Lynne d Johnson

 

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11.19.07 08:03 PM

From 360hiphop to GlobalGrind, BlockSavvy, and DanceJam

After last week's "BusinessWeek Puff Piece on Hip Hop 2.0" and Reuters "Famous names back music on social media Web sites," about new social media sites like the Russell Simmons backed GlobalGrind, the Damon Dash backed BlockSavvy, and the MC Hammer backed DanceJam, I thought it was high time I dig into the archives.

While the BW article is nothing more than gratuitous press, as Clyde Smith of ProHipHop mentions. The Reuters piece has a little more meat to it, though it does take the obvious (read easy) angle of tying all of these social networks together under one united African-American/hip-hop umbrella (and no offense to Yinka on this, we go back like gin and juice and I have maaaad respect for his reporting chops).

Anyway, here are the historic timepieces, originally published on Jason Calacanis' Digital Music Weekly and Silicon Alley Reporter back in 2000.

I'm wondering now how much of the same business models are repeating themselves -- at least in the nature of their USP (unique selling proposition).

Let me know how much any of this sounds familiar...

Keeping It Real: Hip-hop Mogul Russell Simmons Set to Launch 360HipHop.com
by Lynne d Johnson

In hip-hop culture, it's all about authenticity. Is it real? So, it would only follow suit that when hip-hop aficionados go online, they'll gravitate toward the websites that authentically represent hip-hop culture. At least that's what hiphop mogul Russell Simmons and his executive team at his new-media venture, 360HipHop.com, are hoping.

Set to go live later this month, 360HipHop is being touted as the ultimate destination point on the Web for all things hip-hop. And that's exactly what Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, the company's chief creative officer and former editor of The Source magazine, hopes will set 360HipHop apart from the slew of urban oriented portals and content-commerce-community sites popping up all over Net. "We are hip-hop, plain and simple," Hinds says. "The way we defined ourselves, from the very beginning, was as the entry point for hip-hop on the Web. We're not beating around the bush. Everyone else is defining their sites differently," he adds.

Another edge 360HipHop may have over its competitors is Simmons' 20-year career as hip-hop entrepreneur. To those who should know (but don't), Simmons is the founder of Def Jam, the hip-hop record label that launched the careers of the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, and Run D.M.C. He later turned Def Jam to film, coproducing Krush Groove and producing Eddie Murphy's Nutty Professor. His clothing line, Phat Farm, is one of the fastestgrowing urban apparel companies--sales totaled $69 million last year and they are projected to total $150 million this year, according to Simmons.

Simmons has garnered a reputation for having a Midas touch, yet critics contend that he has his hands in too many pots. Not every project he's touched has been successful. The film Gridlock'd, starring Tupac Shakur, and Abel Ferrara's art-house vampire flick The Addiction both flopped. He also lent his name to One World magazine and the Warner Studios-produced One World Music Beat, two projects that never really took off. Earlier this year, competitor Urban Box Office, founded by deceased former Motown executive George Jackson, formed a strategic alliance with Oneworld Media, the company behind the magazine and TV show.

Record of success or not, investors--including Sony, Seagram, actor Will Smith, model Tyra Banks, and rappers Method Man and Red Man-- have all banked $7 million into the project. And a reported $7 million to $10 million is coming soon from another private round of financing from the executive team, including Simmons. "Hip-hop has become the vernacular for an entire generation of music fans. We have not pigeonholed ourselves as another music site. It's a hip-hop lifestyle site," says Rick Holzman, 360HipHop COO and former VP, general manager for MTV.com. "It's primarily a content site, and we have a strong editorial group." Many of the editors are émigrés from hip-hop magazines known for their street cred, such as Vibe, The Source, and Rap Pages.

Simmons says he wants the site to be the most credible voice for the hip-hop community. "We want to be Rolling Stone, not Tiger Beat," he says. His plan is to leverage the site as a brand maker or breaker. 360HipHop's editorial voice will critically assess the fashion and entertainment industries, as well as the politicians. The site will join Rock The Vote in sponsoring Rap The Vote 2000, aimed at getting the hip-hop community into the voting booths.

Some of the site's more noteworthy features include a virtual subway station where the walls are lined with ecommerce opportunities. The subway will allow users to submit graffiti pieces, and when the train becomes eight-cars full it will be retired and a new train will emerge to take its place. Users won't be able to make the train run whenever they want to. They'll have to wait on the platform and adhere to 360HipHop's schedule. Another interactive feature will allow users to trade rhymes in a battle.

