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 Editors-in-Chief, 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 the next week, we’ll release interviews with previous DX Editor-in-Chiefs, key staff members as well as Cheri Media CEO and the founder of DX, Sharath Cherian. Each delivers a compelling peek into the publication’s legacy within a constantly morphing journalistic landscape.
Up next, Jeff “J-23” Ryce has been an integral part of just about everything that has ever happened to HipHopDX. He began writing for the site in 1999, six months after launch. As he describes in this interview, he was upset by how poorly a Funkmaster Flex album review was written and emailed his complaint to the site’s founder.
“Sharath replied pretty much right away,” J-23 explains. “I think we had a little bit of a back-and-forth first, one thing led to another, and all of a sudden I was writing a review for HipHopDX. You always wonder if these things are meant to be. I’m not the type to do that sort of thing [where] you write and complain. That’s just not typically what I do. So the fact that I did it there and it led to a big part of my life for 10-plus years was a little bit strange to me.”
In the decade-plus to follow, not only would J-23 become one of the site’s most penetrating and popular voices, but he was integral in the crucial hiring of Andreas Hale (which set up DX’s “Blog Era”). Ryce was also the spark that led to the creation of 2DopeBoyz.com, which he fully explains in this conversation.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY HENRY MANSELL
Jeff Ryce Details HipHopDX’s First Year
HipHopDX: It’s a pleasure to speak with you, man. I’m a big fan of your work and all the work you’ve done at DX.
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: Thank you. I appreciate that. That’s a little bit strange to hear.
DX: Why do you say that?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: You guys have an office now, right?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: I worked from home. I sat in my room and wrote shit, and it was always a little strange when you meet people and they’ve taken your words to heart or enjoy your writing. I’ve met people whose writing I’ve really enjoyed, and it was always weird to see someone actually behind the name that you’ve been reading for years. So it was always strange to be on the opposite end of that. When we used to do Rock The Bells and kids would come up and be all excited, it was just a bit weird. Sometimes you just write without thinking about [it]. I tended to write a lot just for myself to say what I wanted to say and what was on my mind. The Internet is so anonymous. It’s kind of less so now, but back then it just always had an impact that I never quite expected.
DX: How did you first find out about HipHopDX?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: I had a friend who [told me about it]. I think we were just talking about albums, and he mentioned a new site. At that point it was tough to find anything about Hip Hop online. There wasn’t a lot out there. He just kind of, in passing, told me about the site, and I was a little more interested than normal, instead of just being a fan, because I had actually just started writing reviews here and there. I think I had done about four for a site called GlobalHipHop. So I checked out HipHopDX, and if I recall it correctly, it was Funkmaster Flex [The Mixtape Volume III: The Final Chapter] that I read the review for, and it was a really poorly written review. Not even so much that I didn’t agree with what they were saying, but it was just [full of] factual errors, grammatical errors [and] that kind of thing. For whatever reason, I took it upon myself to email; basically saying as much, which [Sharath “Tommy” Cherian] replied to pretty much right away. I think we had a little bit of back-and-forth first, then one thing led to another and all of a sudden I was writing a review for HipHopDX. You always wonder if these things are meant to be. I’m not the type to do that sort of thing [where] you write and complain. That’s just not typically what I do so the fact that I did it there and it led to a big part of my life for 10-plus years was a little bit strange to me.
DX: What year was that? Was that 2000?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: It was right at the end of ‘99 I think.
DX: So you were basically there at the beginning?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: Yeah, I think the site was about six months old, if I’m not mistaken.
DX: What did it look like? I always wondered that. How would you describe the layout?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: I think it was black with blue and yellow. It was that version. In terms of the old site, there was one that was kind of a light grey and a dark grey. That’s always the one that sticks out in my mind for the old site. Back in maybe 2004 or 2005 one of our programmers had some screenshots of the original site, and I had kind of forgotten what it used to look like so don’t quote me on that one.
