A short fly over of our history…
Started tinkering on the idea. And then…
Sphere of Hip Hop was launched in earlyÂ 1998. I never did record the exact date as I honestly never thought that ‘this’ would be what is has grown to be today. Apparently God had otherÂ plans.Â I do typically celebrate the anniversary of the site some time in March of every year. We celebrate our birthday March 1st of every year. Time flies.
The site started off with essentially a complaint that later spawned an idea… why is it so hard to find out when good new hip-hop is being released? Unless you were in the ‘right areas’ (namely where the scene was flourishing like So-Cal and in pockets elsewhere) you just were not always able to find a wide variety of music.Â A good friend of mine (known as Josh aka ‘Doc’) and I were taking a media class during our tenure in college. We were assigned with the task of creating some sort of website. I had already been tinkering with HTML (pretty awful at it in those early days, and still lacking there) and working on different things. Josh and I decided to do a rap website. We tossed around ideas and also some names… we came up with ‘Sphere of Hip Hop’.
We sat around and enjoyed some good food one day. During that chow session we started to drum up some ideas on what to have on the website. We had some very ambitious ideas at the time. Some of those ideas were feasible and some just were not. Trial and error has always been something that I have had to rely upon for Sphere of Hip-Hop.
One person that was very supportive of what the two of us were doing was Dirt from the Shadow of the Locust crew. We spent a few late nights yacking with him on the phone dreaming up some ideas. I am really grateful for his help and consistent encouragement! Big ups to Dirt.
The first version of the site was made public at the beginning of March 1998. It certainly was not something that was super cool looking but it did the job. Hey, we got about 500 hits our first month (That’s a lot of TruHipHop link drops!). We were very excited! Â We had a few different sections and found that some of them were going to be very difficult to maintain. So, the constant evolution of what content we featured had begun. From the start, news coverage was always a main focus. I wanted the site to be a good spot to learn about what different artists were up to. It seems to be working as we get a lot of great compliments on it.
We tightened up our content, our look and of course the flow of information. That has always been a tough one as the information and content seems to come in waves. We had to find creative ways to keep people interested in the site and to keep those updates steady.
Archive.org has a pretty cool archived set of looks into the past of the site. Click here to check out some pictures of what Sphere of Hip Hop used to look like. Some images may no longer be available so they will not show. But… you will still get the idea.
During the year that was 1998 we got a new look and then ‘Doc’ (the other Josh) became really involved with a few different things. He moved on, leaving me to carry the torch solo.
1998/1999 saw an entrance into mobilizing the community to really get behind our own. I ran a campaign to get people to request and to vote for the Grits ‘All Fall Down’ video. I count this as an early lesson of the power of being able to get people excited about making a move. It was tremendously successful and garnered heavy airplay on MTV and MTV2 for the video. Grits even caught the attention of a major record label and for a time were signed to one. Pretty awesome that our site could have helped in that way.Â It was another instance of not really understanding what God could do with a guy passionate about hip-hop. Lessons learned!
1999/2000 saw a venture into the territory of offering audio downloads for visitors to our site. I had no idea that this would become such a large and vital portion of the site. It started off really slowly but soon blossomed into something larger than I had ever dreamed. We started slowly adding some songs and promoted them to a hungry audience of net savvy folks. Quickly we saw our first major online chart success with a #1 overall song for the Solseekers ‘Audience of One’ track. The song was wildly popular and at its peak would draw 25,000 to 35,000 downloads a day. It settled off of that after a while but was still a big time song for our site. Over 150 songs were promoted to top spots in several of the online charts at MP3.com.
The downloads over the years continue to pile up. Amazing. Definitely a blessing to have provided a platform for so many artists to be heard and for many people to be inspired by the content of the songs. Seeds planted.
The MP3 downloads continue to thrive and be a top destination for visitors at this site. Look for some special enhancements to that portion of the site in the new year of 2006.
During that time (1999/2000) I was blessed to be able to help a few records find some attention. Freedom of Soul frontman, Peace 586, re-entered the fold with a new project I was able to work on. This record eventually led to working on Tunnel Rat related releases in coming years.Â The Solseekers duo or Capture and Sage (now JustMe) turned out a great record that won over a lot of fans. Then I was blessed to work with a little known crew called Mars ILL. Their debut ‘Raw Material’ was a record that ushered in a new era in our scene. Great album and great artists that continue to push the boundaries today.
