In the early days of hiphopsite.com, webmaster and co-owner Mike Pizzo wanted to stock his online store with copies of The Slim Shady EP from buzzing but unsigned phenomenon Eminem. Copies were scarce, so—knowing the Detroit rapper was in town for a MAGIC show—Pizzo sought out Eminem at his Motel 6 room and bought copies from him directly. Which eventually led to Pizzo becoming webmaster of Eminem’s site and selling the performer’s merchandise through his online store.
That’s one of a few brag-sheet highlights for the 19-year-old Hiphopsite, which Pizzo (who freelanced for me at a former publication) ceased updating last week so he could concentrate on his managing-editor duties at new music journalism site Cuepoint.
Back in 1996, Pizzo and local DJ Warren Peace—along with web designer friend Adam Rogas—launched Hiphopsite at a time when the Internet was considered too geeky for rap. But the trio changed that impression pretty quickly as it made the site one of the first—and most prominent—online hip-hop HQs. “I don’t want to sound like I’m tooting my own horn here, but Hiphopsite was really the archetype for a modern-day rap website,” Pizzo says. “It was the first place people were reading hip-hop news and getting the music early because we were radio DJs and we had access to the music early.”
The site obtained and posted an early copy of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Hypnotize” and saw its web traffic surge—as it did when publishing exclusive, inside information on a NYC rap feud between Canibus and LL Cool J. “There was no competition, no blogs to copy you, no one to steal your website design. It was a unique situation,” Pizzo says.
In 1997, Hiphopsite birthed an online retail component; it was such a success three years later that a brick-and-mortar version on Maryland Parkway opened (as did a short-lived one in Seattle in 2001), focusing on independent hip-hop, which broke through right around the time Hiphopsite did. Artists like Pharrell, Talib Kweli, Atmosphere and Redman performed numerous in-stores there, and DJs bought their hip-hop vinyl there—until laptops became the new music crate.
The physical store closed in 2007, and shortly after that Peace bowed out and let Pizzo take over the site. Hiphopsite continued until Pizzo’s former Wynn nightlife colleague Jonathan Shecter—whose Source magazine influenced Hiphopsite—brought him on for Cuepoint. “I was like, I need to close Hiphopsite now,” Pizzo says. “I can’t turn my attention away from what I’m doing with Cuepoint. I felt it was so much more important and so bigger-scale.”
Hiphopsite will remain online so that its legacy is preserved. “Although I wasn’t around for the latter years of HipHopsite, I’m very proud of what Mike and I accomplished,” Peace says. “Not that many people can say they fueled a movement.”