Jeff Ryce Recalls Writing “The Greatest Story Never Told”
DX: Looking back over your time at DX, what’s the most important piece that you’ve written or that the publication has put out in your opinion?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: I don’t want to say that it was the most important piece the site ever put out because it just seems so self-serving, but certainly the biggest thing I ever did was the interview with Reginald C. Dennis about the history of The Source and what not. I actually just took out my original papers from that interview, because we did it via email because he had so much to say, so I still have the original transcript. It’s quite a bit longer than what we put online. I think at some point we did put out a longer version, but I don’t think you can find it now. I’ve actually looked for it. It was nice trip down memory lane.
But certainly from my perspective, I think that was back in 2004 or 2005. I know I wasn’t working full-time at DX yet, and the site wasn’t anywhere near where it is today in terms of size. I was getting calls from reporters. I got calls from The Source screaming at me for it. It turned the Hip Hop Internet on its side that day. So that really sticks out in my mind as a big turning point for the site. That’s certainly one of our biggest moments, [but] there’s been a few. I remember when Jake [Paine] reviewed Kanye [West’s] My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. That shut down our site because Kanye retweeted it, so that one sticks out in my mind. There are a lot of moments that surprised all of us that certainly we were quite proud of.
DX: I remember that story. It went up in April 2005, The Greatest Story Never Told. That was an incredible piece. That was around a year after I started reading the site.
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: I had sent him all of the questions, and he had responded in kind of a first batch, and then I had sent back follow-up questions to make it look like a conversation. I was just about to go to bed, it was probably about midnight, and the email came through. It was about 30 pages when I printed it out, [and] I think I read it about four or five times that night. I don’t know how well you remember the piece, but the album that really turned me from a fan to an obsessor with Hip Hop was The Chronic when I was in sixth grade. He’s talking about things like having the advance of The Chronic that was different to the retail version, which, at the time, I didn’t know there was an alternate version. There was the story about the “Hip Hop Hooray” video shoot when The Source came up playing the album, and everybody in Hip Hop [was] crowding around, fighting around to get inside to hear it. Things like that just gave me goose bumps, and as some little shit head teenager talking how many copies of that album I went through in my Walkman because I would just burn through the tape [and] wear it out. Hearing those kind of stories is when I was like, “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever done.” That interview, it was just crazy to me.
DX: So where did your byline [J-23] originate?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: [Laughs]. I didn’t wanna use my real name, and I don’t know why. I think probably because in those days of the Internet, absolutely nobody did, or very few people used their real names. It was just on the spot and I’m a huge [Michael Jordan] fan and initially it was “J2T3R” and I thought it sounded kind of cool. So that’s what it was, and it’s my initials with the 23 mixed in. And then after years of Sharath not being able to say it right, and he was always busting my balls and it was terrible, we just changed it to J-23. It always kind of made me laugh later on in my career, because a lot of people at that point just wrote their [real] names, and I always felt like this relic from the past with that handle.
DX: Were you the first Editor-in-Chief technically? Did you ever actually hold that title?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: Officially I had it for one summer. I never wanted to be the Editor-in-Chief. There’s just parts of it that I didn’t care for. I started out in high school, I wrote through university, and then I worked at another job for about a year-and-a-half after university before I started [at HipHopDX] full-time. It was more of a commitment than I wanted. If I was gonna spend that much time, and I just wanted to write. I wanted to write reviews, and I wanted to write my columns and things like that. Even news [articles] I never wanted to do. I mean, I wrote news for 10 years, but it was really just out of necessity. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. Now, there was a good chunk of time where I was kind of the voice of the site. And I think that was mostly because I wrote so much, but also [because] I talked a lot of shit, so that tended to get people’s attention. Sharath and I used to fight about it all the time, but I would editorialize in news articles. That wasn’t professional, and certainly I agree with him. It really just came down to [the fact that] I couldn’t help myself. [Laughs] I mean I was young, right? I was like 19-years-old, and I’m sure you know what it’s like when you’re into the music and people are doing things that offend your sensibility. [Laughs] That was still very much at the time where it was mainstream versus independent and you really had no crossover whatsoever. So I was very much on my “keep it real” phase of Hip Hop.
