba Records. Finding the website 2DopeBoyz was the digital version of entering hip-hop’s Championship Vinyl, with site creators Shake and Meka as two alternative versions of Rob Gordon.
A record store comparison isn’t quite the analogy; 2DopeBoyz was more like entering the backseat of a Cadillac, trusting two strangers to bless your ears with good tunes. They were who you would pass the aux to when you wanted the fresh and new, not the commonplace and withering. As a high school student looking to escape radio’s tyranny, their site provided an alternative to Clear Channel’s mindless rotation.
It wasn’t just the latest by revered rappers, but unknown and unsigned options who would become new favorites. Hours upon hours went into clicking through previous pages, navigating through the trove of posts searching for treasure.
The blogs were within and outside the music industry. The sites weren’t legacy publications like Vibe, XXL, and The Source, but born independently online. They felt like products of a new generation. When XXL printed their second issue of the Freshmen cover in 2009, every artist was recognized by anyone who has spent years seeing their music posted on 2Dope, Nahright, OnSmash, DJBooth, The Smoking Section, and Buck Marley XXX. They were the leaders to follow, the leaders we believed to keep our ears ahead.
When the blogs were as underground as the artists they covered, bloggers were no different than the visitors attending their sites: hip-hop connoisseurs who loved Kanye, cherished Wayne leaks and also loved The Cool Kids. Fans of lyricism arrived every week for a new Crooked I freestyle and the stoners were never far when Curren$y announced another mixtape. What united listeners of all tastes was the loathing of slow download speeds due to Rapidshare uploads. I’ve lost a lifetime downloading files from Mediafire, Megaupload, and Hulkshare. It was the age of Datpiff download limits and Zshare pop-up ads, blogs hosting and premiering the mixtapes of artists they believed would be next, the feeling of artist discovery and watching as your championed favorite became world-renowned.
For many rap fans, tastes in new-age hip-hop were molded by which artists were featured on our favorite sites.
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Tyler, The Creator’s phase of immature tantrums against Shake, Meka and much of the hip-hop blogging community represented the outbursts of all the unacknowledged artists who felt they deserved valuable real estate on their sites. The desire to be validated had every artist with a microphone and MP3 files flooding inboxes, complaining on social media when their earnest efforts went overlooked. I understand why, too—blogs were seen as the escape route from the basement to the big leagues.
Careers were started, artists were signed, and most importantly, rappers were being heard by the masses because of blog acknowledgment. If there was any innocence in blogging, it died as the platforms became the pulse.
If music had entered it's wild, wild West post-Napster, the bloggers were the new sheriffs. From afar, that time period appears manic and obsessively demanding. There was a growing dependency on being posted; every aspiring rapper wanted their chance to be stamped. I didn’t care much for the state of the industry at the time, just the ability to discover. Every artist, from Chief Keef to Sha Stimuli, was found while scrolling in search of someone or some song to accompany me through life on this whirling orb of doom.
Without any context, Shake of 2DopeBoyz recently tweeted: “shutting things down soon.” The message reminded me of a similar tweet he fired off in January, a message about feeling defeated, that received an encouraging response from Kendrick Lamar. There was something about Lamar responding that struck me, that even at his grandiose stature, he hasn’t taken for granted the role 2DopeBoyz (and blogs, in general) played in his career. It was a moment, the last beautiful heartbeat of an era becoming angel dust and Kodak memories.
Watching sites like Kevin Nottingham, Sermon's Domain, Potholes In My Blog, TSS, and WatchLOUD die out over the past five years made it obvious that the inevitable was happening. It was sad to see them leave, reminiscent of the void once left by LimeWire.
Jacob "Confusion" Moore, the founder of Pigeons & Planes, wrote in 2015 about the end of music blogs as we know them, citing the changing music industry media landscape. He saw what was happening, the writing that had long been on the walls. Three years later, it’s safe to say he was right. Blogs aren’t completely dead, they still maintain a purpose in the music’s ecosystem, but their period of influence has essentially expired. Social media came. SoundCloud came. Spotify came. Apple Music came. These corporate sheriffs were birthed to tame the untamable. It was a changing of the guard, a shift in power, and the industry continued without missing a beat.
"Some independent blogs managed to evolve past the mp3 era, but competing with major media outlets in the new landscape takes resources. Without a full staff of writers, reporters, and social media experts, it’s difficult to stay afloat." —Confusion, "The End of Music Blogs as We Know Them"
Shake’s tweet about things shutting down soon reminded me how much I long for those old days back. When there was a new Sonic-themed mixtape from Charles Hamilton with each press of the refresh button. The joy of going to download a song and seeing the master of eloquence Big Ghostface in the comments section with another scripture. The thrill of scrolling and a cover like Pac Div’s Mania removing all the blood from your brain, and then hearing the music and rushing to buy a concert ticket.
Blogs were fun in ways that are too human for algorithms to ever grasp. They had a thrill that streaming services are incapable of mimicking. But things changed, the landscape adjusted, and there’s nothing to rewind what has happened.
Last year, while researching an article that never came to fruition, I spoke with Andrew Barber on the day of the 10th anniversary of his blog, Fake Shore Drive. We were talking about streaming, the blog era, and his plans for the future when he said something that I’ll never forget:
“You can’t fear change. My whole thing has always been you can’t hold onto what’s not here anymore. Especially in the music industry. Because you’ll get left behind and look like a dinosaur. That’s what happened to labels when they tried to combat MP3s by selling CDs you couldn’t burn.
“It still bugs me to this day that’s how they handled combating MP3s and pirating. It took them so long. They were making so much money on CDs they were trying to hold on to that old technology forever. But the young people said, ‘We don’t want that anymore. And if we do, we’ll make our own.’ Time passed them on and that left them so far behind on. It’s a hard lesson we can all learn—don’t let yourself become a dinosaur and hold on to something that’s not there anymore." —Andrew Barber
The possibility of there being no more 2DopeBoyz hurts. Yet, after 13 years of fighting the good fight, Shake has blessed us with enough time and effort for a lifetime. It was the blogs and bloggers that inspired me to dream of doing what they did—listening to and writing about music from sunup to sundown. There’s an entire generation of artists, writers, journalists, and fans who are offsprings of the Shake, Meka, Eskay, Lowkey, Gotty, Z, Andrew Barber, Mike Waxx and Mike Carson era of hip-hop. May we remember them for every song they gave us, for every artist they introduced, and for being the heroes who provided hubs to prove that hip-hop was alive and well.
By Yoh, aka 2DopeYoh, aka @Yoh31