Ola Kudo, who is in charge of in-house design, is most proud of the site's use of the iPix technology. With this technology, a camera shoots at 180-degree angles on a swivel tripod. The images are then stitched together on the the site, enabling users to navigate around the image as if they were the camera itself. Kudo plans to use iPix for fashion shoots and videos, and as users click around, e-commerce opportunities and editorial will pop up. According to Simmons and Hinds, all of these goodies have been tested for the 56k user, so whether the average Internet user has broadband access should not be a factor.

Building an Urban Portal 101: Surveying the Urban/Hip-Hop Space
by Lynne d Johnson

Doesn't anybody get it? The Web is not a TV or cable network, magazine, or record label. Nor can broadband content be appreciated by the average 56K user. Yet, most players who recently moved into the African-American and urban landscape with music-based content plays seem to be operating without regard for those basic maxims--and they're suffering because of it.

The space is becoming increasingly overcrowded, and capital is burning up fast. Pink slips and severance packages abound. Sites have missed their launch dates, and others have launched poorly. There has to be a better way to do business--to monetize the Net, so to speak.

Several players are placing their bets on the conglomeration model. The well-financed Urban Box Office got its start with that premise, but has yet to break out of the pack (or to prove that the model will be profitable). Time Warner-backed Volume.com has yet to launch, but it's already reportedly restructuring its game plan.

Still, miracles can happen. When BET.com announced earlier this week its plan to acquire Russell Simmons' 360HipHop.com, it became the talk of the industry--both positively and negatively. If the deal is inked, the question remains: What makes this deal's offerings any different than those of UBO.net, or Volume.com, or aka.com, for that matter?

It could be the numbers. According to a 1999 Forrester research report, the online African-American market is growing 44 percent a year--the fastest growth rate of any ethnic minority. BET.com, cited as the highest-trafficked African-American site on the Internet, according to Media Metrix and Nielsen/Net Ratings, has garnered a huge portion of that growth rate in its unique visitors. BET.com, a subsidiary of Black Entertainment Television parent company BET Holdings II, is backed by $35 million in funding, and maintains partnerships with Microsoft, Liberty Digital, News Corporation, and USA Networks.

While the success--in numbers--of 360HipHop.com has yet to be documented, Simmons' plan--with or without this deal--is to leverage his relationships in the music and fashion industries to make the site successful. He's already managed major coups in the recording and fashion industries with the success of record label Def Jam and fashion line Phat Farm. Since launching, the site has pulled in an estimated $15 million in financing from private investors including Tyra Banks, Will Smith, Sony, and Universal.

If the two companies merge, they'll automatically expand their reach. Observed BlackPlanet.com Executive Director Omar Wasow: "Moving into the urban market is smart for BET.com, because increasingly they are both a black brand and a multiracial youth brand. Currently BET stands for black content, but their music video programming reaches an urban market, and acquiring 360HipHop.com allows them to extend their TV success to the Web. Still, neither site has a proven business model and, besides ad sales, there are no obvious economies of scale, so enormous challenges remain."

Adam Kidron, CEO of Urban Box Office, said he suspects that a shortage of capital in the space catalyzed the acquisition discussions. Industry insiders report that UBO is currently in talks with Hookt.com, a hip-hop site, for a similar deal.

Still Kidron feels no pressure from the BET/360HipHop.com deal. "Hip-hop is only a small part of what we do," he said. "We've been consolidated from the beginning. That's our business. We have 12 companies already. It's not going to change the way we do business."

"Everyone is learning and burning," said one veteran of the urban/hop-hop scene, known around the Net as Vladtheimpaler. "The music-drive set is waking up," he noted, adding, "You need to create an interactive experience based upon community. The biggest mistake all the ones partnering up are making is that e-commerce is going to make up for burning VC investments. Until they learn to define their audience, thinking on a global scale and not locally--it just isn't going to work."

For now, let's just wait and see if the BET/360HipHop.com deal really comes about in the next couple of weeks, and whether or not it makes a difference. If new-media pundit Douglas Rushkoff is right, and content isn't king, then everyone really has a lot of waking up and rethinking to do.

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