DX: I don’t remember anything from Albert McCluster [III]. I think he was the Editor-in-Chief before Andreas Hale took over?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: Yes, he was.
DX: I don’t remember him at all in the history of DX. What was he like? What happened with him that you remember?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: I never dealt with him much at all. All my dealings were always with Sharath. When he was Editor-in-Chief, that’s when I told Sharath I would take over the review section, because he would write these one-paragraph reviews and wouldn’t even really talk about the album. They were just really bad. But, the thing I remember most about him [was] he lived in Germany, and I think he lived there while he was editor for a while. He had a Dave Chappelle interview. And it was right around the peak of Chappelle’s popularity. We waited for it forever, we always heard about it, and to this day it never came. And that’s really what I remember most about him. But yeah, I didn’t really deal with him a whole lot. I think for the time he was fairly well connected, certainly more connected than anyone else we had. But that Chappelle interview, I’ve always wondered if that was actually real. [Laughs]
DX: Did you have a hand in picking or selecting Andreas [Hale] to be Editor-in-Chief?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: Yes. I would say that I absolutely 100% was the person who pushed for him to be Editor-in-Chief. I was a big fan of his writing from HipHopSite, and we had started talking on messenger, and when we had the job opening I recommended him. It was not just because I thought he was a good writer, but I thought he would be a very good voice. I guess it’s probably self-serving that we share a lot of opinions, and I genuinely was the only one at the site at the time who had those opinions. So to me to have an editor who felt that way, and in some cases a lot stronger than me, I thought he would be a perfect fit. He was at a fairly good place geographically, because that was one of the issues that Sharath and I always had. If I was gonna be the editor, it was, “You’ve gotta move to New York or move to L.A..” There was points in my life where I would have been willing to do that, and it never seemed to line up, which was a sad situation. Yeah, Andreas was an excellent writer, and I think he played just a huge role in really putting us on the map.
DX: DX’s blog era to me was my favorite in the space. I thought DX just had the best range voices in the blogs but that, in my opinion, kind of defined Andreas Hale’s tenure as Editor-in-Chief. What do you remember about how the blogs started but then also when they eventually went away?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: We had flirted with the idea for quite a while before it happened. Blogs became big, and it was kind of like, “Okay, we need to do a blog.” But I don’t think anybody really understood how because we already had the site. I think we tried some different things. I could be wrong that maybe we just started with what it was, but it really started with finding the right people. Meka was a big part of that and really helped that section take off because part of what we needed from the blog section [was consistency]. It didn’t start off that strong, but when it took off it was because he wrote everyday. And that’s what people came back for. Initially we had a handful of writers that were maybe writing every week [or] every two weeks. Once we had that content flowing in all the time it made a big difference, and Meka knows the tone because he talked a lot of shit, but a lot of the other writers really stepped it up in terms of frequency to try and keep pace. Like a lot of things, people just stopped focusing on that. They got something else that caught their attention. I think the quality dipped a bit. People stopped writing as much, and that was that and we decided to go in a new direction. If I remember correctly, the section was there until we did a redesign. Then when we did the redesign, the blog section came out because we went to that, I think similar to what it is now where it’s almost like the blog format.
DX: Did it surprise you when Andreas [Hale] left for BET?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: No. It didn’t. It was on the wall for quite some time. Him and Sharath clashed on a lot of things, and it was becoming very obvious that it wasn’t going well. I think that when we hired Jake [Paine] he kind of saw the writing on the wall like, “Why is there a fuckin’ editor?” And we kind of did this East Coast/West Coast editor for a bit. I think it was a surprise to everyone. Sharath and I talked everyday, multiple times a day, and Andreas and I talked a lot as well. It wasn’t a surprise. Now, it still was a surprise to me kind of how and when it happened. I think he called Sharath at midnight or something like that, and it was still a shock. He had been there a long time at that point, and as much as I wasn’t surprised, I still was if you know what I mean.
