Hop Online

Is Russell Simmons' 360HipHop.com the best hope to bring hip-hop culture onto the Internet?

First of all, the site is divided into several header categories, including music, culture and lifestyle, with smaller buttons titled broadcast and, of course, commerce. The first installment includes music headlines about Snoop Dogg and his new label, as well as film clips from the B-movies he's spent the past few years creating. This section also includes an article about the revolutionary cultural influence of Public Enemy's 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. (Simmons, like hip-hop itself, is nothing if not self-referential.) The culture heading gives way to subcategories about spinning, break-dancing and graffiti, to name a few. And the lifestyle section includes tidbits about basketball stars, celebrity fashion, cool cars and upcoming summer movies.

The site is jam-packed with articles, pictures, song samples and info, but that's still not the most striking thing about it. When you point your browser to 360HipHop.com, you pretty much expect to see some urban music star at the forefront of the site. But the first face that pops up does not belong to Dr. Dre, or to Jay Z, or even to Sisqo and Foxy Brown.

No, the first person on the page is the late Shaka Sankofa, also known as Gary Graham, the latest high-profile victim of Texas' legal lynching machine, also known as the death penalty. In the speech he gave just moments before his death, Sankofa, who maintained his innocence to the end, declared, "This is what happens to a black man in America." These words resonated very deeply, and they encapsulated the stance of anti-death-penalty organizations, such as the Chicago-based Campaign to End the Death Penalty, and black leaders, such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. These activists have called for the abolition of this institution, which they claim disproportionately kills poor black men, among other atrocities.

Hip-hop used to mean Ice Cube. Now, it means Eminem. Can Russell Simmons and his new Web site 360HipHop.com keep up?
Kevin Mazur
Hip-hop used to mean Ice Cube. Now, it means Eminem. Can Russell Simmons and his new Web site 360HipHop.com keep up?
Russell Simmons remembers hip-hop past on 360HipHop.com, including Public Enemy, even though he's been feuding with Chuck D, center, for years.
Lloyd Nelson
Russell Simmons remembers hip-hop past on 360HipHop.com, including Public Enemy, even though he's been feuding with Chuck D, center, for years.

The Web site's coverage includes a video clip of Al Sharpton's reaction to Sankofa's death, explains the failure of the appeals process, documents the 11th-hour attempts to save Sankofa's life, and clearly illustrates the relevance of this cause to the hip-hop community. And it does so in that culture's own voice, with subject headings like Murder on the Plantation and, my personal favorite, George W. Bush: Killa!

These headlines and articles serve to reflect the scope and influence of the urban community and how Russell Simmons plans to exercise his power to help his own. Let's face it: The majority of PCs and modems don't reside in Compton or Harlem. Just like Public Enemy or gangsta rap, 360HipHop.com brings the issues that affect the poor urban community into the hands of those who embrace the culture, and that means young buyers, young voters and even young moneyed professionals.

On top of all that, 360HipHop.com has a fantastic layout: The designers skillfully incorporate graphics, film clips, sounds and animations to create a smooth and complete sensory experience. This site actually is the best hip-hop location on the Internet from both a Web design and a journalistic perspective, not to mention the breadth and scope of its subjects. Russell Simmons' newest incarnation (we'll call it "webmasta") is clearly more than just a profiteering venture.

Instead, this Web site highlights the culture of the newly wealthy hip-hop community without forgetting the plight of those still living in the projects on streets that don't get plowed. 360HipHop.com serves to broaden the genre's appeal, to raise the consciousness of every hip-hop junkie who's plugged in and online, and to reach out to the generation that will ultimately dictate the cultural and political climate of the future.

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