[RH Interview] Skyzoo: Sociology Raps
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The first time I met Andrew Barber (fuck, 10 years ago!) I couldn’t wait for him to shut up and leave me alone. In response, he (unsurprisingly) thought I was kind of a jerk. It was December 2007, and I was DJing an event at the Nike Offices entitled The Brotherhood. It was a coming together of formidable streetwear brands at the time – PHLI, LEADERS, and Self-Conscious and a celebration of the budding streetwear scene, one that has birthed Fat Tiger, Don’t Be Mad, Jugrnaut, and of course the long-lasting St. Alfred. Along with being one of the DJ’s, I was helping get the word out and handled press invitations. That was some shit I did, especially for Dave Jeff of PHLI, who took me under his wing as a mentor.
A week or two before the event, I got an email from a guy named Andrew Barber, who had just started a blog called Fakeshoredrive. He had limited posts up or a big audience, but after briefly checking out the site (I loved the name), I hit Dave and said we should hook this dude up with a pass.
Fast forward to the night of the event, and Andrew walked up to me while I’m DJing, introduces himself and thanks me for the invite. If memory serves, he then asked me something about going to IU, where he also attended college. I can’t say for sure because I was trying to pay attention to my blend – I think it was something like “Da 80’s” by Styles P into “EMG” by El-P. I made quick work of it, and we went on to respectively enjoying the night.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that night kicked off a routine of seeing Barber damn near every week, sometimes there would be weeks where we’d run into each other every other day. It was the birth of the blogosphere and Fakeshoredrive and rubyhornet collectively were the frontlines of the Chicago Hip Hop sector of the Internet. Go back to early posts on either site and “props to ______” litter the pages. That’s how you got props back in day. Be the first to post new music, have some kind of exclusive content, and “get your name up” around the interwebs.
“‘I’d see you guys do something really dope and be like “damn I wish I would’ve thought of that first,’ or see you guys beat me to an idea or an event or an exclusive. It kept me on my toes for sure,” Andrew Barber tells me on the cusp of Fakeshoredrive’s 10th Anniversary party happening 11/4 as part of Red Bull Sound Select Presents: 30 Days In Chicago. “We had to always be innovative and we had no blueprint to follow. We were really just tinkering around to see what would float. Trial by error.”
The errors and the trials were both aplenty, but Fakeshoredrive also had tremendous breakthroughs from the raging comment section, the classic Lupe Fiasco leaks, Shade 45 Mixshow, and early discovery and championing of artists such as Chief Keef, King L, and Chance The Rapper. We could go on and on, but the legacy speaks for itself and there’s a bevy of Chicago emcees, producers, designers, and just passionate Hip Hop fans that would agree.
Andrew always said that when FSD hit 10, he’d have a big party. Well, FSD finally hit double-digits and it’s time to celebrate. In honor of the 10 years, I chopped it up Andrew about reaching this point, quitting his day job, how the role of blogs has changed since we started, and much more.
Peep it below… and see you Saturday.
RTC: I remember back in the day, every time the FSD anniversary came around you would say, “at 10 we’ll have a party.” In those early years, was getting to 10 years something you saw as realistic? I know it may be tough to go back, but how do your thoughts on the future of FSD back then compare to the reality right now?
Andrew Barber: Haha, I finally had to do it. I never really wanted to do a party celebrating the brand or myself or anything like that. I like to let the work speak for itself. I prefer to keep my head down and keep working, and put that energy into how we’re gonna stay around for another year. But making it to 10 is a milestone, so we had to do something special for it. I honestly didn’t envision this thing lasting 10 years. I mean, you saw this thing from day one, and it was really just a hobby at the time — it wasn’t my career. I’d always hoped to make it a career, but at the time it was unfathomable. The fact that anyone cares after a decade is just crazy to me. Stuff hardly lasts 18 months in the music industry.
RTC: When you started the site, you had a full-time job and were writing from your desk. What pushed you to blog so heavy back then?
Andrew Barber: I was just doing it out of love. I wanted to be a part of the local scene and the hip-hop community in any way I could, so it just seemed like a cool way to get involved. There was definitely a void for what we were doing. At that time in 2007, it felt like there was something special going on here. Something untapped. It was an exciting time to be involved in the scene. It had a certain magic to it, and it wasn’t super crowded. But I was sort of living a double life. Going to hip-hop events at night and working a corporate gig during the day. I did that for about four years.
RTC: Following up on the double-life you were living at the beginning. Did that get progressively harder as the site grew? Was there any specific tipping point that was like – I’m done, or was it a planned out process to leave your job?
Andrew Barber: For the first couple of years, it was still pretty underground, so my coworkers had no idea. But once I got my first press — a spread in the Chicago Reader — everything changed. I’ll never forget the day that issue dropped — my boss called me into his office and asked me to close the door. I thought I was going to get fired right there on the spot. But he was super cool about it. Some of my other superiors weren’t as supportive, so needless to say my corporate gig was pretty weird after that. Understandable, though.