Jeff Ryce Details The Split Between HipHopDX & 2DopeBoyz
DX: The first story that blew my mind about DX was when I learned that 2DopeBoyz actually came from this company. I think I learned that when I started freelancing which was 2009 [or] 2010. It blew my mind completely. How did that happen? Where did that idea come from?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: I hate to say it, and for a while I took credit for it, and I started to blame myself for it, but it was really my idea. I fully remember the first time I talked about it, and it was at our first Cheri Camp in [Las] Vegas. Joel and I—or Shake as you probably know him—we were up drinking in my hotel room. We were just talking about the site and other sites and that, and at the time NahRight was really coming out big. I don’t follow it that closely, but now it seems like pretty much everything leaks to everyone at the same time, and at that time there was only a few people who really got stuff early and Joel was one of those people. So it was about that time and also when Meka’s blogs on our site were really blowing up, and so I said, “Why don’t you guys have a blog? He writes and you post the music.”
There are two other things that happened: One, it was around the time that Google Analytics [was] really becoming the tool for us, and we were seeing how much referral traffic came, so there was that. If we had this blog somewhat unaffiliated with our RSS feed, it would be a huge source of traffic for us, and it would also get around the issue we were struggling with for a long time, which was, “Can we let readers actually download music instead of streaming it?” So it kind of solved that as well. I talked about it with Sharath as well, and then all of sudden about a month or two later there was a site. Joel and I talked about it a little bit. We exchanged emails with different names for it, and then we kind of stopped talking about it. All of a sudden there was the site. It kind of caught us all off guard even though it had been talked about, and it worked out beautifully for while. It was huge source of traffic for us, because they had the news feed to DX on it. [Laughs] Then things went a little south at some point.
DX: Why did things go south?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: Because there was kind of a plan B there, and it was that once they got big enough we would start selling ads on the site and they would get a good chunk of that. Well that kept on getting pushed to the side, because we were flirting with some different network ideas, and then all of a sudden they were a part of the Okayplayer Network and it was never discussed. It kind of caught us all off guard and really created a lot of tension from there, and that tension never quite went away.
It was both sides’ fault. It was really both of our faults and some poor communication on both sides, but Joel was kind of caught in the middle because he worked for us full-time but Meka didn’t. And Meka saw the site doing very well, and he wanted to get paid. It was a difficult spot, and we probably should have made something happen before anyway. It was a shame. Just as much as Andreas, Joel was a huge part of making that site what it was, because we really started to blow up at the time where streaming music was the most important thing to the site where it started beating our news articles in traffic. He was really, for some time I would say, the most important piece to HipHopDX.
DX: What was Sharath like during all of this?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: [Laughs] Through which part? All of it?
DX: All of it. How would you describe it?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: It was challenging. There’s an interesting dynamic because Sharath was never really into the music. He liked Hip Hop, [but] business always came before Hip Hop. For me, Hip Hop always came first and for Jake and for Andreas Hip Hop always came first. When it was Sharath, Andreas and myself, I was always kind of stuck in the middle because Hip Hop came first. I got a business degree in university, and I worked in the business world before I worked at DX. When I was at DX I was the Marketing Director and handled a lot of the advertisement, so I really was caught between the two worlds. [I was] constantly fighting to find that middle ground because we didn’t have a real and critical voice, we were clearly selling out for money, and we were gonna be just like a lot of them out there. It was always a struggle, because Sharath would have some great ideas on the business side and Andreas wouldn’t agree and I wouldn’t agree, often to different extents but it was a battle, especially when you’re trying to grow [and] making concessions. For a long time, I was doing ad sales and I was the Music Editor. I mean, if that’s not ripe for complications then I don’t know what is.
