Every genre of music has its most iconic and influential eras, whether it be pop, rock, or even reggae — and hip hop is no exception. Hip hop’s Golden Era lasted from the late 1970s to the late 1980s and featured rappers such as LL Cool J, Slick Rick, and Rakim. The Gangsta Rap Era followed, beginning in the late 1980s and running throughout the late 1990s with rappers like Tupac, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and Snoop Dogg. During The Backpack & Ringtone Era, hip hop officially solidified its place in the mainstream. This era began in the early 2000s, and artists such as Kanye West and T-Pain dominated the airwaves. But during the late 2000s, one of hip-hop’s most influential yet most forgotten eras began.
Before the internet became such a massive part of the music industry and, more specifically, the means to an artist’s come-up, artists were heavily reliant on the power of record labels to build buzz around their music and careers. That power never genuinely laid in the hands of artists until the late 2000s, when the internet began taking over and independence became the name of the game.
The Blog Era got its name because in order to gain a substantial amount of buzz during this time, most artists had to be featured on blogs. To put into perspective how vital it was to get featured on these outlets, its importance best compares to the significance of gaining placements on editorial playlists during today’s streaming era. While a ton of the artists during this time started independently and remained that way, there were several that still took the route of later signing onto a major label — and even in those cases, blogs were still essential because they often gave artists leverage when negotiating their deals. All they needed to do was show they’d already built a dedicated fan base by way of the internet.
Nothing compared to the immediate exposure an artist could gain from being featured on popular outlets that showcased hip hop culture. And for fans, it was a completely new and organic way of discovering new music and artists. Sites like Napster and Limewire ruled the early days of music on the internet, but there wasn’t much curation or discovery. Listeners typically went to those sites when they already had a song or album in mind. This new wave of hip hop-dedicated blogs exposed listeners to a level of curation that extended beyond what radio had introduced several decades prior.
2DopeBoyz, NahRight, Rap Radar, SOHH, OnSmash, YouHeardThatNew, Miss Info, DJBooth, Pigeons & Planes, Hot New Hip Hop, and World Star Hip Hop were just a few of the major players during The Blog Era. The difference between these sites and websites for major publications like Vibe and The Source was the foundation on which they began. These blogs were built by hip hop fans, run by hip hop fans, and kept alive by hip hop fans. There were very few industry politics involved and because of that, they always felt authentic. There were several periods in time when publications like The Source lost their authenticity (i.e., The Source giving albums undeserved “5 mic” ratings), but sites like 2DopeBoyz and Pigeons & Planes never wavered — even when they were raking in one million unique visitors per month.
In 2016, 2DopeBoyz Co-Founder Meka Udoh spoke about his site’s early days in a Complex interview. “We were just going to put out music we enjoy … within the first month, we had maybe 12,000 hits. The next month we got 25,000 hits. The months [following], it just kept doubling and doubling … I honestly thought I was one of the few people out there who enjoyed both Mos Def and Cam’ron. And it turned out a lot of people were also huge fans. I just thought it was always interesting people could like Sean Price and Cam’ron in the same breath,” Udoh said. The blogs provided a new level of curation, but they were also providing spaces for hip hop fans to chat about music and the culture that surrounds it. The comment section of posts from these blogs routinely garnered hundreds and sometimes thousands of opinions from fans discussing all of the above. There was truly no place like it.
Music eras can only become iconic if classic projects are released as a result. Therefore, it’d be impossible to talk about The Blog Era without mentioning some of its timeless projects.
In 2010, Wiz Khalifa released Kush & OJ, arguably one of The Blog Era’s most impactful and important releases. Wiz released the tape by simply posting a link on his Twitter, directing fans to download the project for free. The hashtag #KushandOrangeJuice immediately became a trending topic on Twitter after its release and remained one for three days straight. Wiz has always been a major representative of stoner culture, but this tape solidified his spot on the throne. Songs like “Still Blazin,” “Mezmorised,” “In The Cut,” and “Good Dank” still sound fresh today and were staples of their time. Wiz was the epitome of “cool” during this era, and his social presence was a massive reason for his celebrity. He and the Taylor Gang would post videos of their lifestyle to their YouTube channel, which was wildly popular amongst fans. Whether they were smoking weed, partying or in the studio making music, they were some of the first to give fans an authentic glimpse into their daily lives.
In 2013, Chance The Rapper released his sophomore mixtape Acid Rap as a digital internet download, and the tape has gone down as one of The Blog Era’s most iconic. Chance has always been proudly independent and during this time, he was incredibly vocal about that aspect of his career. Acid Rap featured artists such as Vic Mensa, Action Bronson, Childish Gambino, Ab-Soul, BJ The Chicago Kid, and more, many of whom were products of The Blog Era themselves. The tape even surpassed over one million downloads on Datpiff — one of few to do so.
In 2009, Nicki Minaj signed to Lil Wayne’s label Young Money alongside Drake. She made her first appearance on the hit “Every Girl,” and fans were immediately drawn to her colorful hair, witty bars, and lively personality. Nicki had already built a bit of a name for herself within the underground scene due to the success of her mixtapes, but after signing to Young Money, she finally had the attention of everyone in hip hop. Blogs were incredibly invested in Lil Wayne’s every move, so once he signed Nicki, she instantly had their support, too. In November 2010, she finally released Pink Friday and broke several records in the process. The album was a blog favorite, as Nicki was one of the first female rappers in years to capture mainstream attention in the manner that she did. Pink Friday isn’t just a Blog Era classic; it’s undoubtedly a hip hop classic, too.
Speaking of Young Money, in February 2009, Drake dropped his third mixtape So Far Gone and blogs were a huge factor in its success. You couldn’t visit any blog without hearing “Successful” or “Best I Ever Had” (the two singles from the project), but Drizzy’s success went beyond these online outlets. While hip hop connoisseurs may have been introduced to the Canadian icon through his record deal with Young Money or even through his previous, lesser-known mixtapes, So Far Gone was the world’s introduction to Drake — and he hasn’t left our lives since. Drake’s sound was so unique at the time, with his atmospheric, R&B-inspired beats accompanied by his hungry yet slightly arrogant lyricism. Drake was a breath of fresh air during a time when it was easy to get caught up by the misguided direction in which mainstream rap was headed. This tape was a classic, but it was also a moment in time. We all remember where we were when we first heard “Best I Ever Had” — or if you’re from Houston like I am, “November 18th.” So Far Gone will undoubtedly go down as not just one of the greatest Blog Era tapes of all time, but one of the greatest tapes of all time, period.
The Blog Era was one of hip hop’s finest. It’s difficult to imagine where the genre would be today without the contributions of the artists who popped off due to the success of major blogs at the time. Most fans probably wouldn’t want to imagine a version of hip hop without So Far Gone, Pink Friday, or J. Cole’s Friday Night Lights. We’re currently in an era where streaming is king and fans aren’t frequenting hip hop blogs the way they used to. As a result, curation is taking a step backward. Editorial playlists will always be amazing and essential to our culture — still, they shouldn’t be the end all be all. And when artists make art to conform to “making it on RapCaviar,” we lose a bit of the authenticity that made us fall in love with hip hop to begin with. With that being said, The Blog Era wasn’t perfect, but one thing that remained consistent throughout this time was the authenticity and pure love for hip hop.