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 coming weeks, 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.
Next, Meka Udoh is arguably the most popular blogger in the history of HipHopDX. In every edition of his column, "Slap-Boxing With Jesus," Meka found a way to rile an industry at large with his unfiltered commentary on all of Hip Hop's gawk-worthy shenanigans. He began writing for DX consistently in the mid-2000s. His blog was a way for him to expel his post-college frustrations.
"When I got out of college—and I’m sure a lot of folks that got out of college did the same thing—you think you’re going to get this great job right when you get out and everything is going to be okay," Meka explains in this conversation. "After two years I got really disillusioned and angry at just how I envisioned things to be and they didn’t turn out the way that I envisioned. So 'Slap-Boxing With Jesus' came partially from that rage that I had held inside of me at just the music journalism world and the music world in general."
As fate falls so lovely, Meka would team with another member of the HipHopDX team, Joel "Shake" Zela and create the wildly popular blog, 2DopeBoyz.com. Meka recalls the creation of the 2DopeBoyz as well as the impact of his popular column, "Slap-boxing With Jesus."
Meka Udoh Explains Creating "Slap-Boxing With Jesus"
DX: How did you first hear about HipHopDX and how did you begin writing for the site?
Meka: Ah let’s see, this was awhile ago. I knew of DX back in... I was still in college so I want to say it was around 2003, around my last couple months of college when I found out about what DX was. Before I graduated, I just sent out a whole long email to the contact email to see if they needed any writers and low and behold they responded back. At the time, the Editor-in-Chief was Albert McCluster, but [Andreas Hale] was talking back and that’s how I started writing for DX. I started writing for DX for about six months after college and then I just fell completely back off of writing. I got disillusioned with the journalism world. I got disillusioned of how real life hits you in the face when you get out of school. So I fell back from writing for about two years. For the entire time while I was working a regular 9-5 in the production industry, I was still getting emails from Dre looking for a writer to cover various opportunities or editorials or something. Maybe about two and a half, three years later actually, he had sent out an email to all the writers asking if anyone wanted to do a Big L, Big Pun, Biggie Smalls tribute. So I volunteered for all three and that’s kind of how I got back into writing.
DX: Say word? I didn’t even know that.
Meka: He actually hadn’t heard from me in about two to three years and he was kind of surprised that I was one of the first people to respond. Like his answer was “where the hell have you been?” I was like “I’ve been away.” [Laughs]
DX: That’s wild man. One of the things [Dre] said was that at some point you hit him up because I guess there was a story you had written a while prior that you hadn’t received payment for. He said, “I’m going to make sure you get paid but I also want you to be a blogger.” Is that how it happened?
Meka: Yeah, yeah, it took a while to get a paycheck so I hit him up to inquire about it. He said he would take care of it. In the middle of the conversation he had brought up that DX was starting this column similar to what XXL had when they had their daily columns with the likes of Byron Crawford, Tara Henley and others. So DX wanted to kind of follow suit with that and he asked me if I wanted to be a part of it and I got that chance. That’s how my column Slap-boxing with Jesus started.
DX: “Slap-Boxing With Jesus,” that’s a legendary name for so many DX readers. Where’d that title come from and what did you want to accomplish when the column was started?
Meka: Well, as I said before I was a bit disillusioned with journalism and life in general. When I got out of college—and I’m sure a lot of folks that got out of college did the same thing—you think you’re going to get this great job right when you get out and everything is going to be okay. You’re going to meet the girl of your dreams, you’re going to get your nice house with your picket fence, and then that bubble bursts quickly. Like I wasn’t used to freelance journalism. It was almost like….the best way I can describe it is like when Peter Parker started doing freelance journalism. He was frustrated and had to work like a picture job just to make ends meet and that’s beyond the whole Spiderman thing. So that’s why I just stopped writing. After two years I got really disillusioned and angry at just how I envisioned things to be and they didn’t turn out the way that I envisioned. So "Slap-Boxing With Jesus" came partially from that rage that I had held inside of me at just the music journalism world and the music world in general. It also came from Ghostface Killah’s “Daytona 500” which I was listening to at the time when I was like, “I’m naming my column that.” Peter Parker and Wu-Tang made me name it that way.
DX: That’s kind of like alternate Childish Gambino kind of thing.
Meka: Something like that. [Laughs] I was literally listening to “Daytona 500” and I was like “I’m going to call it “Slap-Boxing With Jesus” and see what people say.”
DX: You were able to strike a chord with not only the DX audience but with the macro Hip Hop environment. Your column was the best known on DX obviously. But for you, what was the point where you realized, “Hey I’m onto something. I’m making a difference?”