2001 was a period ofÂ even more growth for the site. The MP3 site continued to flourish and we started to up our content more. It was always challenging to find good writers who were both down for the cause and we’re going to be down for the long haul. This year we were able to find a few really great people to carry the torch in the writing department.
This year saw a nice little burst of vinyl records from different artists and record labels. We started a few support initiatives to help the vinyl scene stay alive. It started with a vinyl listing with a full set of links showing where the record could be purchased.
In the early part of the year,Â I (Josh)Â landed a job as the General Manager / Head A&R for Uprok Records. That job continued for about three years until I left the company in the fall of 2003. Lots of great records released and many hundreds of thousands sold.
Our online forums started to take root during 2001 and we had some vibrant chatter from the community. We had some crashes due to wacky software bugs and technical limitations but eventually had it figured out. We also started to find some great people that are today moderators for the forum and others who help out behind the scenes. Growth and community!
2002 brought on some layout changes and more great content. The design and layout of the site has always been a challenge. We wanted to have something that was pleasing to the eye and easy to manage. Updating the site had become pretty tedious because it simply took up too much time and we were not able to afford any of the expensive CMS (content management systems) software. Jon Madison was very helpful in helping us out in this area. We began to research different ideas for reworking the website.
Out of necessity, we began to focus on building a good online store. Yeah, it was pretty awful at first but it was functional and served its purpose. The store has been something that not only was created to help out a lot of different people but to also ensure the survival of the website. This time started a period where the finances were always a definite challenge and we were struggling to both maintain a budget with the ability to add on.
The store started out with only a handful of CDs available and has quickly grown to carry hundreds of different CD titles in addition to DVDs, magazines and vinyl records. We even now are into the realm of the digital download sales. Full albums on demand!
2003 was a transitional year in many ways. We were now based out on the West Coast in Seattle. The budget was cut drastically so we could maintain what we had going.
This year wasÂ a fruitful one in which we were able to add on to our writing staff. We have some excellent people who give so generously of their time and talents to provide the written content of the site. 2003 was the start of that team which is now very solid.
The MP3 portion of the site was continuing to expand and also flourish as we were serving hundreds of thousands of downloads monthly.
Late in the year I began to plot out things that were to be 2 and 3 years ahead in the future for the site including new layouts for the main site in addition to reworking the online store. Most of what you see now are things I was planning out years ago.
2004 began planning out our MP3 site into something a bit more substantial than a page on a free site like Soundclick or MP3.com.
2005 became the year of indecision in regards to the online store. I went through a pile of ideas and even worked on one until I decided it was best to hold off for a while until a better software solution could be found.
2006 was a year full of ups and downs. We had some site outages to be dealt with and also some software issues. This was probably our best year in terms of updating the site and having good content. It was the roughest year in the financial department. God definitely keeps teaching that ‘trust me to provide’ lesson! We’re still pretty far short as of Christmas this year and hopefully will make the goal by the end of March which is our ultimate goal.
2007 has a been quite the year so far. We’ve seen tremendous growth in visitors and repeat visitors. We launched our first ever radio show earlier in the year as a 2 hour weekly show on XM Satellite Radio. It also broadcast on DIRECTV. Tune in every Saturday night. We finally got a new store setup! It looks nice enough for now but many upgrades and enhancements are yet to come.
2008 has certainly been a challenge but we’ve seen some incredible things happen. This year we eclipsed not only 30 million MP3 downloads but also 40 million song downloads. As of 12/30/2008 we have served up a whopping 47.5 million legal MP3 song downloads! The video website has been picking up steam as well. We’ve served up 3.6 million videos since our launch at the beginning of the year.
Our Podcast caught on in the latter part of the fall and continued to grab more listeners from all parts of the world. A new episode was published every two weeks and it’s hosted by Cas Metah of Scribbling Idiots.
Fund raising continued to be a challenge but many faithful website supporters chipped in to help soften the financial blow. Our monthly budget was trimmed down again to a more bare bones / essentials level.
2009 began with a bang… not in a good way. We had significant issues with various software used to run the site and had to rebuild almost everything. There was something of a silver lining in that it was a good time to do some “spring cleaning” and get rid of files that were no longer being used.
