The site www.allhiphop.com (AHH) is arguably the biggest news brand in the Hip-Hop arena. Today we talk to cofounder and CEO Chuck Creekmur about the evolving trends within the rap industry and how AHH plans to stay strategically ahead of the curve.
Adisa Banjoko: What have been the biggest changes in the music industry?
Chuck Creekmur: The biggest changes in the music game are clearly the absence of change. The world and technology have changed more dramatically in the last 10 years more than ever before. And, unfortunately, the recording industry has had change and revolution thrust upon them. Because of it, we've seen a decline in just about everything associated with music. I think the artists have been more progressive but lack the structure to make things come to fruition.
What have been the biggest adaptions AHH has had to make as the industry evolved?
AllHipHop has been fortunate to have pioneered much of the content delivery methods that you see today. Eleven or 12 years ago we were delivering wireless news to two-way pagers. Since then, we've been early to adopt third party brand extensions like Twitter, which has been extremely helpful to the business. I still feel we can do much better with how we utilize other companies to fulfill our agenda. AllHipHop is relaunching the website with an overhaul and a brand new platform and that's going to allow us to really implement what's been going on in our brains for years.
In the Golden Era of the 1980's and 1990's the formula for getting signed was pretty simple: Make a demo, get it to an A&R guy and sign a contract. How different are things now?
The artist today has to be far more savvy these days to even get a head nod of acknowledgment from the public these days. Talent simply isn't enough. Not only do you have to craft a brand and an image, but you have to be profoundly proficient with delivering that to the people. Last year, Rick Ross did viral videos for just about every song on his album, all the while projecting his "don" image. Wiz Khalifa, Curren$y, and Big KRIT are creating incredibly loyal fans and touring without a major deal or any deal. Furthermore, some of them are doing it without an album out. If you release a single, well-placed mixtape and fans get it, you can create a career off of that. You have to constantly generate interest in yourself and your art. These days, the rap artists is the 80's artist on steroids in a ocean full of great white sharks.
What is the AHH strategy for survival in 2011? What specific digital tools with you be using to give you an edge against the competition?
Right now, in 2011, our strategy is to deep dive into the total integration of social media. This has always been a part of our company in different incarnations from our earliest message boards. We are simply enhancing what has been there though Twitter and Facebook. We also are going to further extend our brand in the mobile world. We've always been there, but we are going to transcend the WAP site and simple iPhone apps for more interactivity with the reader. Moving forwards, we have partners that we feel will allow us to really galvanize our community and gather data about their habits, likes and dislikes to help us better serve them.
How much will technology help AHH survive in 2011?
Technology may not help us survive in the year 2011, because I think we have created a brand that is similar to McDonalds and Coca Cola in the genre. But, seriously, I know definitively that without technology, we'll cease to thrive in the future. We're not here to crocodiles, dinosaurs that lucked up and made it. We still aim to lead the charge of melding technology, art and culture.
What strategic alliances have been most beneficial for AHH and why?
Presently, our favorite alliance has been with the VIBE Lifestyle Network, which has been instrumental in increasing sales for the company. They have made an investment of sorts into the AllHipHop Brand and it has worked out well so far. Others in the past have not.
Some people believe that Hip-Hop Journalism has fallen apart. That it no longer values in depth reporting and investigative journalism. Has Hip-Hop journalism descended into tweets, mp3's and video clips?
I definitely think that journalism in Hip-Hop is in the toilet. It is for this reason that we have started to do more investigative work. AllHipHop has always gone against the industry grain. We definitely have incorporated more short-form content, but there is a huge void left in critical thinking and real journalism. We recently covered President Obama's State of the Union speech, which the report was streamed live from Washington D.C. and we've got a series on mental health in Hip-Hop on he way. A 140 character tweet can be used in a longer form piece, you know. This level of adoption is still sorely needed. We're not about to have a powerful video platform and use it only to have silly rap beef. We're going to help our people grow and entertain them at the same time.
For those that are unfamiliar with your brand, can you tell us who your users are and what they represent on a business level?
The typical AllHipHop user is a male that is fiercely opinionated. They are typically educated in school and self-taught as well. This is the inherent duality that Hip-Hop heads has always had. They are a tech savvy bunch that want to see the best from the AHH brand and oftentimes they dictate technological changes in the site based on their experience. We don't take on an elitist mindstate with AHH, because of the type of user we have. They are quite often more engaged that your average person walking the streets.
What are some of your personally favorite gadgets?
Right now, my favorite gadget is my Blackberry. I'm going back to my iPhone too so I will have both again shortly. I've been connected in this way over a decade and there's no going back.
What rappers are using technology effectively these days?
People don't realize it, but rappers and the Hip-Hop community have always been innovators and early adopters of technology from the very beginning of the art form. These days, you have 50 Cent commanding almost 4 million followers on Twitter and he's hocking everything from penny stocks to promoting a headset line. Kudos to him and his team for always being ahead of the curve with his website to other technology extension to his brand. Diddy also does a marvelous job in using social media and technology to push his agenda. There are others that have fun with it like T-Pain and his iPhone vocoder. (laughs)
Any last words?
Look out for AllHipHop.com's relaunch in February, where we intend to turn the industry back on its ear. We also started a new partnership with The League of Young Voters Education Fund so we will be hosting a number of election and politically-minded events to get the youth thinking about the 2012 elections. There's more, but we'll let you know as they launch.