Meka: So that’s the funny thing: When DX started that column and I started my column, I was basically writing all of my stuff in between my lunch breaks at my job. Like I would do my job, write my column during lunch, throw it up and keep it pushing with my job. I didn’t know that anything would have caught on until I wrote this article about Lil Wayne. Without thinking I just put it up and I got an email from Dre and it was like “check the site.” So I checked the site and my piece was… what’s the term where it’s on the front page on that ticker?
DX: In the Hero Box?
Meka: Yeah it was in that, it was in one of those and I was like “Oh that’s cool.” Then I checked the comments and it was at like 30. I was like “Oh that’s cool, that’s cool.” That’s more comments than I’ve ever received on any of my posts. So I continued working and doing my thing and I check it 15 minutes later and it’s at like 100. I’m like “Oh! Okay!” So ever since then, that’s when I felt like it took off for me and that’s when people started paying attention more to the column. That was maybe three weeks into my writing duration. Because I was writing something like every day. Like I was writing something five times a week so I didn’t really know it was going to catch on. I was just happy to be writing again. And then it took off and here we are or something like that.
DX: Away from that Lil Wayne piece, what’s another one that you think that really stood out, even now that you look back eight to 10 years later?
Meka: I’ll be honest, the one that sticks out is the Lil Wayne one. I still actually have everything I wrote for DX and it’s in a folder in my computer. There’s about 300 pieces. So I wrote about like 300 pieces in a short amount of time so a lot of things I don’t even remember what I wrote. Half the time I go back and read my articles, I read my pieces and I’m like “Damn.” I didn’t know I was that angry. [Laughs] I’ve since calmed down but I was really pissed off back in the day.
Meka Details Creation Of 2DopeBoyz.com
DX: I remember you and [William Ketchums III] going back and forth in a couple pieces.
Meka: I remember that one. I totally forgot about that one. I don’t even know how it started. I think it was something about copying an article he wrote. To be honest, I didn’t know he wrote something similar usually because of my job. I was so busy with the 9-5 I didn’t have time to pay attention to other writers. I can’t remember what the piece was about. It was something I had actually been toying around in my head for a few days prior. But I just wrote it. I wrote it and coincidentally it came out a day after Ketchum had wrote something very similar. So he took offense to it and he called me out on his column and it extended to my normal daily posts. I waited about two days to get my thoughts together and then I called him out. Then we just went back and forth for a little bit. It was funny if you really think about it because it was all silly. I had never experienced something like that up until that point—I guess beef of any kind. It was weird but like now me and him are really good friends. We’re really good friends at this point.
DX: You were creative, more direct than most but you were also subtle. You had a lot of indirect subtleties that resonate a little bit deeper. That’s one of the things I really appreciate about the column. The other I thing I noticed or the other thing that I remember is you’d always talk about your “side hustle,” which was linked to 2DopeBoyz.com.
Meka: Yeah, yeah.
DX: How did that happen? How did 2DopeBoyz start?
Meka: Maybe a good three to four months into the column I got asked by some of the folks—Dre who had been at HipHopDX—if I wanted to help them out to sell merchandise at Rock The Bells, which was the [Los Angeles] stop at the time. I was like, “Sure” because I had never been to a Rock The Bells concert in a couple years so I was like, “Yeah I’ll sell merch.” So a couple days before the event, some of them all came in town and as I was getting off of my job and they asked if I wanted to hang out with them the night before and go to some concerts. So I was like, “Okay, cool.” When I went to hang out with them, there’s this quiet skinny White kid and they called him “Shake.” So I was like “Okay, hey what’s up.” I knew of him. I had seen his work on the site and everything, but I didn’t really know him. So we ended up hanging out and we went to some concerts and I was just surprised at how much music he knew. Like still to this day I call him a Hip Hop encyclopedia because he knows so much music it’s very unassuming when you first meet him. Then he realized I wasn’t the totally typical angry Black person despite how my column might say that and we just got along real quick. Maybe a couple weeks later, he asked if I wanted to start a website and I was like, “Yeah that’s cool. I’m down for whatever.” That’s how the site was formed, basically. Coincidentally, the site started two weeks after I lost my job at the production company. I lost my job at the production company because of the writer’s strike that had happened in 2007 and so many people were just out of work and I was one of those last hired, first fired types so I ended up getting cut. Then two weeks later, we started the site.
DX: Sounds like perfect timing.
Meka: I didn’t think too much of it at the time, that was my first time truly not having a job, like a regular 9-5. So I was definitely freaking out about life. Here I am with a college degree and I don’t have a job to my name. In the beginning I didn’t spend too much energy on the site because I spent most of my energy trying to find a job. After numerous temp jobs and getting cut from those temp jobs left and right, I finally decided to put more energy to this website thing, to this journalism thing because that’s where I’m actually having the most fun in my life. I wasn’t having fun looking for a regular 9-5 and I wasn’t determined to be the typical “I have a 9-5 for years and years and years type of individual.”