Paying for reviews was never entertained in terms of paying for a good rating, but there were times when it was entertained to pay to get their album reviewed. Like I said, it was always a challenge. We all had different personalities, and it’s a big thing too when you’re in different places and you’re only communicating a certain way. I’m sure you know by now, Sharath is a very demanding person, and he doesn’t always have the best way of demanding it either. [Laughs] Some people handled that much better than others and would let him invade their personal space and their personal time. In my time there, Jake is still absolutely the best thing that ever happened to that site. He is just such a phenomenal leader that a lot of gripes went away because people just wanted to do anything for him. In terms of morale, it made a huge difference having a voice like his around. [He was also] a great writer and kept a great voice for the site. We stay in contact quite often, and I always tell him for his next career, no matter what it is, he’ll be great. I think he’s just got that touch as a person that people gravitate towards. You worked with Jake for a while, right?
DX: Yeah, he was my Editor-in-Chief for the three years while I was freelancing and then when I took over as Editor-in-Chief he was gracious enough to stick around for another seven months or so because Steven Horowitz had just quit and obviously if the news isn’t moving, DX isn’t moving. I just didn’t have the experience running that section. Then he filled in until Soren Baker joined the team. But ended up sticking around for an extra seven months to help me with everything I needed to learn. [Laughs] It was just another example of the kind of guy he is, but he’s my mentor and he’s taught me everything I know about how to not be a dickhead in this space; how to make sure Hip Hop never loses its place at the forefront for ego or for just being selfish.
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: He speaks very highly of you, which, like I said in my email, it does mean a lot. How are you enjoying it?
DX: I love it. I think it’s the best job in Hip Hop journalism, to be honest with you. The company culture is different now that everybody is in an office. I have a business background, so I’m used to his personality type and so I never really feel stress or pressure around a lot of the things that he talks about because of that. But also we have 11 people on staff now, so we’re leveraged to the point where we have resources and opportunities for people to push further and harder but still get sleep, which is important for a fluid article. You can’t write something when you’re half awake. [Laughs] It’s kind of difficult to put out a good project if you’re eyes aren’t open. Having an office and being in [Los Angeles] is immediate steroids to not only the brand but to the relationships we’re able to build, because truly for the first time for DX readers en masse, we’re people. It’s funny the number of people who have come up to me over the past year-and-a-half have said something like, “Man, I can’t remember the last time I was in a room with two people from HipHopDX at the same time,” and it’s a 15-year-old company!
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: That was always the interesting part for us. I think where we kind of thrived for a while is we were very much the outsiders. For a long time really the three sites were AllHipHop, SOHH and us and both of them were based in New York. Their owners and the editors were very connected with the industry, whereas we weren’t. We were outsiders. Sharath and I were both kids from Canada, and for a while he was working there still, before he came to L.A., and I was always still in Canada. You start to get too friendly with these people, and I do think that you lose a bit of that edge. Your risks aren’t as critical as they should be when you know the person. I don’t always necessarily think it’s a negative thing that you’re being soft [on artists], it’s just human nature. I don’t think that’s good for what the purpose is and to me. The purpose was to always give an educated opinion to the readers. I don’t mean to sound like we thought we were better than the readers, but I would often say it to people who had emailed me, particularly those who had emailed me agreeing with reviews and things like that. It’s like, “I can assure you I’ve listened to a lot more albums this year than you did, and I’ve listened to a lot more albums in my life than you have.” It’s our job and that’s what I did take seriously. If we put out a Best Albums Of The Year list, I wasn’t going to put on the top 25 when I’ve listened to 30 albums. I made a point to really try to listen to everything that came out, because your opinion can’t hold much weight if you’ve listened to 30 albums and [then] pick a top 25. I used to get a couple of albums a day in the mail and God knows it’s worse now.