January saw the Podcast take firm hold with subscribers and listeners. Over 16,000 people downloaded the Sphere of Hip-Hop Podcast during the month! We were excited to see the response and support. Thanks to everyone who checks for new episodes and who has subscribed. Get the Sphere of Hip-Hop Podcast at iTunes.
We also started work on an extensive website renovation during January. Yes, it is finally happening and not a moment too soon. Anyone who knows Josh, knows he has been very excited to revamp the site. Many fantastic new additions will compliment a vastly improved website. We think you will love it and want to use the site more than you already do.
February saw the launch of the Sphere of Hip-Hop Auction which aims to put some cool items in your hands and at the same time raise some funding for the website.
We saw a steady increase in subscribers to the Podcast and will be on pace to add 25-30% more subscribers this month. Fantastic! The MP3 downloads continued to be a heavy draw for website visitors as we neared our 50 millionth legal MP3 download. We expect that to happen towards the end of February.The Podcast saw over 23,000 downloads.
March was a good month with a few great selling releases out and also good support via the Sphere Store. A good amount of progress was made on the upcoming website rebranding project. I even caught up on all the content! Pretty epic accomplishment considering how far behind I had gotten. The Podcast drew 23,492 downloads through the 30th of the month.
April was busy! The first week saw a bunch of catch up work and clean up. We’re still hard at work on the new website. The forums were subject to some organization and clutter reduction. Check out the results. The final two weeks were spent preparing for, being at and catching up from GMA in Nashville. Sphere of Hip-Hop represented for the 12th year in a row. It’s always nice to see co-laborers in the movement and to enjoy some time away. Jack’s BBQ, Demo’s and Pancake Pantry were awesome. Music sales have continued to be steady. We’re running a small deficit for the month that we can hopefully make up here before Friday May 1st. The Podcast was downloaded 24,923 times during the month of April. Still growing!
May has been a challenging thusfar but I trust God for the strength to make it through. We’re considering any ideas we can come up with to help end our fund drive. The Podcast continues to draw loads of listeners. We also saw a single day record with the highest MP3 downloads I can remember. On May 12th we saw 194,000 song downloads on the Sphere of Hip-Hop MP3 site. One day. That’s pretty crazy! Thanks for the support ya’ll! The Podcast continues to dominate and draw new listeners. 27,170 people downloaded or streamed a full episode while another 38,357 people listened to part of an episode. That means over 65,000 people are listening and that brings us up to 328,377 for the year of 2009. Thanks for the support ya’ll!
June will see more changes around the site and a new stab at raising some sustainable funding for the site. If you’re interested in helping out each month, drop us a line. 88,561 people downloaded the Sphere Podcast during the month.
July was a very busy month. We’re continuing to work towards launching the new site. It’s a large project and is taking time. We had a booth at SonShine music festival. We met thousands of people and handed out almost 5,000 pieces of music. Our booth was a huge hit as we routinely gathered several hundred person crowds a few times per day. We had some funny competitions and contests. Check the Sphere of Hip-Hop Facebook page for photos. The Podcast is growing quickly! 90,251 people listened in during July. We also launched the new Daily Download feature. It’s a Podcast that features a new track every day of the week (no Sunday’s) that is available to folks on iTunes and also via the news section of the site.
August has been a month for catch up. Several projects are completed and we’re rounding out many others. Daily Download had an amazing first week (end of July) with 8,400 downloads. Not too shabby! We also passed another milestone a few months ago with our 55 millionth MP3 download on Sphere MP3. We’re bearing down on 60 million now. Currently sitting just over 58 million downloads.
September was a pretty crazy month. I prepared for the trip of a lifetime… 17 days in Australia. It was a pretty crazy month with more than enough things to do. The trip was amazing and I spent a ton of time learning about the Aussie music scene. We were able to see first hand how God is moving in that country via the artform of hip-hop. Daily Download became a very popular new feature of the website with most tracks seeing 3,000-4,000 downloads over the month each! The Podcast is growing still with 107,621 people tuning in to an episode. The Sphere Support ministry was also started to undertake numerous outreach projects via the site.
October was the month of playing catch up after being away for almost 3 weeks for the Australia trip we returned from on October 10th. Getting the sleep schedule back on track was a challenge. Loads of work happened over the remaining 20 days of the month including extensive website renovation planning. It’ll be nice to wrap up the new version of Sphereofhiphop.com. Daily Download saw about 245,000 downloads over the month and our MP3 download section continues to be heavily utilized. Our Podcast growth has slowed up a bit but still moves forward with 109,412 downloads for the month.
