Used to be, the Internet was a safe place to surf: a safe haven for defense-industry workers, scientific researchers, various and sundry nerdlings, and the occasional porn-obsessed pervert. But as the great ’90s Internet expansion blossomed, the porn content increased ten-thousandfold, as did the pop-up ads, iPod giveaways, and dubious pleas from alleged relatives of obscure African royalty asking for a generous contribution to help free up the $63 million in funds secreted somewhere in Switzerland.
And now, America, be afraid. Be very afraid. Last but not least, young rap thugs have discovered the Internet.
“I consider my site a giant online listening booth,” boasts Sadclown, Webmaster for Northern-Ridaz.com, an Internet portal he says averages an impressive twenty thousand hits a month, with content showcasing underground rap music, mostly Northern Californian in origin. “I wanted to promote the Bay Area and all the diversity it has to give to the music industry. … Radio waves are dominated by mainstream music, and rarely give underground artists the exposure they deserve.”
Sadclown started N-Ridaz five years ago, posting R&B and oldies tunes on free servers like GeoCities and Angelfire. But its popularity soared after he started adding below-the-radar mobb music — turf-based Bay Area gangsta rap with hardcore lyrical content and plenty of “slump for the trunk.” Today, the site has branded itself to the point where it’s an online institution, not to mention an invaluable resource for unknown artists. Punch in the URL and you’ll find streaming audio of recently released indie rap albums from such notables as A-Wax and Syko, as well as teasers for upcoming joints by Mac Mall and Mr. Kee. From there, you can navigate through an impressive selection of about two hundred archived albums and compilations available for purchase. Registered users can even submit reviews, providing both artists and Webmasters with unadulterated, highly opinionated feedback.
So if you’ve been wondering whatever happened to Spice One, look no further. Seemingly every Cali mobb music release from the last two years is archived at Northern Ridaz, including Spiggidy’s latest, The Ridah. In addition to free downloads, surfers have the opportunity to purchase hard copies of albums with the click of a mouse, Amazon-style.
N-Ridaz’ DIY-oriented organization is just what the local underground needed, offering well-deserved publicity for an often slept-on scene. If you click on the site’s “radio” link, you’ll connect to ‘Net radio station 95Live.com, whose playlist offers a glimpse of what Power 92 or KMEL would sound like if they actually played “The People’s Music” 100 percent of the time, with current Bay Area bangers like “Hyphy,” “Ride,” and “Go Dumb” rubbing elbows with equally worthy but less-celebrated songs like BA and Keak da Sneak’s “Town Business” and Turf Talk’s “Slumper.” Up-and-coming thugs and thugettes get some shine, too, on the “demo” page, where you can peep fresh tracks by unsigned artists including Lady Trajik, Jazzie, and the IV Mob (straight outta Isla Vista, CA). And if that’s not enough, those feeling nostalgic can e-dedicate an old-school classic like Aaron Neville’s “Tell It Like It Is” or the Commodores’ “Just to Be Close to You” to their boo via the “oldies” page.
But N-Ridaz isn’t alone in bringing mobb music to the Internet — it’s just one of the many sites powered by Raptalk.net, an underground thug-rap network hosting a veritable cornucopia of affiliated sites, like Reaper Radio, WC Rydaz, West Side Rap, and the New Bay Forum, all specializing in hardcore West Coast gangsta music. “Obviously, I am a West Coast rep to death,” admits Raptalk Webmaster Alberto Martinez Jr., boasting that these environs took gangsta rap mainstream: “If it wasn’t for the West Coast, you would hardly see any kind of gang-banging in music.”
The eight-year-old site began as the Bay Area Rap Talk board, but changed its name to Raptalk as its content grew to include coverage of Sacramento, Los Angeles, and other regional scenes. In addition to being a news site and message board, the Raptalk network offers streaming albums, downloads, links to artists and labels’ official Web sites, and just about everything else obsessive Internet music listeners love. And not only is Raptalk hyphy, it’s ballin’ outta control. Martinez claims its news page logs twenty thousand daily hits and the entire network a staggering three million “unique” monthly hits, crowing that “Our weekly radio shows have started to exceed even our own expectations.”
Evidently, the gold-teeth-and-Air Jordans contingent isn’t quite as technologically illiterate as was once thought. By using the Internet, folks like Martinez and Sadclown have created a highly effective marketing tool that takes street promotion — the tried-and-true method of exposure for indie rappers — into a whole new arena. You’ve heard of skyballing? Well, this is cyber-balling. Half the battle for indie labels, after all, is delivering their music to the ears of potential consumers, and while it’s doubtful Raptalk’s network will usurp SoundScan tallies overnight, it does tilt the playing field more toward underground underdogs.
“The majority of the artists and local producers support what I’m doing because it reaches a whole new type of audience, and expands their music to a wider level,” Sadclown explains. He hopes to add music videos and a Bay Area R&B section to Northern Ridaz soon, before eventually sponsoring rap battles or maybe even becoming a print magazine that, unlike Vallejo-based Murder Dog, won’t primarily feature crunk Southern artists, but local hardcore groups.
Martinez, meanwhile, describes many irons in Raptalk’s fire, including a DVD project, How the West Was Won; several mixtape collaborations with indie labels; and its own online independent music store catering to the mobb music aficionado. He mentions that the site also hosted a recent barbecue in San Jose, which many local rap figures — including JT the Bigga Figga — attended, opening up the door for further cross-marketing collaborations. “You will see more of us in the near future,” the Webmaster promises.
Perhaps the thug takeover of the Web isn’t so bad — not only does it de-nerdify the Internet, but if the jackers and hustlers are plugged in and turned on, that means they aren’t out in the streets getting into trouble. So while the online comfort zone of nonthuggish America may be compromised by these recent developments, the advancement of ballers and ridahs into the domain of cyberspace may actually reduce crime in the ‘hood, which is good news for all of us.