DX: To be honest with you, that’s my biggest fear. I always liked the outsider nature of DX. I mean who else is gonna give an LL Cool J a 0.5 or whatever? That’s just awesome. Nobody should be exempt in Hip Hop because of who they know. But that’s something that’s new to us as a company, not even DX as a brand but us as a company. With these different types of sponsored content things and different relationships with these artists and the supposed importance of social media shares, so to speak, it makes it easier to lighten up and we just can’t do it. Between that and L.A.—I moved here from Brooklyn, I lived in New York for the past 10 years and I grew up in the South. L.A.’s the only place I’ve ever lived where if someone went to a party and you asked them how that party was [they’d be like], “Oh it was cool. It was chill.” “Chill” is a compliment here and we cannot “chill” as a media publication. So those two cultural things are the things that concern me the most and as a result the things I fight against the most often or fight the most vehemently. [We] just can’t lose that edge.
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: Yeah. L.A.—I mean, I used to love going there and certainly went a lot once Sharath was good there. I’ve always said to people, “It’s the only place that looks exactly what it’s like on TV, that show vibe, it’s exactly like you’d think it would be.” Everybody’s just got this way about them. It’s just a different place. Certainly the walls have come down with social media. I’ve seen the DX Daily that you do and that to me is strange, just having a face to the site now and video. It’s just so different from anything we’ve ever done. We’ve talked about that for so long, and there’s so many different people that we talked to about doing something like that, and it just never quite worked out. I have DX on my Facebook feed, [and] that’s where I see most of what’s going on. For a long time I saw DX Daily, but I didn’t know that it was a little video segment. Then finally I clicked on one, and I smiled because I just immediately thought of Sharath and how long he’s wanted to do something like that. It just kind of made me laugh. Even when he moved to L.A., he was really the face of the site. He was the one out there meeting with people and that. I think he’s got short hair now doesn’t he?
DX: Yeah, he does. It’s not like it was, not with the ponytail anymore.
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: Yeah, so he had long hair, right. You know, he’s an Indian dude and it’s [like], “You’re not in Hip Hop.” It was great for us because people always remembered DX because of him. We used to joke all the time, Andreas and I because he met Ghostface [Killah] once and Ghostface called him Aladdin. [Laughs] Ghostface is probably the only guy who is gonna say that, which is amazing in itself, because you can hear him saying it too. It was funny, and we loved to joke about it but it did mean something because he wasn’t like any other dude running a Hip Hop site. And I’m sure Ghostface, if anything, remembered the site because of him.
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: Did you just start freelancing for the site?
DX: Yeah. I was working in investment banking for six years and then I realized that I wanted to go write about Rap. So I quit the bank in ‘09, and I had money saved, so it was okay. I just went outside in Brooklyn and just started writing stories about artists that, at the time, no one had ever heard of and events that at the time weren’t as big as they are now. My only focus was trying to get better as a writer, so I just needed interesting stories to tell and tried as many different ways to tell them as interestingly as possible. But I always wanted to write for DX. I think once or twice I had sent a clip or something to whatever inbox was on the site, and I did the same with AllHipHop, and I never heard anything.
Then this label called Vegas Records held a talent search, essentially, in Newark, New Jersey in December in a blizzard. They invited talent from across the country, they paid $150, and they got to perform in front of A&R’s from every record label, Steve [Julien] from AllHipHop and Jake Paine. I got up on a Saturday morning [and] traveled across two rivers in a blizzard, three trains, paid $50 to get into this thing. [I] sat around with my audio player going for 13 hours of the most mediocre Hip Hop talent America had to offer just to get the opportunity to, at the time, interview Jake and Steve. Steve didn’t have time, he turned me down, but Jake was available. My plan was to interview him, and he’d be so impressed with my knowledge of the site and the questions that I’d asked on the history of HipHopDX and his role that maybe he’d give me an opportunity to freelance, and it worked. By the next month [January 29, 2010] my first story went up. It was an article on 50 Cent called “Fiddy – More Like Diddy” talking about how 50 Cent was gonna move into a place where he didn’t have to Rap to have a reputation and he was gonna have a career more similar to Diddy than Jay Z at that point.
