I hate the overuse of of “street culture” as an umbrella term for what blogs frequently promote. I’m sure as fuck not “street.” But I can concede that the big overpriced, overhyped brew that fills blogs and expensive magazines has gone overground in a major way. That’s not to say that the blog realm hasn’t been a major topic in boardrooms globally for years, but the Art in the Streets exhibition at MOCA and Jay-Z’s Life + Times portal site feel like some big-budget crossover moments to tether multiple zeitgeisty moments. If you’re still deluding yourself that a Supreme tee on your back and pristine boutique-bought Dunks make you part of an “in the know” secret society, you’re misguided. That look has blown the fuck up.
Pharrell buddying with NIGO, Lil Wayne with the BAPE belt, Dilla in Stussy and ‘Ye in Supreme in Vibe’s November 2003 issue were just the beginning. Lupe’s ballistic nylon Visvim backpack, Bun-B’s streetwear fandom on the Weekly Drop and MURS talking Undefeated circa 2006 gave way to a limited edition lifestyle becoming the norm. That Jay would get involved (after all, he’s a business, man) was an inevitability. It’s something bigger than street culture — it’s the new face of aspiration across-the-board. The definition of what constitutes hype is gradually spreading to keep pace with the hyperactive, OCD minds of the consumer – chairs, electrical goods, business matters, luxury goods, supercars, big budget movies, pencils and architecture are all contenders now. They don’t need a screenprinted or pleather tie-in tool to justify inclusion, because things done changed.
Just as popular culture has appropriated the hype, the hype is picking from popular culture. It’s a good move too, because I was becoming increasingly jaded by the five-brand circle beat-off that created a rut that nobody could be bothered to queue for. I still can’t see much on the Life + Times site that Hypebeast, Complex, A Continuous Lean, High Snobiety and Selectism can’t fill up my RSS or Twitter timeline with. Casting my mind back to Slam X Hype, Hypebeast and High Snobiety’s early days, it’s mind-boggling to see something that started purely from fandom become the prototype for every attempt in the quest to win the hearts and minds of a particularly sophisticated audience — you can’t just stick lurid colours on something and tell them to wait overnight for it any more.
Jay’s move is a more intelligent echo of Damon Dash’s (as an aside, I love what he’s doing with Creative Control) America magazine release a few years back. Dame knew there was something there to harness beyond the voluminous denim and hefty fleecewear, but it got derailed by an ego trip. Shawn seems to have lifted elements of that halfway-there business plan in his predictably calculated manner. The site deserves some credit for creating content rather than aggregating it, unlike those curious bottom feeder URLs that lift from the blogs. Bear in mind that Jay’s “little brother”s much-feted blog started life happily heisting content from the likes of High Snobiety without a credit. I liked the shot of Jay’s Margiela sneakers too, but I’m in no doubt that Madbury and Street Etiquette were screengrabbed into the Powerpoint presentation to secure funding for the site.
So if a lifestyle portal like Life + Times represents some sort of neo-hype megabudget, mainstream movement and the blogs we check regularly are hype in its traditional, easily-digestible form, what about the proto hype outlets that helped to inspire a whole movement? They deserve a little more credit than they get.
It’s curious to think that hip-hop was one of the last subcultures to truly embrace the internet, given its power on Trending Topics nowadays (witness the recent afternoon of Earl Sweatshirt awareness), but the notion of looking at rap on the internet seemed downright goofy and at odds with the “keep it real” culture of the time (though these 1993 alt.rap entries are a charming reminder that folk have been saying “hip-hop’s dead” for almost two decades — even during a perceived golden age). Platform.net was a pioneering site on its creation circa 1996 – a proto Complex.com in some ways, that got plenty of corporate interest from the likes of Sony back when the internet scared brands the first time round and everyone threw money at unprofitable business models.
