'The Blog Era' Podcast Rediscovers How Internet Rap Changed Music History Forever
This feature is in our Summer '23 "Music" Issue. Click here to subscribe.
Jeff and Eric Rosenthal. Photo by Renell Medrano
Artists like Drake and J. Cole are hip-hop mainstays, but back in the mid-2000s, they were newcomers looking for a big break. From 2007 to 2012, blogs (the antithesis of major record labels that was led by Eskay, founder of the influential blog NahRight) gave artists a platform without restrictions. ItsTheReal creators/brothers Eric and Jeff Rosenthal’s new podcast series, The Blog Era (published by Pharrell's media company OTHERtone), celebrates a time in hip-hop whose impact was like lightning in a bottle. Throughout 10 episodes, the Rosenthals (along with a myriad of guests in media and music selected from more than 150 interviews conducted over the past three years).
Below, the ItsTheReal media personalities look back at this unforgettable era.
The reason why I was so excited about The Blog Era is not only because I grew up in that time but because these websites that we frequented are being lost. It’s so hard to find certain links to articles that you loved. And I think this podcast is really bringing it back to life. I’m wondering if that played a role in forming the podcast.
ERIC ROSENTHAL: For sure. We’re children of the blog era, ourselves. Nah Right, 2 Dope Boys, Miss info, On Smash, You Heard That New, these sites mean a lot to us. The list goes on and on. Because it was the foundation of our career, if we look back and you try to find NahRight.com, it does not exist. If you go to Wikipedia, and you search for Eskay, he does not exist. And because there are so many artists who run pop culture today that owe their careers in part to the blogs, it’s wild to us that there are no monuments to these people and their contributions. So we didn’t want that story to get lost. We didn’t want people to just have zshare links [from] 15 years ago, have that vanish and not exist anymore. So a big part of this was to memorialize and pay tribute and give flowers to people who were a big part of this culture but are not recognized as such.
JEFF ROSENTHAL: Even in just researching this, the challenge of trying to find all that history is a bit digital quicksand. We just can’t find any of this stuff. So it’s a lot of oral history recollections, and then trying to confirm things through other people who also remember that stuff. But there’s no actual physical memory of these very early online years.
In your recent New York Times interview, you stated that you spoke to 150 people and you had 500 hours of conversations. As a fellow journalist, I know that had to be daunting. I want to know how you were able to sort out what you wanted to include in the podcast or what ended up on the cutting room floor.
JEFF: Oh, man. Very, very hard. You’re just talking for so long. And to even just go back. We had to enlist a bunch of interns that we got from Twitter. We didn’t even have full transcripts done of most of these interviews because we were racing against the clock. And also because there was just so much material. So you would just remember, “Okay, this person talks about this here, or this person talked about this here” and you just have clips basically. But it was a huge undertaking.
ERIC: I think that we were because we live this and because for three years, our heads were in 2007 to 2012. There was, as Jeff was mentioning, there’s an easier recollection. And there is sort of shorthand with all this stuff where because we have a bulletin board because we line stuff up, we’re able to envision it in a clearer way than you would if you were just buried underneath all of this material.
It seems like you approached it in a way that you would make a movie, just really visualizing and figuring out the proper flow of the stories.
ERIC: This is a time that’s not only forgotten, but I think, underappreciated, and we wanted to turn these ordinary human beings into superheroes. So a lot of people might not know Lowkey from You Heard That New, or they might not know Karen Civil or John Gotti from the Smoking Section, but we’re about to give them their own themes. We’re about to make them larger than life and give them the just dues that they’ve been due for so long.
And for people like me, who’ve known all the names that you just mentioned, it's like, "Finally they’re getting some recognition for what they’ve done for the culture".
ERIC: For five years before the pandemic, we had a podcast called Waste of Time and most of our early episodes featured artists that would go on Rap Radar, Drink Champs and other podcasts that would have a similar format to us. We were like, “Why are we competing for interviews with these other podcasts? Why wouldn’t we just clean our corner of this whole thing and make it about the people behind the scenes?” So for much of those five years, we focused on the A&Rs, the publicists, the marketing people, the managers, producers that you wouldn’t necessarily hear from all the time. And I think that greatly informed us when it came to a project like this, where it’s like, “Let’s shine a light on people who you may not know their names, you may not know their stories, but we will give them the proper platform.”
I’m sure you stumbled across a wealth of knowledge. But can you recall any information that may have surprised you as you were doing research?
JEFF: One of the most surprising things is what leads to the downfall of the blogs. There's a lot of pressure that’s put on them by very large forces. On the other side, you have Odd Future coming up and saying they’re not cool. And so you have these very distinct forces that are sort of crushing them in all ways.
ERIC: From a fun standpoint, because you can’t go through 500 hours of interviews without having great anecdotes. You said before that we have a lot of stuff on the cutting room floor. I mean, you could make any interview that we did a legendary episode by itself. And there’s storylines that we wish we could have fit in. But it’s 10 and a half hours. But one of the funny things that we heard was Naima Cochrane, who I think a lot of people know from her Twitter, which is wild because she was a behind-the-scenes manager and marketing person for so long. A lot of people know her as John Legend’s marketing person and manager. Earlier in her career, she was working in marketing at Sony and signed Odd Future’s distribution deal. She told us that the night of their first performance in New York, she walked up with her Sony team and saw this long line of young kids waiting to get into the venue. And Q-Tip, the most venerable and celebrated artist of all time, walks up and someone goes, “There’s Q-Tip.” And the whole crowd goes, “F–k you Q-Tip!” We thought it was the funniest thing ever. So that that is included in an upcoming episode. But if have we not spoken to her, it would have never come up.
