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Jeff and Eric Rosenthal sit side by side.

Jeff and Eric Rosenthal sit side by side.

Photo by Courtney Francis.

'ItsTheReal' Discusses 'The Blog Era' and Stories From NYC’s Most Iconic Venues

ItsTheReal's Jeff and Eric Rosenthal chat about their new podcast, The Blog Era, and recall the hallowed battlegrounds of yore — New York City’s legendary rap venues.

Jeff and Eric Rosenthal, collectively known as ItsTheReal, created The Blog Era podcast to do more than pay homage to an industry-changing decade within hip-hop. They also wanted to honor New York as one of the epicenters of music. The one-time podcast, which aired 10 episodes on April 19th, focuses on the post-Y2K community that emerged before social media changed everything — undeniably a New York City story. “I think that obviously there's an East Coast bias that we have,” says Jeff, “But I think that the story that we tell is one that's in relation to the industry, and the industry is centered in New York.”

For natives and transplants alike, the rough-hewn culture of early 2000s New York City was ripe for artists and emerging creatives to share and grow their talent and produced legends of the underground as well as icons of pop culture. We talked to the Rosenthal brothers about the iconic stages where some of today’s biggest names in music cut their teeth and the music spaces that now walk because the blog era crawled.

The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

This era of music had many meccas — Houston, Los Angeles, and Toronto at one point. But New York still remains, even in this story, the home base of it all. How important is the backdrop of New York to this story? How did your own experiences from that time shape the podcast?

Jeff: I think that helped us, being here and knowing all the characters so well, knowing how deep some people's histories are, and the idiosyncrasies of everybody like that, that all helped because we were here for that part.

Eric: I think that to speak on the Lower East Side scene, all those skateboard shops and the attitude and style that came out of that small area, I think it's super exciting for us to think about a place that we know so well with new context. That was super important to us when we were thinking about this entire series, to take people and situations and memories that we all believed we knew so much about and give it more context, which is super meaningful today in 2023 when we walked down on the Lower East Side, or thinking back to 2007 when that scene was just bubbling.

From your perspective, what were the New York City venues? Name five that defined the era.

Eric: SOB's is absolutely up there. If you were anybody from anywhere, if you were Drake, if you were 2 Chainz if you were whoever, if you made your way to New York, you had to touch that SOB's stage. It didn't matter that the sound system was buggy. It didn't matter that you had gigantic pillars in the way. It didn't matter that the green room made you walk through the crowd to get to the stage. You had to be there. You had to prove yourself to that New York audience, and from there, you were on your way.

Jeff: Number two, Santos.

Eric: Santos Party House. You went there to go see Q-Tip DJ or Vashtie DJ. You went there to run into Puffy.

Jeff: ASAP Mob.

Eric: Yeah, ASAP Mob, Puffy outside. It was a party, whether you were inside or outside. Three: Webster Hall. It was dirty. It was disgusting. But you had a million different parties going on there in a million different rooms, so you had a dance hall set here. You had a hardcore set here. You had a new wave set here. It was a gathering place that was super important.

Jeff: Also, that was the first place that Future performed in New York, and that was the basement. Number four, I would say, Knitting Factory. Knitting Factory, which was downtown and later moved to Brooklyn. And that's where Good Music would come through and do a huge set.

Jeff: Southpaw in Brooklyn. I feel like that's probably the fifth one. Everybody played there. Kendrick Lamar, everybody.

What’s the most iconic moment you remember from being in those spaces?

Eric: Jeff and I went to an SOB show. It was a Hot 97, Who's Next Show, and Charles Hamilton was on the bill. And so it was Jay Rock. Jay Rock was the number one guy out of that camp, out of the TDE crew, and he was signed to Asylum Records, and he was in town, and he had a big single out with Lil Wayne. And Charles was signed to Interscope Records, and he had put out a whole bunch of material that summer and was super excited to perform in front of a hometown crowd.

Jeff and I were there, and Charles, as part of his act, went into the crowd and brought a microphone and dared people or invited people to freestyle with him. And there's video of this, which is really cool, especially because cameras were getting a little cheaper and YouTube was just taking off because this is 2008. Charles goes into the audience and one of the people that steps up to freestyle was Kendrick Lamar. And back then, he was just K-Dot.

Jeff: Nobody knew him.

Eric: No one knew him. He was just this guy who was sort of pushed into the circle, and he starts rapping, and it's only later when he becomes Kendrick Lamar and becomes a significant figure in the rap world do, people, including us, think back and be like, "Wait, I knew this moment happened."

At one point in time, the transition really went from places like SOB's, to, if you hit that Summer Jam stage, you finally made it. It was a rite of passage. What did Summer Jam mean for artists at that time?

Jeff: I would say, Summer Jam, for a very long time, was the place to see artists and to be seen, and that extends from artists to ticket buyers to people who just showed up to hang out in the parking lot. And it was a time before so many festivals. It was a time when Hot 97 was a super-duper taste-making operation, so if you wanted to be a heavy presence on the air, part of your deal was like, "Hey, yes, I will perform on your stage," and it just happens that it's in front of 55,000 people or whatever.

If you are an artist and you perform on that stage or bring somebody out, or you get brought out, it's an incredible experience, and we were there when The Lox performed, and the place was shaking. We were there when Khaled came through. Name the person, they were there. Chris Brown, Joe Budden, Jay-Z, French Montana, Kanye West, Wale.

Eric: We've seen all these people perform. Wu-Tang. We've seen all these people perform, and it's always something very special. Dipset closed it every single year. It's waned in certain aspects over the last five, six, seven years, only because radio has, too, but you can never take away what Summer Jam during that time really meant. Now, Summer Jam is something different than we knew growing up, but that doesn't mean that it's not going to become something very special, as it is now.

And by the time you get to the end of the blog era, instead of replacing the new gatekeepers, who were the blogs, with another set of gatekeepers, the landscape was changed so much that there wasn't a fight against bigger gatekeepers, there were just no gatekeepers. Or, as Jeff likes to put it, everyone was a gatekeeper.

We live in this time now where there's so much music, there are so many artists, they do so many things, a lot of multi-hyphenates out there, but also, the platforms that you would look to, instead of 100 significant blogs that you hoped you could email and they would open up your attachment and listen to your music, now there's zillions of places that all feel like they're as important as anybody else, but the actual nature of their importance is certainly in question.