So that was the first story that ever went up, and then the second one was an album review for Homeboy Sandman, which was one of the first artists that I started covering locally on my own blog. Then my third story was about some dude from Chicago, I can’t think of his name. Then we just kept the relationship going, and for the next two-and-a-half [to] three years I accepted every story I was ever offered. Then I interviewed for the News Editor job in 2011, and I didn’t get it because I didn’t know enough about how to write for the Internet. I took extensive notes and learned all the stuff and started implementing the things I learned from that interview on another site that I was running at that time called BrooklynBodega.com. I was the Editor-in-Chief of that before I took this job over.
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: You were spot on with the 50 Cent thing that’s for sure.
Jeff Ryce Explains Decision To Leave HipHopDX
DX: Thank you. So why did you leave? What was the impetus to stop writing for DX?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: It was really a combination of things. From a personal standpoint, I had felt like I was outgrowing it. I didn’t feel like I had anything left to challenge me. We had become the biggest site, and that was a big goal for me. At the time I was the #2 guy in the company, and I really had nowhere to go. Unless we were all of a sudden a 50 person company, my role really wasn’t gonna change in any capacity. It would have been meaningful to my personal growth. So there was that side of it where I felt like I needed something to challenge me. I was becoming a little disenchanted with the music industry and kind of the music in general in that I was tired of being in the industry and having to listen to music that I didn’t want to.
To cut a long story short, the music wasn’t as fun to me anymore, but I kind of miss that. I kind of also felt like I was getting a little old for it. I think I was 29 or 30 [years old] at the time, and I was getting to the point where I didn’t know whether I should be a voice anymore, because I wasn’t all of a sudden gonna accept that some kid should listen to Chief Keef instead of Large Professor. I was never going to make that concession because he was 18-years-old and I was 30. I felt from that point that I should probably step away and I couldn’t be at the site and not be involved with the music so there was that side of it.
DX: When you look back at the fact that DX is now 15-years-old, does it surprise you?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: I’m not surprised at all because of Sharath. I told him this and he absolutely loved it: Very shortly after I met him I told one of my parents, “Oh man, this guy, he’s gonna be rich.” He absolutely loved that. He’s smart and very ambitious. He had big dreams, and he wasn’t the kind of guy who thought his dreams were unrealistic and be like, “Oh no, we can’t do that.” There was so many times where he would have these ideas that I just would look at and be like, “Do you really think we should do that?” We seemed like this small fish and he was talking about [how] we were gonna get a licensing deal with record labels to be able to stream music so we don’t get sued and things like that. He wasn’t the type to take no for an answer. So no, I’m not surprised at all that it’s around after 15 years, and it seems like the torch is continually passed to really good people to man the ship. Hip Hop online, it certainly isn’t going anywhere, so I don’t think I’d be surprised if it’s there for another 10 years to be quite honest. Beyond that, who knows if you’re gonna have sites quite like this or if it’s all just gonna be through social media and that? Who knows where the Internet is gonna go? I don’t think I’ll ever be surprised by much that the site would be.
DX: I think it’ll be here forever. Regardless of what happens to the Internet there’s always gonna be a need for people to translate culture.
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: Yeah, I mean you’re absolutely right. In some form or another I’m sure it’ll be around.
DX: When you look back over your 11 or 12 years [with the site], what do you think your lasting legacy is?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: I guess it’s a matter of what I think it is or what I’d like it to be. Are you talking from within the company or from readers?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: I think that it would have to be that I was a fairly uncompromising voice and I said a lot of things that a lot of people either weren’t willing to say, or didn’t quite have the insight to say. I never thought of myself as being a good writer. I just think that I had a good insight, and I just thought about things differently than other people did, and that I wasn’t afraid to say those things. I felt that’s really what my strength was. I had inadvertently had an argument with a former writer who had caught wind that I had said that I didn’t think he was a good writer, and he came and pointed out that his English was much better than mine, and I agreed with him. But you could have exchanged his byline with a 1,000 others, and you wouldn’t have known he wrote that. Whereas I always love to think that people knew when they were reading something that I wrote, and as much as I wrote for myself, I quickly learned that what I said, and really what we said, made a difference.
