FIX THE AUDIO PLAYER!! - Interview with Jake Paine, HHDX EIC
Ever wonder what thoughts run through the mind of the Editor In Chief of one of the internet’s most popular Hip Hop websites? What does said EIC think about when evaluating new artists? How does said EIC increase traffic while maintaining the site’s mission? Or more imperatively, how to respond when changes are met with resistance from its readership?
Following the 2009 NJ Music Conference, during a blizzard ridden Saturday night in Newark, The-Quotable chopped it up with HipHopDX.com Editor In Chief, Jake Paine about these topics and more. For a look inside the recent changes over at HHDX as well as Jake’s thoughts on some of the performing artists, read on muttaskuttas. Microphone check, check, check, check...
TCM: The-Quotable.com here with Editor In Chief of HipHopDX.com, Jake Paine. How you doing?
Paine: Its great to talk to you. I’m doing well. Hope I can drive in the snow, you know?
TCM: So today was the Vegas Style Records sponsored 2009 New Jersey Music Conference. A long day. Started around 2pm, we’re now at 11:15pm. What stood out most to you over the course of the day?
Paine: Aw man, so many different acts for so many different reasons. The one that really blew me off my feet, which you know doesn’t necessarily jive with my tastes completely was Simplicity. I just love the stage show. I love what they did with one microphone. I love the energy. It made me feel young -- like I would be very pleased if I spent money and they opened up for whomever I spent money to see, at this stage in the game. I liked a lot of the Emceeing I saw today. I really got a kick out of my guys from Akron, Ohio with the keyboards. I was just really blown away. Its the 2009 NJ music conference but so many people came from way beyond.
TCM: We had the group from Knoxville here (Blue Cheese & The Deal Wit Family)...
Paine: I liked the group from Knoxville too. I liked the two guys from Baltimore (Rona). It wasn’t like American Idol or something like that where you see groups that were not polished. There were some people here that were performing for the first time today, but even they had some strengths that it shocked me that it was there first time. So overall man, I’m really pleased with the talent and dedication. I mean, these are people’s dreams. I told myself that -- like you said its been a nine, ten hour day -- and as my eyes were going back in my head. These are people’s dreams, you know? Thats important to remember.
TCM: We can give them the time...
Paine: Absolutely. They bother to read a site like HHDX. They buy records that come out on Universal/Asylum. Everyone here, we need them as much as “they need us.”
TCM: Thats a very good point. Its interesting too, after sitting here all day, I found very similar production. Everything is real bass heavy, real down south sounding. Is that a sign of the times? Do you see that in the HHDX inbox with the music sent to you? Or do you tend to get more diversity?
Paine: Thats a really good question. I mean, for us so much of the music that we have is not unsigned artists at this point. A lot of it is guys that are coming out with their first album but have a label situation, most of it independent. So usually with theirs they will go to specific producers for specific sounds. I think the one person -- I agree with what you’re saying -- that influence a lot of what we hear today is people like DJ Toomp, Shawty Redd, Zaytoven. We can go on and on. Don Cannon. You know, and a lot of people are emulating that because it works. And because you can have substance and “swagger.”
TCM: Its worked for a while. I mean, this is a Lil Jon kind of thing.
Paine: Even the duo from Portland (Art Of Blaze), like they had a Shop Boyz, Lil Jon thing going on. I’m really impressed but you can definitely today see the influence The South has. One thing I gotta add is I cannot believe how impressed I am with Jay Xavier at 17 years old. This young man, I don’t go to many Hip Pop shows, but to see him work the stage, I was thoroughly impressed.
TCM: You know thats crazy because he was the second act to perform, and here we are at 11pm and everyone is still talking about Jay Xavier.
Paine: Even the gentlemen he’s talking to (Dave Vegas), his whole style was different from everybody else today but it worked. And I love the fact that you can see the smiles on the A&R’s faces or on my face or on Steve from Allhiphop.com. We all still love all different facets of this music. There was a lot of versatility, although good point there is a heavy southern [influence].
TCM: I mean, even from northern rappers with different styles you still have the same sound. Paine: You look at JadaKiss’s album or Juelz -- alot of these people are messing with these beats because they are so regional. And its the only way you can get something to mix with everything else for a club DJ. Think about that.
TCM: People still want to shake their ass at the end of the day.
Paine: You know, I don’t but a lot of people do. And not for nothing, T.I. made one of my favorite records last year and it was filled with these types of tracks. Danceable. Electronic influenced but still just like Trap music, you know what I mean.
TCM: Lets switch lanes. DX recently revamped its site. I read the comments section. Mixed reviews. Some people like it. Some people aren’t too happy about it. What went into the idea for that broad of a change? Because the last change you had was when Andreas Hale took over...
Paine: Wow, you know you’re stuff.
TCM: It was had a closer color scheme but everything else was still laid out similarly for the most part. This one is like a totally different look you’re putting out there.
