Print & Magazine

‘Anywhere, 2000’ – SPIN Magazine

The Internet’s ability to transcend geography has proved a boon for Hieroglyphics as well as fans. A look back at how going digital changed hip-hop.

Hip-Hop gets digi with it.

Originally published in SPIN
April 2000
Page 180

Written by Oliver Wang

Madonna is laying down, eyes intensely focused at the camera. She is wearing a red dress with red lipstick. The magazine's title celebrates 15 years of revolutionary music.
SPIN magazine cover, April 2000

Steve “Flash” Juon is driving alone in Central Iowa, a hip-hop junkie in need of a hit. He’s not motoring to a dimly lit dance hall or a record store; he’s on his way to lowa State, where he can log onto the Internet. It’s December 1992—before the gold rush, even before dial-in access.

Twenty miles from home, in the middle of a snowy Midwest wasteland, Juon finds a B-boy haven in cyberspace at a newsgroup called alt.rap.

“It was my sole connection to hip-hop,” he remembers. “I had a subscription to The Source, and that was it.” Juon went on to found one of the first online rap zines, HardC.O.R.E. (Committee for Rap Excellence), in 1993, as well as the popular newsgroup, a precursor to today’s Web-based message boards and chat rooms. While Old School lore was about South Bronx park jams, the Internet has become a new locus for fans worldwide. “It has impacted how hip-hop thinks between the lines,” he says. “At the time, you were either East or West. But here’s all these people like me in Iowa, Kansas, everywhere.”

The Internet’s ability to transcend geography has proved a boon for artists as well as fans. Oakland’s Hieroglyphics collective used the Internet to sell product and keep their buzz alive underground. “The Hieroglyphics still have a lot of the same fans they had back when Del [The Funky Homosapien]’s first album came out in 1991. But they’ve added another layer of fans who are very technologically savvy,” says Karen Dere, manager of the Hiero Imperium label.

In some cases, the Internet has actually been responsible for the formation of groups. Tim Holland, a.k.a. Sole of the Anticon collective, was a fresh-faced Portland, Maine, 15-year-old selling homemade tapes online in 1992 when he started meeting the like-minded hip-hop heads who eventually formed Anticon. But the Internet underground still makes its own rules. Though online purchases account for more than 25 percent of Anticon’s sales, Holland thinks the bootlegging exceeds that. Through his day job as a network administrator at, an MP3 music site, “I found my album on every single FTP server, fully MP3-ed,” he says. laughing. “I know there are 5,000 people on the Internet right now with the Sole album. I had to redo it ’cause it got bootlegged so much.”

Ben White is the cofounder of, which began as a small launch site for independent urban music and clothing companies and has since grown to become one of the major hip-hop traffic hubs. Despite’s entrance into the Internet elite, White still checks the activity street-level-notably on the fly-by-night “hot line” servers, furtive sites that commonly offer bootleg material but disappear on a moment’s notice. “Hot lines still have that subcultural feel that the Internet really doesn’t have anymore. I can’t believe what kids are trading; it’s all software piracy, porn, and hip-hop.” (A recent hot-line trip turned up copies of Blackalicious’ Nia, D.IT.C.’s All Luv, and D’Angelo’s Voodoo as MP3s weeks before their official release dates.)

For all the talk about what the Internet can do for hip-hop, there are some contradictions. While demographic estimates vary, most surveys show online use by blacks and Latinos is half that of whites. “The people who primarily create hip-hop, a lot of the brothers and sisters who lived in the proverbial ‘hood, they’re not always on the computer,” points out David Cook, a.k.a. Davey D, a longtime Bay Area radio personality and founder of the pioneering Davey D’s HipHop Corner ( “E-40 was like, ‘Man. I don’t have an email address. I don’t have a website’—he’s just starting to learn.

When you have major players who aren’t in this arena, your scene is limited.” While the Internet has helped generate interest in groups like Company Flow and the Mountain Brothers, there’s no online equivalent yet to, say, Oakland’s Too Short or New Orleans’ Cash Money-regional artists/labels that built indie empires. But Juon argues the potential is there.

“The hip-hop community online is mad deep.” he says. “And everybody there, from journalists and rappers to Joe Average fans, is participating in a constant redefinition of what hip-hop really is.”

And as more heads log on, what they’ll do there is anyone’s guess.

“Hip-hop has adapted to every technological thing that’s come out,” says Davey D. “Samplers were not made for hip-hop; neither were turntables.

But we took those things and made them the tools of our trade.”

Reproduced on for educational purposes.