HipHopDX celebrated a significant milestone this year. It’s been 15 years since Sharath Cherian launched the publication out of his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Over that time, there have been five Editor-in-Chiefs, seven different versions of DX, and a gaggle of incredible articles written by a generation of talented journalists. The online journalism landscape has changed significantly. The Internet is infinitely more crowded. A decade and a half is impossible to document in one non-book-length conversation, so we’ve decided to provide an extended glimpse into the history of HipHopDX throughout the week. Over coming weeks we’ll release interviews with previous DX Editor-in-Chiefs as well as Cheri Media CEO and the founder of DX, Sharath Cherian. Each delivers a compelling peak into the publication’s legacy within a constantly morphing journalistic landscape.
Up first, Andreas Hale was Editor-in-Chief of HipHopDX from 2004 through 2009. Dre is the architect behind DX’s awesomely executed blog era and introduced an array of poignant, culture clutching columns challenging industry absurdities such as “Who The Hell Am I?” and DX’s annual Turkey Awards (which still runs today).
“If you think some shit is wack, call it wack,” Dre shares. “Call a spade a spade. As long as you can backup what you’re thinking, it’ll work for me. That’s what I wanted to do: Ask honest questions. Don’t be afraid to piss somebody off. If they don’t want to answer the question, the worst thing they can say is “No comment” or “I’m not answering that question.” That was the first thing I wanted to do because I wanted to be transparent with our readers that we’re honest, we’re straight forward and we’re going backup everything that we say.”
HipHopDX’s “Blog Era”
HipHopDX: When and how did you first become Editor-in-Chief of HipHopDX?
Andreas Hale: That was 2004 I want to say. I was over at HipHopSite. I was the Assistant Editor over there and Matt Conaway, who seems to be the connector of all things, connected me with Jeff Ryce and said there was a new site coming up and if I was interested I should see if it was a good place to expand my portfolio. Me and Jeff talked. I started doing news daily. I started doing four stories a night by myself. There was nobody else doing anything at that time. Jeff would do the features. We had a couple other writers here and there. That lasted for about eight months and I asked if I could start doing editorials—just random things about music, culture, things like that. Through that, because it gained a lot of traffic, [Sharath] contacted me and asked me if I wanted to run the ship. I think there was another editor at the time that didn’t work out. [Sharath] interviewed me and asked me what I thought about the culture, what I thought I could bring to the table. My philosophy was always bridging the underground and the mainstream, being thoughtful and thought provoking, being cutting edge and not being afraid to say what you wanted to say about the industry. That’s what got me started. Then I became the Editor-in-Chief of HipHopDX for five years.
DX: What was the first initiative you wanted run with when you took over as EIC?
Andreas Hale: I don’t know if I even thought about any initiatives but it was about practicing honesty and integrity in your writing and having a voice. More than anything else, writers in this industry are scared to piss off people because they’re scared there’s going to be some kind of backlash and they want to be buddy-buddy with people who are famous. One of the first things I said was that if we have the rating system that goes from zero to five [Xs], then we should use the whole damn thing. It makes no sense to have a five mic rating system like The Source did and only go from three to five. Use the whole thing. If you think some shit is wack, call it wack. Call a spade a spade. As long as you can backup what you’re thinking, it’ll work for me. That’s what I wanted to do: Ask honest questions. Don’t be afraid to piss somebody off. If they don’t want to answer the question, the worst thing they can say is “No comment” or “I’m not answering that question.” That was the first thing I wanted to do because I wanted to be transparent with our readers that we’re honest, we’re straight forward and we’re going to backup everything that we say.
DX: I remember that era most for the blogs. I think just about all of the blogs rocked the way that you described them. There were a bunch of talented writers that weren’t afraid to backup exactly what they felt. I think the Turkey Awards started at that time. Between William Ketchums III, Meka, Charlamagne The God for a little while, there were some super opinionated voices at that time. How did you select bloggers then, and in your opinion, which writers did it the closest to the way you envisioned the blogs working?
Andreas Hale: First of all, it was Meka. Before anybody, Meka was a writer with DX. I think maybe he wrote a piece five or six months before I came on full time and had never got paid for it. So when he had hit me, I was like, “Yo, I’ll make sure you’re taken care of. I’ll make sure you get paid.” That’s one thing I like to do is to make sure everybody gets paid. I don’t like to bullshit people. Through that we just started a dialog and I noticed he was real colorful with his words. I’m like, “Dog, your talent’s kind of being wasted by doing Q&As. I want you to write and be colorful. The shit you’re talking about in this email, I want you to write it in blog form.” So I gave it to Sharath and Sharath admitted he was apprehensive as hell at first to let Meka do anything because he felt Meka was a little bit too ahead of the curve when it came to being abrasive. But, it worked out.