Paine: You’re absolutely right. And honestly I feel like we kind of got caught. Its like when the celebrity goes to the coffee shop and they don’t put makeup on and the paparazzi catches them. We really had a deadline. I was at Allhiphop.com in 2006 when we relaunched. That relaunch was suppose to be a little bit earlier. As a staff we all said we’ll stick to a date, we’re going to marry that date, no pun intended. And everything thats not right about it we’ll fix because its a rolling chassé. You know, the cars out of the garage we just gotta make sure it holds oil. That might have been a mistake in hindsight. That was a team effort. That was a team decision. Right now, it launched on November 3rd I want to say. Now its December 19th, so we’re 6 or 7 weeks later, and we have an audio player now that we just introduced last week thats the only place online that I know where you click a song, it pops up on the page, you can view different pages while that song plays. Its very friendly...
TCM: How recent is that last subtle change you mentioned? Every time I try to go into an article while the player is up, the music shuts off. Thats frustrating.
Paine: I’m with you. I use Firefox as a browser and it does the same thing on me. But its one of those things, like thats not dead. We’re still working on it because the idea is -- we post a lot of mixtapes the same as datpiff.com, thats one of our strengths that a lot of other sites aren’t necessarily doing -- and we want people to be able to enjoy listening to all of No Ceilings by Lil Wayne and read our site. I want 60 minutes of somebody reading HHDX. But not for nothing, I wanted to get away -- I think we all did -- from the green/orange/brown and honestly, until it was gone, we didn’t know that anybody liked it. We always thought it looked like army fatigue, Boot Camp Click DX, you know what I mean? And when it was gone, I think the thing that was cool about the page was that in one screen shot there was so much information. And I miss that. I do. What I do like about the new site is the community. I like the black & white. Our backgrounds are interchangeable. When we relaunched we had some crazy shot of the Bronx. Which was cool but was kind of ugly too. Looked like a back alley. Now we’ve gone to records, we’ve gone to speakers, we’re trying different things. The last thing I can to say is that its a very advertising friendly site. And not for nothing, the site’s been around for 10 years and we depend on advertising dollars to move forward. Thats the only way that I have a job.
TCM: Well you guys are selling a lot of things on the site. You guys have the T-shirts, clothing line...
Paine: We don’t have a clothing line, but we do have a store.
TCM: Its prominent. It works. The designs are hot. The “I AM KING”, the one with Jay-Z. The Jordan shirt was pretty live...
Paine: Thank you. We keep getting new brands. We have Crooks & Castles. We have Mixer Friendly. A lot of different prominent brands as well as some new ones that are exclusively sold to us. And the fun thing is that we launched the site in the beginning of November, after Black Friday we had Cyber Monday which I guess is a new term. And we were able to offer really crazy sales on these shirts. I’m not the most stylish dude in the world, but as somebody who does by gear like that I can remember years ago how expensive it was. And when you looked in the Sale bin and there would be like an Extra Medium or a 4XL, and that was all they had left. And for us, we want our customers to trust us for everything Hip Hop.
TCM: Well here are my last two questions. It seems like you guys have diverged away from blogs. Is that intentional? Is it more difficult to find compelling bloggers? I see more editorials these days. I don’t see Meka. I don’t see Brillyance...
Paine: Meka and Shake both really went hard into 2DobeBoys.com. And not for nothing, Meka was so good at what he did. People like Amanda Bassa, she was Ambassador, was really great at what she did. And she still writes for us on staff.
TCM: She had a really dope article on J.Ronin and Sav Killz. They’re everywhere.
Paine: Yeah, they’re running Twitter like something else too. Honestly a lot of voices that were driving blogs when blogs were very prominent, when blogs were on SOHH or DX or on another site -- I said you know what, with great ideas lets make them editorials. And with everything else, if the section wasn’t moving, it was prime real estate. Now it was a controversial move. I wasn’t necessarily the most in favor of it, but I had to embrace it. And a lot of our prominent blog writers had gone on to other things. And I wish them all plenty success. They’ve created better platforms for their voices than DX had to offer anyway. But you’re absolutely right. Theres going to be a lot more editorials though. And you’re still going to get some bloggish stuff that offends a few people. We don’t do it purposefully but it happens regardless.
TCM: You know thats one of the things that separated DX from other sites -- the level of commentary and the quality of editorials and the quality of the blogs. There was some real discussion that lead to further discussion in the comments section. I always appreciated DX for that.
Paine: Thank you. All credit due on that goes to Andreas (Hale) really. I only got to DX in 2007. He and I worked a year and a half side by side then he went to BET. Prior to that I was at Allhiphop.
TCM: Well thats the perfect lead in to my last question. Now that Andreas is no longer at BET for very internet commented reasons, is he actually going to work with DX? Does he have any involvement with the new DX?
Paine: You know, I told Andreas recently when that happened, I said “I know you’re a busy man. I want you to know something. The keys are under the welcome mat. This is still your house. I just live in it.” And I do look at it that way. And I know with Dre, DX was a special time in his life. I can’t speak for him, but I know his passion is outside of Hip Hop right now. He loves boxing, MMA fighting. He’s already doing a lot of writing for that. I would love it if he would come back in at DX because I have never seen anybody -- maybe besides Meka -- really brand themselves so well on the site. And I always tell him “Hey Dre, am I doing okay, man?” I really do feel like I’m in the house that he built and I’m lucky to be there. And I hope I lead it with a staff of great people in a positive direction right now. Its been a year, we haven’t gone under yet. So you know, we’re trying. We’ll get that audio player fixed.