In one of the episodes, Vashtie Kola speaks about the blog community.
ERIC: What makes this story particularly interesting is that it comes at the crossroads of those real-life communities that popped up on the Lower East Side, where you have a Kid Cudi and The Cool Kids. But you also have communities online where everyone from across the world can find themselves in one comment section, and be like, ‘Wow, these are real friendships. I may never meet this person in real life. But our daily interactions are just as meaningful as if we were hanging out outside of the Supreme store.’
JEFF: You have all these people who were commenting back then, who had no idea what any of them looked like and now are reconnecting on Twitter because of this thing. And so it was a very crazy thing being like, “I remember you!” and you knew all these details about their lives. But I’d never heard their voices and had never seen their pictures.
These blogs really competed with major labels.
ERIC: When people were like, ‘I don’t want to live by those rules anymore; I’m going to create my little thing,’ an audience formed. So you could be an Eskay, an IT technician from Yonkers, with a family and a day job and just good taste, and be this the conduit to deliver Drake to the masses. If you’re an artist like Wiz Khalifa in a building that doesn’t understand you, and you’re like, ‘But I know there’s an audience out there. I know I create good stuff that’s different,’ well, all of a sudden you have an avenue to do something. If you’re Jeff and myself, you just want to provide your own viewpoint in this world that we grew up loving. This is a story about David and Goliath; [blogs] were able to be just as impactful as anybody who worked in one of those giant [record label] buildings.
For me, this era was a lot about music discovery. We’re millennials, but I feel like Tik Tok is Gen Z's form of music discovery. I would love to get your thoughts on that.
JEFF: I’m a little hesitant to criticize how new generations do their thing. But I think that what made our things special was that there was a focus on the importance of music, there was a context and there were different avenues to finding it. It was so driven by that sole mission of "I just want to find music and have conversations around it." Now it feels like—and it is partly because I’m an outsider to TikTok—but as a 30-whatever-year-old, it’s just a piece of content. Anybody can make this music thing happen. But that’s only a part of their personality. People also want to be an activist or a creator. Everybody wants to just be everything. Music is not a career anymore. That’s just a piece of it. I do dances, I do art. Also, I sell nail stuff. I do everything,
ERIC: I think in its most pure sense. There’s always going to be a disrupter and a disruption. If you’re Tyler, The Creator, and your fans are in high school, you should be yelling at Q-Tip, right? You should be like, “Hey, we’re better than you, are more significant than you and you better watch out.” It’s always interesting to see the wheel turn and understand that Tyler, the Creator is at the center of pop culture now. And there are young kids, maybe they’re on Tik Tok. Maybe they’re on some new website that I’ve never even heard of, who are creating something that is going to throw Tyler and his mainstream stuff, which is wild to say now.
Who would have thought we would have come to this moment, right?
JEFF: I just want to re-clarify what I was saying, which is basically that it’s funny that our generation was the one that made music free. But now it feels like a little bit like music is just cheap. There’s a big difference between those two things. And I think that’s the major difference between our two generations.
I agree with you. I also think it’s just because music isn’t viable anymore. Artists have to look for other ways to diversify their income. It’s a double-edged sword.
JEFF: Yeah. You can throw in the I said, “Sell slime.” I think I would read like a good Gen Z talking.
View this post on Instagram
My favorite musical discoveries from this era are Drake's Comeback Season mixtape and A$AP mob popping up on the scene. I'm from the Bronx, and Harlem and the Bronx are basically cousins. What were some of your favorite musical discoveries from this era?
JEFF: I do have to say you are from the Bronx, and it is a bummer that you didn’t mention French Montana. French Montana’s mixtape era was so crucial to me. Obviously, he’s evolved into somebody who hangs out with the Kardashians, but the music that he was making back then was so different and so exciting with him and Max. My favorite mixtape of the time was Rick Ross’ Albert Anastasia. As I’ve grown older, even though I don’t smoke, I listen to a lot of Curren$y. So going back to those projects I’d never really given the time at that time has been a fun experience.
ERIC: Curren$y, Wiz Khalifa’s Kush & OJ. Wiz says it to us on the podcast that’s his Illmatic or his Doggystyle. Because of the blog era and social media, it certainly bubbled up in that time and became part of everyday life. You have this “trash versus fire” analog understanding now of stuff. I think that words are just thrown out without any meaning. But when they talk about a classic project, I really do believe that Kush & OJ is right there and should be respected as such. And look at the legacy that Wiz has all these years later. I mean, you do not have summer without Wiz Khalifa touring.
JEFF: Also, Juicy J and Lex Luger. The run that they went on was the best.
Jeff and Eric Rosenthal. Photo by Courtney Francis
The Blog Era podcast makes me want to re-listen to these projects.
ERIC: We wanted to give an experience that allowed people to live in that way again. You see the conversation online, every moment of every day where people are just like, ‘I missed the blog era, I want some type of gatekeeping back, I want people with good taste to rely on.’ It is a pleasure to tell these stories. And it is a joy to see people’s reactions to a time that we hold so dear.