November was gone before we knew it. More site planning and a heaping pile of work preparing for the Annual Holiday sales. Ya’ll turned out in big numbers as we finally started to see a rebound in music sales. Music sales are the primary means of income for the site and without solid numbers each month we have a tough time making ends meet. Fund raising via the Sphere Support ministry continues to go well and we raised about 20% of our monthly need in just the first few months. Daily Download continues to see explosive growth with 334,921 downloads for November. Wow!Â The Podcast jumped a few thousand listeners to 115,903.
December went by in a flash! Music sales continued to be strong and I think we met our budget for the month (still crunching numbers). We added a few new monthly supporters to the Sphere Support ministry and started a few projects for that. We now have an intern named Natalie that helps out one evening a week with office tasks. Josh’s wife Janny started helping with much of the administrative work as well. Things are starting to get really organized and tasks are getting down quicker. We passed 3,000 fans on Facebook and were at 3,356 on the 30th. Theory Hazit’s new release “Modern Marvels” smashed a bunch of pre-sale records at the Sphere Store. Pick it up before it releases January 12th 2010 on Illect Recordings. A few days ago we crossed the 64 million threshold for MP3 downloads. Thanks for the support! Speaking of support… we published two regular Podcast episodes in addition to re-running a holiday themed episode. That helped push our Podcast download total for the month to 128,624. Crazy! For the year we had a insane amount of listeners. The tally sits at 1,065,384 for 2009. Awesome. Please keep spreading the word and listening.
January is always a challenging month. The new year brought some new challenges and also the launch of a brand new layout for Sphere of Hip-Hop. We had some bugs early on but figured out fixes as quickly as possible. The Sphere of Hip-Hop podcast continues to gain listeners with over 127,600 tuning in. Thanks for the support there.
February brought more work and a strong refocus on the core content of the website. Now that the site was re-launched it became easier to work new content in quickly. Refining the processes to get that content has been a struggle but the road is getting less bumpy as time passes. Our podcast drew 124,840 listeners for the month.
March was more work and planning. We’ve started work on some additional parts of the the website. Seems like we can indeed see the light at the end of the tunnel with all these projects. The goal is to complete everything by late summer. Daily Download continues to hum along with some tracks seeing over 22,000 downloads their first week on the site. Crazy! We saw a nice spike for the podcast and added over 10,000 new listeners during the month to come in with 136,120.
April was a strong month, as it always is, for new album releases. We had a great month for music sales and that helped pay off some budget shortages from the last few months. We continue to make some good strides with the funding of the site. Not out of the woods yet but we’re closer than ever. God is good! Our podcast is starting to make some power moves in picking up new listeners. Having it featured prominently on the front of the site and also adding it to Zune has helped. 148,550 listeners for the month.
May has been full of busy work so far. Revamped the scoring system for album reviews. Now albums are rated 50% on the strength of the lyrics and 50% on the production. Tally both up for a total score out of 10. A few generous souls have continued to aide the site with graphic design. Thank you! We’re cutting back on the amount of albums we’ll attempt to review. It got to be too much to try and review everything.
June and July are flying by. We recently added a Tour/Concert database to the site and are quickly adding information for artists as we find it. We’ve also cleaned up the Listen section a bit more.Â Through the end of June we’ve served 855,050 downloads of the Sphere Podcast. Awesome, thanks for the support! Posts featuring an audio file now have a embedded player on the page that will allow you to listen directly from the page. In early July we passed the 10k mark of fans on Facebook. We spent 5 days at SonShine Music Festival in Wilmar, MN and met thousands of people who love hip-hop! The support has been tremendous. More great stuff is in the works for the site.
August is just getting moving. We’re doing some house cleaning with the site and working through a big stack of submissions. We’ve added 6 new writers to the team. Our goal is to review a few more records for the site. We just added our 11,000th fan on the Sphere of Hip Hop Facebook page. We’re on Twitter with three streams: @sphereofhiphop, @sohhdailydl, @sohhpodcast. If you use Twitter be sure to follow us at each. In late June we passed 1 million podcast downloads for the year of 2010 so far (1,201,194 through July 31) and saw 189,794 listeners in July. Our best month ever. General website traffic also soared during July and August.