It took me another two years to leave that situation, but I finally made the leap on my own. In fact, it was my wife who pushed me to quit and focus on FSD full time. I was just missing too many opportunities being confined to a cubicle all day. A lot of people tried to talk me out of quitting since I had a cushy gig with benefits and a 401K, but my now-wife, believed in me and told me that if I didn’t do it then I’d probably never do it. She said she’d have my back if I failed and would help me get back on my feet if it didn’t work out. I quit and never looked back.
RTC: I’d say Chicago Hip Hop is skeptical, what was it like proving yourself to artists and the community, was that acceptance immediate – how did you start to gain the access and respect of everyone?
Andrew Barber: Chicago was so skeptical — especially trying to come in as a “blogger” in 2007. It certainly wasn’t the cool thing to do back then. I remember people thinking I was some computer dork or whatever. Keep in mind, this was still the mixtape era, so you’d go to events and people would be selling their CDs out front. Eventually, they began passing them out for free, but in those early days, it was still a hand-to-hand hustle. The idea of people giving me their music for free was pretty foreign in Chicago at that moment. Also, the scene wasn’t really utilizing YouTube at the time to drop their videos — everyone was still trying to get play on MTV or BET.
I feel like GLC understood that super early. As did The Cool Kids, Mano, Holt and Mic Terror. I remember Astonish having a really dope video early on when he was with the Molemen. L.E.P. as well.
RTC: You once asked Yung Berg if he was Jewish to kick off an interview – which I thought was hilarious. Do you have a favorite article or piece you’ve done? Maybe not your favorite, but one that was significant for the growth of the site?
Andrew Barber: Wow, I forgot about that. You have a great memory. I remember that was a controversial interview at the time because he made some comments about the L.E.P. Bogus Boys, and they had a rebuttal and everything. That was a crazy time, because the only real social media site that was around was Myspace. So people actually went to blogs to get content and information, and they would share feedback in the comments section — and our comments section was off the chain at one point.
I think a lot of those early interviews were crucial to the growth of FSD. I met Shake and Bump J super early on — months after starting the site — and they introduced me to so many people. From Mikkey to No ID, who then introduced me to Traxster and Twista. Things just began to fall into place after that. One door opens another, and so on and so forth. I was stalking people on Myspace for interviews, some would respond, but most wouldn’t.
RTC: You mentioned the comments in your response, and I can’t believe I forgot about the comments. What was your initial reaction that part of FSD? That had a big impact too on fostering a community and really providing a chance for people to talk to each other. Your post wasn’t fully-fully official til there was a comment.
Andrew Barber: Yeah the comment section kind of took on a life of it’s own. This was pretty much still pre-social media, so the comment section was a place where people could argue, talk shit, give props — whatever. A lot of people just came to read the comments! They didn’t care about the actual content, it was all about the action in the comments. And it could get pretty ugly in there. I’d get calls at all hours of the night from people asking to take down certain things people said about them or a bad review or whatever. It could rattle people, myself included. Sometimes things would get really personal and people would cross the line talking about siblings or spouses and I’d try to monitor that stuff and take down if people asked me to. People would also put phone numbers and addresses in there, and that type of stuff wasn’t cool. In fact, I know a handful of artists used to fabricate their own comments and start up drama just to bring more attention to their posts. Some posts would have like 500 comments! It would be Christmas and people would be on there arguing and my email would be getting pinged. It was crazy.
To be honest, I was happy when the comments section ended, though. I think it was the precursor to what we see now in the social media era, where people are just ready to tear someone’s head off over a difference of opinion. I feel like Twitter in particular is essentially a comment section on super steroids.
RTC: It’s really weird to type, but was there an element of danger to the comment section and just running the site? I feel like a few times things got vicious.
Andrew Barber: Yes of course there was. There is always that element. You always have be aware of that. I definitely witnessed and took a number of verbal lashings over the years. One day I’ll have to write a book, haha. It’s not time for all of that yet.
RTC: It would be an understatement to say that blogs have changed since we started doing it. Back then it was very amateur and almost all of the bloggers were really just fans that went that extra step to cover the music and then developed a following. Now it seems like blogging has been bought out by major companies, and the little guy (or girl) blogging from their bedroom is going to have a tremendously tough time making a way. In your opinion, what allowed “bedroom bloggers” to flourish back then? Is there still a place for that?
Andrew Barber: I look at that moment, specifically 2005-2008, as a disruptive time in the music industry. Which I believe happens every 10 years. In 1999 you had Napster. In 2017 you have streaming. The mid-00’s was a time when the industry was picking up the pieces, and the people got the power back. It allowed literal unknowns to get an audience and share music and thoughts. It was like the wild wild west online. There was also an element of “okay, we aren’t supposed to be doing this,” which also made it kind of exciting. The industry was playing catch up. Now, of course, they have the ball back, but at that time the people had more control and more say so. Of course, once the bigger and better funded sites saw what was going on, they were able to pounce on the small guys and snatch up the best talent. But at the time, it was very special and independent.
