How many times have you heard “New York Hip-Hop is Back” championed by every hip-hop publication worth its weight in Rawkus slipmats? Before the hip-hop hoopla, one man saw it all coming a mile away. Manny Faces launched his website Birthplace Magazine in 2008 to cover Tri-State hip-hop at a time coverage seemed non-existent. Along with being able to chart the rise of up-and-coming artists, Manny’s provided the definitive list of hip-hop happenings with Birthplace Events Calendar, and spun off the website into a weekly live hip-hop report internet radio show, one of the few avenues for hip-hop discussion in a talk-radio format. Tonight, Monday September 16th sees Birthplace Magazine holding a reader appreciation party at Bowery Electric. In honor of the occasion, we spoke to Manny about how the site came to be.
What was your first exposure to hip-hop in New York?
I was a music head, my father played jazz and blues in the house, so I remember catching wind of hip-hop as it was becoming more popular. My clearest memory of getting into hip-hop was going to my friend Craig’s house on the weekend after school in his cool basement where we’d listen to Rap Attack with Mr. Magic, Marley Marl, DJ Red Alert and those mix shows. That was real hip-hop on the radio then and that would be the soundtrack to our Friday night hanging out sessions with Colecovision. It was there I started to hear it more and more and could start absorbing it into my bloodstream.
You also had a hat in the MC game for a while too.
I’ve been a lot of things. I actually started as a “DJ” just playing music in the house and with a rudimentary drum machine playing with production. I remember writing a verse in ninth grade and that was my introduction to MCing. I was an MC and making beats for myself and other for a couple of years and name-changes.
Was there ever a point you weren’t following the New York hip-hop scene?
No, ever since the beginning when the New York scene was so prevalent that to follow hip-hop was to follow the New York scene. I was always closely connected being here in New York and in the shadow of the city. Since then, since I got into things like production and remixes, I got into the regional sound.
At what point did you decide to really start reporting on it?
In the real world, I had gotten into the news business as a production manager for an alternative news weekly in Long Island. I’m a self-taught kinda guy and was learning things as I go. I started writing a bit for this paper while I was learning how to finagle new media. That all coalesced into realizing there was a void in journalism in covering New York hip-hop. I think it was just because my awareness was up about news and still doing music, sometime around 2005 the early brainstorm of Birthplace Magazine came into the mix.
Was Birthplace Magazine your first attempt?
When I was in Freeport, I wanted to do a local artist newsletter called “The Zone” and have a couple stories in there with album reviews and a local artist spotlight. This was back in the 90s like ’94/’95. I guess I had some idea at some point. When I decided to do Birthplace Magazine I had the idea to make it a full-fledged print product, and then doing research and putting together the business plan while not having any money I realized it wasn’t going to work. Once new media started picking up online, I realized it could be doable.
But it officially launched in 2008?
Yes, very poorly. I think the idea was there, the foundation was there, but then it relaunched in 2009. I’ve had a hard time pinning down exact dates because we kind of started and then stopped.
Do you recall the content you first started with?
I was trying to do a daily roundup by combing through other sources and linking to New York relevant content. I wrote a manifesto which I like to point to as my “prediction.” I think that word can be a little bit egotistical and it’s not entirely true, I use it for marketing purposes, but I did it as an point to what I was trying to do. I guess it’s optimism. It might have been 2010 by the time I got good acclaim and I settled in to what was the regular content.
One of the most valuable aspects of the site is the New York Hip-Hop Events Calendar, which, especially since the closing of FatBeats, has been such a valuable resource in terms of bring the source to know everything that’s going on in New York hip-hop. At what point did you realize how much people valued it?
The calendar’s really become something I’m extremely proud of. I mean, you want people to come to your site, but I’ve always been in the interest of advocating for a scene. This whole thing is public service at this point. At some point it just seemed like the right thing to do. I didn’t imagine it would become as valuable as it’s become. Once people realized we were coming to a lot of events and talking to artists who didn’t get a lot of coverage, people began letting us know about their events. Within the last 8-10 months I’ve really been pushing it and giving it as much time as the site itself. Fans love it, artists love it and people realize we’re the most complete source for New York hip-hop events. It’s very difficult to get it all in one place
How different has the coverage of New York hip-hop been between 2008 and 2013?
As anticipated, because New York’s always been a progressive city for music across the board, I always thought New York would be a city that would be looked at again. It amazed me there wasn’t any coverage, and New York has regained coverage in the past year because there are a few artist who’ve broken out from the area. In the beginning, nobody was talking about New York, it was written off. A few years later people were writing “What happened to New York,” asking if it would come back again, and [deciding] no. About a year ago, the outside world decided New York was making noise again. We’ve always said “We’re here, we’re still here. No, you’re wrong, we’re still here. And now you’re right for the wrong reasons.” The thing with the New York hip-hop scene is that it’s so varied, and there’s been an increase in artists coming our with bands and material that isn’t mainstream or following a previous New York sound because you can do that now. There’s enough of an audience to experiment with your artistry.
Is there any piece from the site you’re most proud of?
I wrote a piece when Guru [of Gang Starr] passed away. There was all this controversy with Guru’s will and his business partner/best friend Solarr and it was really hard to tell what was going on. Because of the crappy nature of hip-hop journalism, it was difficult to sort through the facts. It was such a personal loss to everyone in hip-hop. Guru actually bought me a beer once in a bodega, but he didn’t say “Suave,” so I was very disappointed. There was one part of his farewell letter to fans that claimed his wanted donations to be used for this foundation for sick kids with cancer who didn’t have a lot of money. While everyone was looking at whether Guru and Solarr were gay or had some weird Svengali relationship, I went in toward the foundation. I looked into it and found out not only was the foundation defunct for years, the foundation wasn’t Guru’s as the letter had said, but was started in the maiden name of Solarr’s wife. I followed the money and that got people to look at us. We were quoted by a couple of newspapers and I realized not only was I covering the New York scene, but I was doing journalism that hadn’t really been done. That was a turning point to find ways to protect the integrity of hip-hop culture in journalism.