DX: Right, right. What was it like working with Andreas Hale and the DX team? What was the team like around that time?
Meka: They were cool. Everybody was cool as hell. Those were some of the nicest folks I had ever met at the time virtually. Like some of the folks I worked with at DX, I wouldn’t meet physically until like a year or two later after I moved out to New York. I remember the first time I met Ketchums was in SXSW in 2010, almost three years after the fact that we had met through the website. Aliya Ewing is another person I didn’t meet until two years after the website and everything. Everybody was cool and it’s funny because I specifically remember times where Dre and Shake would tell me how during DX’s weekly meetings, they would set aside a specific time for me called “What did Meka say this week?” That was actually kind of funny when he told me that.
DX: What was the landscape like away from DX? What were the other blogs that were popular doing? What was happening in journalism?
Meka: For me or just in general?
DX: In general, but from your perspective. What did the space look like to you?
Meka: At the time while I was working for DX before [2DopeBoyz] started. I always looked up to writers such as Byron Crawford, such as Dallas Penn, such as Tara Henley, even Eskay at NahRight. Coincidentally, I met Eskay before I met Shake. I ended up meeting Shake four months after Eskay. Things were a lot different. There weren’t as many musical contemporaries if you will. Now it seems like a new one is popping up every other weekend. Back in the day it would seem like it was just a niche market. To me, back then it felt like a bit more organic. It felt like almost a secret society of sorts. If you wanted to hear music from artists that you followed or just new music in general, you would go to these random websites. If you wanted to hear an alternative perspective from the typical music editorial world you would go to these random blogger websites. Back then it was hella cool. They were actually the reason why I ended up getting back into writing because I had been so inspired and impressed at how well most of the writers didn’t really give a damn about much. A lot of them, their writing echoed the same sentiments that I had. At the time I was like “I didn’t know people did this.” So that’s how I got really into it back then.
Meka Explains Decision To Leave HipHopDX
DX: What year did you leave DX fully and what were the reasons why?
Meka: Shake and I left DX around the same time in 2009 because we just couldn’t handle being able to maintain the other site by ourselves, as well as the commitment to our jobs at DX. I left the site around 2009 around the time I moved out to New York and I had to work essentially six jobs total: Two regular 9-5s and four freelancing jobs as well as the site. I just couldn’t commit as much to the site as I wanted to anymore so we just left like that.
DX: Looking back at your time at DX, what do you think is your lasting legacy as a writer and as a blogger for the site?
Meka: It’s hard to tell honestly. Most folks still remember me from the “Slap-Boxing With Jesus” days. That was like what seven years ago? It’s weird to me that people still bring that up to me every now and then and I’m like I didn’t know it would have that type of impact. I just thought I was writing from the perspective of an angry music-head or a music-head who’s bitter at the industry. I didn’t know if other folks either liked or disliked what I wrote, but they still remembered it. I guess in essence you could say that. I didn’t anticipate my column being as popular as it was.
DX: Thinking about HipHopDX now, and it’s been 15 years since the site was started, is there anything that surprises you about where this publication has gone from where it began or from when you first started writing for them?
Meka: Not really. It’s essentially been the same. It’s gotten bigger over the years but it was essentially like the precursor to what we have now as an online magazine from everybody from XXL, Spin, to even the PitchForks and the Prefixes of the world. Back then when DX started, I felt as if the magazines that like The Source and all that stuff, felt like a website like DX or AllHipHop wouldn’t last. They thought it would be like a fad. Then 15 years later, these very same websites had to follow suit to be able to compete so there’s that.
DX: Word up.
Meka: I even remember this is like two or three years ago when I moved out here to New York and I got asked to come in for an interview to be an online editor for XXL. So I took it thinking “Alright this will be interesting.” I’d always wanted to work for XXL at some capacity or whatever. They, at the time, they pitched the idea of what they wanted me to do. They essentially wanted me to leave the website and come work for them. They were saying how “[2DopeBoyz] is cracking, but it’s kind of like a niche thing like a fad type of thing.” I just sit back and think when they looked at DX as the same thing and now their being forced to compete some years later. That conversation has always stuck in my head because I always found that interesting.
DX: Man, the way things change and yet they stay the same.
Meka: Yeah, everything just changes and adapts with the times, but it’s still essentially the same damn thing. Instead of paper, we have laptops. Instead of books we have Kindles.
DX: Yeah, that’s the truth. Is there anything else you want to add or say or make sure is clear in this interview?
Meka: I’m being as PG-13 as possible. So if you really want me to give my thoughts, it probably wouldn’t be published! [Laughs] It’s like at this point it’s no need. I’m at a certain point in my life where I’m not angry anymore or trying divulge too much negative energy, I got way too many positive things going on in my life to be focused on the negatives. So I’ll stay PG-13 instead of “Slap-Boxing With Jesus.”