Twenty years old is a pivotal age for anyone, really. It’s the final youthful age before you can drink (legally in the United States), it’s the middle mark for your average college student, it’s the first year out of your teens. When Nasir Jones was 19 he recorded his debut album Illmatic. It released when he was 20, thrusting Nas into a whirlwind of notoriety, as the ten-track offering was our first glimpse into the Queens poet’s journey to legendary status. Think about your 20th year of life. It may be a recent memory or a faint one. For some, it may not have even happened yet. Our HipHopDX staff came together to reminisce on their lives at the double-decade age mark, including a special anecdote from our CEO Sharath Cherian, who was twenty years old when HipHopDX took off. Add your own 20-year-old story to the comments section below.
I launched HipHopDX on July 19th 1999, and I turned 20 not even 30 days after the launch. Basically DX started on $800. Most of that was spent on a flight to Toronto to pitch it to the Canadian record labels. It was my second year of University, and my first year of Business school. I was working at the DMV at the same time and running a mixtape business, shipping mixtapes. At that time DX was somewhat of a hobby. I wanted to get free music from the record labels, and I previously had some street team jobs. I flew to New York at the end of the Summer, and I pitched the record labels on what I was doing. I was trying to get money from Day One; I wasn’t trying to make it a business yet, but I was taking it seriously enough. For me, I knew what it would take to keep it going, since I was already running a mixtape business, so I was taking the steps to keep it running. I didn’t think it would be this huge business I would run, but I wanted it to sustain itself. I didn’t party much, I wasn’t a big drinker, so I took all of the money I made and reinvested it into the site. I was building DX, going to school, and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. That year I learned what the word “entrepreneur” meant in my classes, and one day I came home to my mom and said “I think I want to become an entrepreneur.” — Sharath Cherian
I moved to Amsterdam on September 5, 2001, two weeks following my 20th birthday. It was the beginning of my junior year at Wofford College and my first time ever leaving the country. Six days later, I made a quick detour through the local coffee shop after Dutch Economics, blazed one, swung by Amsterdam’s version of FYE to cop Jay Z’s The Blueprint, then biked home bumping “Takeover.” Floating down the cobble-stoned Prinsengracht on my way back to the flat, change felt everywhere.
I watched the 9/11 terrorist attacks play out on a grainy big black television in the communal kitchen all of us international students shared in the hours following. That was the same day that I learned how to roll Dutch style. Two months later I rolled a perfect baseball spliff just before drifting to Nas’ Stillmatic. Things changed after “Ether,” but not necessarily because of it. The juxtaposition isn’t complete, but sometimes fractured experiences sputter-out like that for some of us when we’re 20-years old. The best of us never seem to have that problem. — Justin Hunte
At the tender age of 20, I was pissed at Nas and cobbling together low-quality versions of “Blaze A 50” and all the scrapped songs that were supposed to be on I Am… and Nastradamus the previous year. While struggling through one of my many “breaks” from college, I wore out that mix CD full of pirated tracks from the file-sharing site Morpheus. Looking back, it was obviously rather self-righteous, considering Nas had at least two really good albums under his belt and all I had was the byproduct of overindulging on Hennessy and Dodge’s Chicken above my belt. Much like Nasir himself said, “Time is Illmatic.” — Omar Burgess
I was 20 years old in 1999, which was (to me) the perfect year to be 20. Rawkus Records was devouring the independent Rap scene, Lauryn Hill was on her Miseducation Tour, and I was taking it all in while holding up the wall at New York’s branch of Fat Beats, flirting with the deejays on the weekends and working at a different record store in New Jersey on weeknights in between my college classes. At that point Giuliani’s reign of terror over NYC night life was dissipating, so it was easy to slide into the clubs before 21. I was everywhere in my Triple 5 Soul t-shirt, matching bag and a long denim skirt because L-Boogie made that the trend. That same year, The Roots dropped Things Fall Apart, and I was proudly Okayplayer LaDieMeCCa, who would later pass out flyers for The Roots and their infamous Black Lily concert series at Wetlands, meet my first editor there, pick up a pen, and never put it down. — Kathy Iandoli
At 20, I was attending Xavier University and writing about Rap professionally. I was also gaining a reputation on campus as the only person people had ever met who loved Rap and pro beach volleyball. — Soren Baker
11 years ago I was 20. I was in my second year of community college, and I eventually dropped out. I was skipping class to go sell weed and rap with my friends. I was working in the mall at a Hip Hop and skateboard shop called Mr. Rags. All my free time was used to polish off Ole English 800’s, smoke pot, download G-Unit mixtapes, rap and listen to my parents tell me to get a better job. At no time did I envision a career in Hip Hop that didn’t include kicking 16’s and bullying wack rappers. — Mike Trampe
It’s interesting how life plays out. At 20 years old — more than eight years ago — I was in my second year writing for HipHopDX. I was conducting interviews, writing reviews and reporting news, which I still do today. — Andres Tardio
When I was 20, I was a few years into a really unhealthy relationship. I was going into my third year of college and transitioning schools to move closer to Los Angeles because I knew I wanted to work in entertainment, and living two hours away for school wasn’t going to cut it. Felt like a pre-mature butterfly trapped in a cocoon. I was able to fly by 21. — Janice Llamoca
I remember being 20 like it was yesterday, maybe because it was only like four years ago. I was preparing to go into my third year of college at UCLA as a Sociology major. I was so sure I wanted to be a Social Worker, but as you can see I chose a totally different career path. Music has always had my heart, I just didn’t know at that point that I could make it a career. This is also the year I started working with an After School Program, 4Real H.O.P. (History & Hopes of Our People), based out of Jefferson High through UCLA. The program helped children with self-expression as well as self esteem building exercises using the elements of Hip Hop. This program meant everything to me, I felt at one with my students. This is also the year I saw Nas perform for the first time. He performed with Damian Marley at our annual Jazz Reggae Fest. Pretty dope I got to see him the same age he was when he dropped his masterpiece. — Sparkle Pratt
I was twenty about three years ago, so I remember it pretty well. At 20 I moved to New York as a transfer student, going into my secnd semester of sophomore year. I was a social outcast because no one really knew who I was. I spent most of my time listening to music and writing reviews for various friends’ blogs via Tumblr. I was also a part of a small blog started in Atlanta with a few of my friends from high school interviewing artists such as Yelawolf and Rittz, before anyone really knew who they were. Other than that, I was pretty much the most California person you could find in New York. I also saw my first Nas show that year when he performed Illmatic in full at Rock The Bells. — Jasmine Hardy
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