Charlamagne was interesting because he was working with Wendy Williams and I think he had just left Philly radio for whatever happened with that Beanie Sigel interview. He had emailed me randomly like, “Yo, do you need any writers?” And I was like, “Sure.” He asked to start doing interviews and I was like, “Nope. I want you to speak your mind.” Same thing. That’s just how these things worked out. I would screen all the bloggers and see what they were writing about to see if they were on point and not just being malicious for no reason, but that’s just how that started because I like writers with a voice. You can be as technically sound as possible, but that’s my job as an editor—to make sure your shit looks good. For you, I want you to have a voice so people can recognize who you are through your writing. Guys like Meka and Chalamagne and Ketchums and Amanda Bassa—they nailed it.
DX: Do you remember Add-2 blogging for the site? What was he like back then?
Andreas Hale: I remember Add-2. I remember him blogging. I can’t remember his posts that well, though. Nothing jumps out to me but I remember him contributing. I’ll have to really dig deep in the memory bank for that one because we had so many bloggers at that time, but I do remember him blogging on the site.
The Greatest Story Never Told
DX: Site wide, what was the most impactful story that you remember? Which one are you most proud that you published?
Andreas Hale: There were a couple. There was a three part piece that we did on Reginald Denis over there at The Source during the turmoil that was going on with Benzino and Dave Mays. It basically pulled back the curtain on everything behind the scenes at The Source. Jeff Ryce did it. We kind of cultivated it together but he actually did the interview. I was proud because it was just so much information about what was going on behind the scenes at The Source. We had heard [about it] but we really didn’t know. Reggie was there from the beginning along with Jon Shecter and Mays and the cats that started that mag. That gave us a lot of traffic, but more than that, it gave us a lot of respect. We were willing to do some investigative journalism pieces, not just fluffy Q&As.
DX: That was “The Greatest Story Never Told.” I remember that piece. It was incredible. Looking back, what do you think your legacy as EIC of HipHopDX?
Andreas Hale: I think it was everything I said before. The “Who The Hell Am I?” column, the Turkey Awards, the blogs—just giving the site a personality. Even if we didn’t have the access that AllHipHop had or even if we didn’t have the access that the MTVs had, we knew what we were talking about. As the Editor-in-Chief, I had to stand tall on that, that I didn’t give a shit about pissing people off. The other thing that we had going for us was that we covered the porn awards, we covered fights like the [Floyd] Mayweather fights. No other Hip Hop site was really covering that because they weren’t knowledgeable. Anybody can cover the porn awards or the Mumia Abu Jamal trial. Anybody can do that but you have to be knowledgeable and know the ins-and-outs. That’s something I felt was very important to the site: We had a knowhow. Everything that we did, it had to be well-educated, well read, well versed in what we did. We had to be that otherwise I didn’t need you. I need people who want to be big people and do big stories. Hopefully that’s the legacy that I’ve left. We were honest and that we were willing to stretch the boundaries of Hip Hop further than anyone else had at the time when it came to Internet journalism.
The Origin Of 2DopeBoyz
DX: What was the landscape like during that time? What was happening in online Hip Hop journalism those years?
Andreas Hale: Well, the blogs hadn’t popped yet. That’s one thing. It was us, there was AllHipHop, there was SOHH who was huge because of the message boards, and that was really it. I think DUBCNN was big at the time. I don’t even think most of the magazines were big at that time. XXL and The Source never really pushed their agenda as websites. It was different. It was before the digital era really got started people weren’t just bootlegging music and downloaded free stuff all of the time. People was still buying physicals when I first got on board so we were in the midst of that transition where the underground and the mainstream merged. We were like the Kanye West of Internet journalism that bridged that gap. I don’t think anybody else was doing it. It wasn’t as big. It wasn’t as many artists everywhere. There wasn’t music flooding your ears 24-7. It was a little bit more spaced out, which is good. I think there’s too much going on right now, but, it wasn’t as much competition. But the ones that were out there, we knew they had heavy hitters. AllHipHop had the heavy hitters, so we had to go after them. They had the top spot. It was a lot different. It wasn’t as crowded from an artist’s perspective and from a journalism perspective. It wasn’t as crowded.
DX: HipHopDX and 2DopeBoyz will always be kindred spirits to some degree. What do you remember about the time when that I idea came to fruition. How did idea begin and how did it end?