RTC: I think when we started, blogs were really built off a couple key things – being first, being unique, and creating exclusive content that would be reposted and you earn your stripes. I remember the first time Nahright wrote “shout out RTC and rubyhornet”. That made my day. What makes a “good blog” now? What is the purpose?
Andrew Barber: It used to be all about exclusives, or digging up rarities. Now, not so much. Music and video posts aren’t what they used to be – and neither is being first. Everything is largely done through social media now, so they’ve effectively cut out the middle man, which is the website. It’s a very different climate.
But yes, I do remember that at the time, getting a shout out by eskay on NahRight meant the world. That was literally the most powerful hip-hop site on the planet for a while. And if you made it on eskay’s NahRight Lite on the side column? Forget about it. I feel like that’s how most people found out about FSD.
RTC: What role do you think blogs played in connecting some of the dots for Chicago Hip Hop? 10 years ago the hate was real and the crab in a bucket mentality was how many described the city. I don’t think that exists as much today and FSD played a critical role. Do you agree?
Andrew Barber: Yes, as did Ruby Hornet. We can’t forget about what you guys did either. You specifically played a crucial role in helping all of this happen. I know we can’t take all the credit, but I feel like the internet era kind of lifted the curtain, and opened everyone up to what was happening around the city. More people could see what was happening in their respective scenes. Like when you guys did “Swagger Like Chi” — you were able to get guys like Bump J, GLC, Mikkey and Naledge all on the same record. I feel like that wouldn’t have happened one or two years before that.
RTC: You mentioned rubyhornet and “Swagger Like Chi” – just curious how you viewed that site and how RH being there related to FSD? I don’t think RH would’ve been the same if there wasn’t FSD. I think some artists took us to be purely competitors, but I think it was like continually being pushed to be dope, and someone else there to cover the scene from a different perspective. That’s kind of how I saw it… And of course, it birthed a phase of Chicago Hip Hop Photography w/the AB “insert rapper” RTC pics… But I’m just curious of how you saw it back then, really.
Andrew Barber: RubyHornet pushed us to be better, period. To think better, to create better, to challenge FSD to come up with better ideas. I’d see you guys do something really dope and be like “damn I wish I would’ve thought of that first,” or see you guys beat me to an idea or an event or an exclusive. It kept me on my toes for sure. We had to always be innovative and we had no blueprint to follow. We were really just tinkering around to see what would float. Trial by error. Those who came after us got to see what we did right and wrong, and improve on that. I do feel like we were blog pioneers to some extent. I certainly remember it wasn’t a cool thing to be at the time.
I know people really wanted us to beef and be at odds, but we actually were cool. We’d party together and hang out, but people really wanted there to be an issue between FSD and RH. But there wasn’t. It was just friendly competition. I mean, we had no other choice but to hang out with each other in those early days. We were the dorky media guys haha. The only media people there would be like FSD, RH and Gowhere Hip Hop. Can’t forget about them.
RTC: The generation of Chance, Vic, Chief Keef, etc – that 2012 class really blew the doors off between the industry and Chicago. What is the mix of the talent and energy of that class vs. also the opportunities afforded that didn’t exist prior? How much did the digital age catching up play a role? Why didn’t necessarily the same happen for the generation prior of The Cool Kids, Kidz In The Hall, Mikkey etc…
Andrew Barber: I think the earlier era had great success, but the world just hadn’t come online yet, so they unfortunately had a cap. They were so forward thinking and the internet and blogs weren’t what they eventually became in 2012. They absolutely paved the way for what’s happening now. They also didn’t have social media as we know it now, which really helped propel the class of 2012. I feel like when we first started, we were all kind of waiting and looking for the actual industry approval. But the kids of 2012, were like “FUCK THAT, we’re not waiting. Here we come!” They watched what came before them, and used the internet as their own weapons.
RTC: You have The Big Tymers reuniting to headline the show, and you’ve previously booked Master P, Juvenile, and Mannie Fresh at your parties. What is your connection to the dirty south rap of the late 90’s? Why is that the sweet spot for you?
Andrew Barber: Haha, I just really loved No Limit and Cash Money. They made some of my favorite rap ever. I’m not like a diehard Southern rap fan or anything like that, I was just very loyal to both of those labels. These are things I had on my bucket list forever, and my great partners and friends at Red Bull have helped me make these shows a reality. So a HUGE shout out to them for their support over the past five years.
RTC: In the preview piece for the show, we wrote that the celebration is much more than the website, but really the whole hip hop community. How do you want people to see this party and what you’re celebrating?
Andrew Barber: I really just want people to come and have a good time. We have some incredible special guests, which will somewhat serve as a walk down FSD memory lane. Yes, we have Big Tymers reuniting and Tee Grizzley, but the other stuff we have planned will be equally as exciting.