Record business analogies flew fast and furious as some very successful names in the music business were preparing to apply well learned lessons in marketing and brand creation to the then burgeoning on-line appetite for Hip-Hop news and music. In 1999 everyone in urban angled to cash in on the Internet.
But the Internet didn’t cooperate. The big name brands and big companies like Def Jam and HBO with Volume.com and even Slim Shady couldn’t translate their goals to the then new medium. And when the big dot com dust-up settled the only brands left were those that had grown a little more organically out of the Internet. And of those, AllHipHop has not only survived, but gone on to grow traffic that Alexa ranks as greater than the biggest brand in the space hard-wired into 90% of the homes in America, BET.
How does an upstart tackle giants? Well, humility reigns when speaking to AllHipHop’s founders Greg Watkins and Chuck Creekmur (pictured left to right: Greg and Chuck in a photo by Jerry Jack). And in an industry known for hubris, built on bravado and big claims, Allhiphop has quietly won the race.
JP: Where did AllHipHop come from and how have you climbed to the top of the on-line urban websites?
GREG: AllHipHop.com has been in existence since 1998 and was used as a tool to promote a record label I was running at the time. I started to update it with interviews to attract more visitors to showcase my artists. Around that time, Chuck was doing an online magazine as well called Tantrum Magazine. Anyway, he suggested we merge our respective brands. Shortly afterwards, we went to the "daily" concept and we haven't looked back. At the time, believe it or not, most sites updated weekly.
Our ascent is based on our value. Our aim is to be relevant to our consumer every single second of the day and we want them to take us with them wherever they go. That concept has helped and will drive our growth in the future. Consistency and an understanding of technology is another key factor in our success and continued growth.
JP: Do you consider yourself an "urban" site or African American site?
CHUCK: Well as you know, Hip-Hop is comprised of all sorts of backgrounds, colors, creeds and socio-economic statuses. However, because of the artists, the culture's background, we do from an African American perspective on certain matters, but not in a way that excludes people. To me, urban is a very generic way of saying African American. Also, urban isn't defined anymore by how you look, but more of how you think and live. Nissan has an ad campaign currently running that says "The Black Experience Is Everywhere", and features some young Asian adults in an "urban" setting; with bangled earrings, braided hair, baggy clothing, and tattoos.
JP: According to Alexa your traffic ranking is better than much bigger and more well-known brands like Vibe and even BET, are you smarter than them?
GREG: Our aim is not to be smarter than our competitors. While we monitor them, we are focused on the growth of our brand and our expansion into other forms of media. Our traffic is definitely amazing and something we are proud of. It's all organic, we have never done an advertising campaign. The growth potential is still great as we move into more of an international arena.
JP: So your ads must be pretty valuable — how has the ad industry responded?
CHUCK: It took some time, but the industry is quickly beginning to realize the value of having a presence on AllHipHop.com. We speak directly to their target audience. In general, as you know, a lot of ad buys and budgets have shifted to online as well. All I can say is we are very fortunate.
JP: How big a part are the community features in maintaining or even achieving the kind of traffic numbers AllHipHop achieves?
GREG: The community features have been an integral part of our growth, as it shows the world and other consumers that the website is actually alive, with millions of people using it each month. We are very excited about the next version of AllHipHop.com, because our goal is to give our users as many tools as possible while they are on AllHipHop.com. So, not only will they receive valuable content in a fully customizable manner, we also have plans to introduce various tools to allow our users to connect and communicate, be it email, mobile devices, or the internet.
JP: Are you a news gathering company – I mean where do all the stories come from and who writes them?
CHUCK: We have a dedicated staff of writers and editors that collect and gather news and stories. The actual stories come from variety of places. You know, its not rocket science, especially when you narrow it down to the music industry.
JP: As you know there has been a lot of speculation about the health of Hip-Hop; is that because of music sales, or is there something greater going on?
GREG: There is nothing wrong with Hip-Hop, it's alive and well, all over the world. Physical CD sales are down across the board. The growth and the use of the internet has changed the way music is consumed and in Hip-Hop music, as with all genres, people are just sick of listening to the same music over and over again on the radio. The internet and even satellite radio has been a godsend for the billions of people who actually LIKE music and are tired of commercial radio. Hip-Hop music isn't in the best form, but it is alive and well all across the earth.
CHUCK: I agree. Hip-Hop isn't in perfect health, but its definitely not dying either. I think Nas' album was a challenge to the artists and the industry to step it up. We interviewed Gene Simmons of KISS and he even said that its time for something new. A lot of people took it the wrong way or were offended, but anything that stays the same, goes extinct. So, I would like to see Hip-Hop - on a commercial level - become more diverse and reflective of other experiences. And, labels should stop being afraid of taking risks.
JP: Any plans to extend the brand to other media?
CHUCK: We definitely are developing several brand extensions. There are a number of opportunities ahead of us and we'd prefer not to talk too much about them until things firm up a bit. Also, fielding these opportunities has been challenging but very exciting at the same time.
JP: Is traffic your most important metric and have Venture Capitalist been beating down your door?
GREG: Our traffic is a very valuable metric. Not only does it drive revenue, but it also allows us to do data mining and really learn about our consumer and what they like and don't like. Our demographic is usually the most sought after by advertisers and we over index in so many categories from page views, to time spent on the site, so information like this becomes very important when analyzing our traffic. We are, however, very conscious that these are real people, not just "traffic."
JP: What can we expect to see from AllHipHop in the coming months – what should we look for?
CHUCK: As we have advertised, expect a dramatic change to the site in the near future. We've maintained the same look and feel for a few years now and we're ready to move on. What's interesting is our traffic has grown to the point where we're almost apprehensive about changing it. But, it's going to happen. On the other side, we are going to have our 4th annual AllHipHop Week ‘07 again later in the year. Last year, we had a lot of fun and it’s time to make it even bigger.