Andreas Hale: Pretty much with Shake—who handled all of our audio and all of our graphics at the time—Shake is a lover of music like myself. But with some things, everyone was sending him music. He and Meka got really close because Meka had influence on his blog so everybody became really tight. I think it was one of those things where Shake was like, “I can’t post everything.” We weren’t flooding the site with new artists all the time. We had to pick and choose the music that we were posting. So Shake had a lot of stuff left over. He basically said to himself, “Yo, I need somewhere else to put this shit.” That’s kind of how 2DopeBoyz got started because Meka was the same way. He was like, “Let’s just do something on the side and see what happens. I’m already doing my blog. It’s not really interfering with anything we’re doing at DX.” I gave them my blessings and that’s how they started running with 2DopeBoyz. It was just really just another place to put music that didn’t land on DX.
DX: Eventually, as we know, Meka and Shake started doing 2DopeBoyz full time. How was that transition?
Andreas Hale: I think when everything splintered out I was at BET. I left DX to work at BET. I’m not sure if an ultimatum was sent by Sharath. I don’t really remember. But I know that Shake and Meka were building this blog out and Sharath wanted to have a blog network. However, Shake and Meka had pretty much cemented something that they created and wanted to push that for their own agenda. I don’t think it was a slight to DX. I think they just realized it was something that had some legs. The only blog that was focused on music around at that time was NahRight. It was one of those things that when it came down to ownership, I believe Shake and Meka just wanted to have something of their own and they went their separate ways. I don’t know if there was any beef or anything like that. I just think that Shake and Meka wanted to do their own thing and see how it panned out without being held up by DX. I guess it worked out.
HipHopDX’s Legacy After 15 Years
DX: You ended up leaving DX to become BET’s Executive Editor Of Music and then Jake Paine took over as Editor-in-Chief. Describe what happened with that transition once you realized you were going to move on to BET. Why was Jake the right person and how do you think he did?
Andreas Hale: I don’t think I can say enough great things about Jake Paine as a person. Forget as a writer and forget everything that he contributed, but as an individual, I always thought Paine was dope. We always had a saying that journalists were supposed to be the ones behind the camera, not in front of it unless it’s absolutely necessary. Paine is one of those people who would never let who he is get in front of his story. I always admired that. When he came over from AllHipHop he wanted to make a move. He’d been there for so long and wanted to do something else. I guess he wanted to jump on something that was still building steam, and that was us. When he came over, I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’d only read his writing, but he’s the most humble dude ever. When I say “ever,” I’m serious. Ever! No ego, nothing. He came over like, “This is your ship. Teach me how to do it and I’ll make sure it runs well.” We were supposed to be just co-editors and working off each other like an East Coast and West Coast Editor. But I got the call from BET at the time and I felt like I did a lot at DX and wanted to make a move and Paine was the perfect man in place. If he wasn’t there I probably wouldn’t have left to be honest with you. For him, he just kind of got a grasp on what we were doing and the voice and the investigative journalism. He was kind of already doing that at AllHipHop. He just needed to cultivate it to what the DX standard was. From that standpoint when I left, I new I left it in good hands. I wasn’t really worried about it. I just knew if there was any person that can handle the site and keep its integrity level the same, that was Jake Paine.
There’s not too many people in journalism—especially today when people are so concerned with their image and their social media presence—Jake wasn’t concerned about none of that shit. He was just concerned with making sure shit went smoothly. Everything went over well. He integrated well into the system. He wasn’t like the starting quarterback that wants the plays to be made around him. He was all into the system and he flourished. Not too many cats can do that. People have egos these days. He’s just not once of those dudes.
DX: It’s been 15 years since HipHopDX launched. What comes to mind? What are your thoughts on the publication?
Andreas Hale: Longevity. Innovation. The one thing I will say about [Sharath] that other people may not know is that [Sharath’s] always looked outside of Hip Hop for his influences when it came to web design and things of that nature. That kind of brushed off on everybody who worked with him. I think we had a meeting one day, the DX town hall joint where everybody would get together. Sharath [would say] “I want to beat AllHipHop.” I always said, “I don’t think that should be our mission. Our mission should be being the ESPN of Hip Hop culture.” He was like, “I like that.” Competition shouldn’t necessarily be our peers. We’ve got to look further than that. In order to win, you’ve gotta look further than that. If you have your eyes set on one target and let’s say that target falls for whatever reason, then what do you do? That was our thing: Just being innovative. Just being creative and finding new ways and new angles to do things. That’s why DX is still around. The other sites have fallen off. People said the blogs were going to take over or run these websites out. They’re still here and it’s for those reasons. We were never competing with our peers. We were competing with the big picture landscape of journalism and culture. That’s what I think of.