September through December was an absolute blur! Work continued behind the scenes on a few long term projects and we went to Flavor Fest in October. We had a table/booth there and also had a fresh full page magazine ad in the festival issue of Soul Mag.
The Podcast continues to do some damage with a lot of regular listeners tuning in each month. August (209,530) was one of our best months. September (173,985), October (188,780) and November (182,240) were all solid as well. It’s easy to see when school starts up again! December was one of the best months we’ve ever had with (211,325) total listeners for the month. Older episodes continued to draw listeners which is always fresh. We rounded out the year having served up over 2 million downloads of our Podcast during 2010. 2,167,054 total for the year. God is good! Thanks for the support.
Traffic to the site continues to grow and we’ve started to see a lot of new faces. Thanks for continuing to check out the site and for sharing the word about Sphere of Hip-Hop with your friends.
The very end of the year was challenging. I (Josh) got pretty sick and most days only had a few hours of work in me. My body was fighting a cold virus that just would not let go.
January is here. Already?
Check out an ambitious project we’ve launched for this year called the “4022 Initiative”. Our goal is to donate at least 4,022 CDs to outreaches and ministries around the world. You can join in and help support the 4022 Initiative by checking out the page for it. Track the response and progress there as well.
February brought a renewed effort to engaging those who visit Sphereofhiphop.com. We laid out some plans to add in more content and more opportunities for you to join the conversation around that content. It will take a while to deploy everything but we think you’ll enjoy it.
We’re nearing 1,400 followers on Twitter and 17,000 on Facebook. The 4022 Initiative checks in at 567 of the 4,022 goal. Thank you for your support.
March zipped by into April and then into May… very busy time for us! We’re marching closer to our 2,000th follower on Twitter and have crossed the 20,000 Facebook fan plateau recently as well. The 4022 Initiative has slowed down quite a bit. We hope it picks up over the summer so we can reach our goal. 798 so far which puts us 3224 away from our goal for the year.
Summer looks to be very exciting and we have some live events planned including the SonShine music festival. We’ll have a DJ at our booth spinning the live tunes. Can’t wait!
SonShine was a huge success. We gave away about 2,000 CDs and met thousands of people over the weekend. We routinely crammed the merch area in front of our booth. Looking forward to next year already.
Fall and Winter was a great time of growth and regrouping. Plans set in motion almost 2 years earlier began to gel. We now have a solid group of people helping out.
January and February zipped by me and I hadn’t made time to update this page for a while. We’re planning some special fund raisers this year to accomplish some outreach goals in addition to making sure we have enough resources for the operation of SOHH. A few weeks ago we raised enough funding to upgrade our web hosting. Over $600 was donated by fans, friends and supporters of Sphere of Hip-Hop. Thank you!
Here we are… March 1st. 15 years. It’s been a blessing to be able to serve in this capacity.
In July we traveled to Wilmar MN to the SonShine Music Festival where we have a booth each year. DJ Stibs flew up from Dallas TX to spin on the 1s and 2s during the 4 days we were there. Our intern Pierre helped a lot too. He’s a crowd favorite. We had a great time sharing about the outreach we do an answering questions from teens and parents about hip-hop music. It’s always a great time to educate and challenge people. We gave away a ton of music (hundreds of CDs and a few thousand downloads), flyers and information about SOHH.
Over the summer we started working on a new CD Outreach project. The project built on the CD Outreach we’ve been doing for a while now. The goal is to get a bunch of artists on board to record original music for the outreach. We started an Indiegogo campaign to help raise funding to cover the costs of printing the CDs and other things we needed to make this happen. We met our goal and began recording the music. It’s been a slow moving process but we’re getting some excellent songs.
The new look of Sphereofhiphop.com launched in October. It was a welcome change and fans of the site enjoyed the changes. From October through the end of the year we saw our regular traffic rise by just over 40%. Very thankful the changes we made are being embraced.
November and December were very busy months. More planning for site renovations and for the coming new year.
We celebrate our 16th birthday on March 1st, 2013. Crazy how time has flown by.
We’re continuing to work on improvements for Sphereofhiphop.com and also SphereofhiphopStore.com. The things we’ve done are continuing to drive our traffic higher which is a welcome result.
In January we hit the 1/2 way point of our CD Outreach Project. We have 9 finished tracks and will be wrapping it up soon. Thanks to everyone who supported and have been super patient with the long wait. We’ve certainly learned a few things for the next round.
To be continued/finished at a later date!