Platform offered, well…a platform for record labels and clothing brands, plus original content that sometimes talked to me like I’d never heard of hip-hop, but let me hear Ghostface’s ‘Apollo Kids’ (RealAudio, yo) for the first time, while hosting HAZE, Strength, Trace and Triple 5 Soul‘s online presence…or something like that. It was a particularly overdesigned site, but I used to visit frequently. It had vanished by 2002, but the site’s founders, Ben White and Tina Imm were part of the original Complex team in 2002. It was an ambitious move at a time when online hip-hop consisted of white men arguing about Atmosphere on message boards or sparsely designed online stores, but it pre-empted the culture’s ownership of the web.
Relax, Street Jack, Boon, Lodown and Mass Appeal provided plenty of paper content circa 1999, but it was also the time when plenty of sites began offering collated information in an English Language format. My respect for Being Hunted and RTHQ is substantial, and something that’s been covered here before several times. 1999-2001 felt like a silver age of online hype culture. Both Being Hunted and Rift Trooper HQ were utter fandom — otaku levels of interest via Europe (Germany and the UK respectively) and the blueprint for the blog realm.
Spine Magazine’s London-based mixture of sneaker, skatewear, sticker and magazine fixation, plus extensive hip-hop content is the reason I do the job I do now, but it felt utterly fresh on its debut, offering the same excitement that Phat magazine offered seven years earlier (also involving Mr. Chris Aylen too) — it also spawned online store Crooked Tongues in late 2000 (that model of sister sites would become more ubiquitous later on down the line) and even had a Recon collaboration. Now, anyone might be able to have a blog (Crooked and Spine had Blogger functions — one of the first times I ever saw the word mentioned) but it currently feels like a collection of vaguely overlapping, cliquey closed circles. Back then, simply registering an interest got me involved (big thanks to both Christophers, Steve and Russell).
Nike Park was a good source of Nike news during the Alpha Project days and a purer time when brands were a little more apprehensive of internet fandom. That would lead to Niketalk in late 1999, and Nike Park’s spam-filled message board came to a close in early 2000 — shouts to Collie, who supplied plenty of Euro exclusive images to the Nike Park and Niketalk back in the day. Fat Lace deserves props for maintaining since 1999 too (not to be mistaken for the UK-based rap ‘zine which also deserves props).
Online stores like the Tokyo-based resellers Concept Shop (Simon from Concept Shop seemed to be a frequent poster on a number of forums), Streethreds (now Hanon Shop) and Shoe Trends with their enviable collection of Air Max and FrontPage ’98, clip art laden site fill me with a certain nostalgia for electronically window shopping.
Mo’ Wax may have been struggling between 1999 and 2001, but their bulletin board proved pretty damned influential. Just as the label let cultures converge (with varying degrees of success), as with the Crooked Tongues forums, plenty of friendships were forged between likeminds on that site, with its noisy intro and black background for extra migraines. Splay seemed to operate alongside it. By the way, if you’re assuming that forums are redundant, bear in mind that Hypebeast’s forums were a breeding ground for Street Etiquette, On Award Tour and OFWGKTA (plus the Celebs Rockin Heat! thread is one of my favourite things on the internet). I remember Futura making some very gracious visits to the Mo’ Wax site too, long after the launch of his labyrinth website and around the time of the Booth-Clibborn book launch. At least I assume it was him, because anonymity on that site was a piece of piss. Superfuture and Tokion seem to slot in alongside those sites too. A fair amount of users spilled onto FUK as well.
My Internet Explorer (what can I say? I was saving for a Mac) bookmarks seemed congested at the start of the 21st century, but in retrospect, there was barely anything out there. Nothing. That’s why I feel the original obsessives deserve a little shine. I don’t think they knew how far things would go — from blindly navigating a collection of quotes and Lenny’s scanned-in photography and sketches, to a pair of Futura AF1s on Rozay’s feet. Worlds most definitely collided, and a fair few who deserved it got paid. Those who didn’t get paid deserve to be remembered too. Proto hype sites, I salute you. Internet pre-2005 seems to be gradually disappearing from memory and from Google search (I’m blaming defunct hosts too), but the dead links and missing in action images form the unassuming backbone of a snowball effect in the years that followed. Gotta love that old-world web design.