Early on in the site I had a kid email me, it would have been about 2002 or 2003, and told me that I had saved his life because I wrote an article and I was talking about Non Phixion’s first album [The Past, The Present And The Future Is Now]. He went and got that album and at the time he was hooked on Xanax, if I remember correctly, and he heard the song “Drug Music” and that just really connected with him. He told me, Hip Hop and underground Hip Hop and this new song in particular, became his new drug and he got off Xanax. I guess he had been hospitalized like a week before and that. It seems like that’s the kind of thing that, if I saw that on a TV show for that to happen to a writer, I would laugh at it because it seems very far-fetched to me and it seems kind of corny. Again, I was just some kid up in Canada [and] I was like, “Holy shit, what I’m saying is actually making a difference to people.” I always took some caution in what I was saying. Not to say that I didn’t say things that were a bit reckless because I’m sure that I did but, certainly from a music standpoint, I was always very guarded of what I was saying because if people were spending their hard-earned money on albums based on what I said. If they were putting enough faith in me to say, “I’m gonna buy this album,” I didn’t want to do them wrong, and it was a responsibility that I did take a bit seriously and something that always really mattered to me.
I’ve always thought the album review section was the heart of the site and that wasn’t always an opinion that was shared by others. It kind of goes back to the Reginald C. Dennis interview that meant so much to me because he was the Music Editor right around that time that that magazine was everything to me. So I looked at his job when he had it as probably the dream job in Hip Hop journalism and probably ever. I’d like to think that I’d be remembered for saying what needed to be said. So let me ask you this, you’ve read a lot of my work, what is my lasting legacy there?
DX: Consistency. There’s no one else in the history of this publication that has consistently pushed the envelope of the conversation through HipHopDX like J-23, period. It just doesn’t exist.
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: It does sound like you’re a better writer than me because that sentence was much better than what I just said [laughs].
DX: I know your work from 2004 through 2011. I think you might have done a couple of spot stuff in 2012, if I’m not mistaken. That is a huge time in Hip Hop history—huge variance, voices changed, blogs didn’t exist, then they existed, then they were going out of style, staffing changes, website design changes, who’s the #1 rapper conversation changes, changes of mediums, the way people are getting music [changes]. The changes in the way people are even talking to each other. Snark wasn’t as prominent in ‘04 as it was in ‘07, everybody was snarky in ‘07. For me, your lasting legacy is consistently pushing the ball forward like no one else [while also doing it] longer than everyone else and all of it read like you were solely doing it for the right reasons, for Hip Hop.
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: I very much appreciate that. That makes my day.
DX: That’s the truth, man. Do you have anything else you wanna add or that you think is important about DX that people, readers, fans, followers should know?
Jeff “J-23” Ryce: There’s a quote in the Reginald C. Dennis interview where he talks about being a part of the culture and if you wanna be a part of it, then get out there and don’t just wear the uniform but inform yourself. Be a part of it and don’t just wear the hat. I’m sure you can find that quote. It’s still one of my all-time favorite quotes. That quote being put in this article is what I would like say to the readers.
“Worst of all, I see too many people wearing the uniform, but who cant even be bothered to learn anything significant about the culture they claim to love so much. The information is out there, so there is no excuse for ignorance. If you aspire to be a Hip Hop journalist, you might want to have a working history of Hip Hop journalism. You might want to own a record collection. You might want to have an understanding of the things that are going on in the world today, let alone yesterday. This stuff is important and if you cant be bothered to accurately document the life and times of your generation and your individual life, then believe me, no one else will. So dont take any of this stuff for granted and dont expect someone else to do it for you. Hip Hop is something that is to be lived, so turn off the radio and the video show and get out there and be about it.” — Reginald C. Dennis