“I been in the game for 20 years making rap sites
Ever since honeys was wearing Karl Kani” – Me paraphrasing Dr. Dre in a truly unfortunate way
As a junior in high school in 1995, I had randomly discovered the modem buried in our family’s Packard Bell PC which until this point was nothing more than a glorified word processor and an excuse to play the X-Wing videogame. It was a random moment with my father, who nonchalantly logged into a CompuServe chat room one evening and began talking to complete strangers, that would effectively blow my mind and open me up to the possibilities of the Internet. “You could talk to other people in real time…all over the world??!,” I said to myself in an inner dialogue with likely way more curse words. We take chat for granted in our highly-wired world of today, but in 1995 it was revelatory.* I had to go deeper.
Chat rooms begat CompuServe channels, which in turn led me to America Online — at the time the largest Internet Service Provider in the United States. At some point, I started to hear how the “WWW” was where the “real” online was happening. I downloaded a copy of the Netscape web browser and began hitting up some random addresses: www.microsoft.com, www.starwars.com, www.mtv.com…Some companies had websites, others didn’t. It was all very nascent and truly wide open.
By the summer of 1995, I had already began dabbling in making websites. The very first was a site for my father’s private investigation business.** As part of my junior year high-school curriculum, I had to do community service, and I chose to help troubled kids at an overnight camping retreat for a week in the summer. It was here where I first came up with the idea to do my own website. It was to include all the things I loved: A video game section, a grafitti section, a links page (naturally), and a page dedicated to my favorite hip-hop group, Hieroglyphics. The site was called, tHa thReshHold (yes, written exactly like that) and launched on August 15th, 1995.
In the beginning, I did not have a lot of material to support the Hiero section of tHa thReshHold. I found support early on from Sandbox Automatic’s Mercer, who offered me a few photograph scans of the group and even a couple of magazine articles he transcribed. Visitor support for the Hiero section of tHa thReshHold was OK, but the video game section of the site was proving extremely popular.
On September 9th, about a month into tHa thReshHold’s existence, I made the decision to drop every section of the site, including the Hiero page, in favor of supporting the increasingly popular video game section. On that very same day — call it fate — I was heading out to a Goats concert with a couple of homies when I received a beep on my pager from the 510 area code. Intrigued, I called it back. On the other end of the call I was greeted by someone claiming to be Tajai from Souls of Mischief. He continued on about how he saw the website at his university, and he wants to make the site “official.”
Now, mind you, my pager number was littered all over tHa thReshHold. I was a young businessman entrepreneur, after all, and I was soliciting web development on the site as a job. I would routinely get fake emails from people claiming to be Hiero, but no one ever dared call me prior to this instance and try to perpetrate the fraud.
My homies and I thought the audacity of this person was hilarious. I began passing the phone around the room, letting my friends hear for themselves. When the phone rounded back around my way, I issued a challenge: Prove it. “Send me something to prove you’re Tajai,” I said.
“OK,” the person on the other line replied.
I hung up and forgot all about it.
A week or so goes by and a package arrives at my post office box. Confused at first, I open it and it’s a treasure trove of proverbial Hiero riches: Autographed press photos; Souls of Mischief water flasks; stickers!! OH MY GOD, THE STICKERS!!! I was losing my mind!
I ran back to school and literally paraded the stickers around like some rabid street team junkie: “LOOK AT ALL THESE STICKERS!!!!!”
It was on. It was obviously official and Tajai was who he claimed to be. I called him back up, and tHa thReshHold transformed into Hieroglyphics.com: The official Hiero website!
Well, not quite yet…We did not actually buy the Hieroglyphics.com domain name until about seven months later.*** Most of the early visitors to the Hiero website will recall our original URL: www.webcom.com/~stinke/circle.html which of course would lead you to “The Sunny Meadowz,” a reference to Del’s first album, I Wish My Brother George Was Here.
“Hiero Online”, as it was referred to prior to the domain purchase, was a success right off the bat. When word started getting out that the Hieros were officially behind the website, traffic began to surge. To put it into context: The website became official one month before Souls of Mischief’s sophomore album, No Man’s Land album was released to retail. The day that album hit stores, JIVE records famously dropped Souls of Mischief from their recording contract, and promotion for the album was dead to nill. If you were a Hiero fan in 1995, it was extremely hard to find any information about the collective whatsoever. The website famously changed all of that.
Hiero was certainly not the first hiphop group online. I know for certain Living Legends was there before I ever uploaded anything to an FTP server (shouts to Access) Δ. But Hiero was definitely one of the first major label recording artists to create their own site, in hiphop or in any genre. That alone turned heads. It was also this awesome, perfect storm of motivated-16-year-old-from-Philadelphia (me), all of Hiero becoming independent artists, the rise and rise of Internet technology, and the proliferation of Hiero’s fanbase entering their college years and gaining access to their school’s online networks and computers.
In 1995, having a computer was rare. I think I was the only kid in my neighborhood with a computer. Certainly among my friends, it was even rarer. But as Hiero’s teenage fanbase began to enter college, more and more of their fans began to discover Hieroglyphics.com. And by the time the group decided to band together for “The Family Album” (aka their debut album as a collective, 3rd Eye Vision), college proved pivotal in that record’s success. It was a college radio smash, propelled by word of mouth from the website and the traditional print media attention we were generating as one of the first artists using their website as a marketing tool.
Of course, Hieroglyphics.com would have been nothing without its visitors and supporters. The heartbeat of the website was the Hiero Hoopla forums where fans gathered to talk Hiero, hiphop, movies, and more. It was also the dawn of The Internet Troll and Shit Talkers Anonymous and it was so, so much fun…I have made lifelong friends from the Hoopla board. I have seen people get married and have children on it. I have seen people lose their shit on it. And I have seen it foster a talent pool of other artists that have gone out and done amazing things in the world, especially in music. And even if you did not post on Hiero Hoopla, if you were supporting the group by purchasing music or clothing in the online store, you have directly affected the outcome of so many lives. You allowed the entire Hiero group and myself to do what we do for a living, period. And for that I (we!) can not thank you enough.
Hieroglyphics.com launched my professional and artistic career. It’s what I continue to do to this very day. It is what I have done since before I even graduated high school. A-Plus of Souls of Mischief described the website’s legacy as “catching lightning in a bottle.” I couldn’t agree more, and I feel very blessed and humbled that I was a part of something truly special that not only affected my life and my family’s life in such a positive way, but also provided great entertainment value to so many people worldwide for years and years. THANK YOU for being an integral part of all of it and for joining me on the ride of a lifetime.
The site famously went through many design iterations and I have been trying to catalogue them. Checkout Hieroglyphics.org to see how the site appeared throughout the ages. It’s a work in progress and I have also attached a few screenshots as well below.
Special thanks to Hiero Hoopla alum, DJ Enki for copyediting this post and once again saving the English language from my no good, dastardly fingers.
Drop a line in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you guys!
** Shoutout to my pops for providing me with the tools and technical inclination to explore all this sci-fi stuff. He proved instrumental in my life for exploring the cutting-edge of technology, art, and science.
*** Domains at the time were quite expensive. I recall we paid about $180 for the Hieroglyphics.com domain name.
Δ Update – August 19, 2015:
Access of AccessHipHop.com (and current proprietor of Hiero Hoopla) chimed in:
Thanks for the props, but (just to fill in a bit of history) it was summer 1997 when I started helping the Living Legends with their website. I registered the mystik-journeymen.com domain – but they let the domain renewal lapse a while ago, so don’t try to go there. LLCREW.com came a year or two later (it now redirects to the highly neglected legendarymusic.net).
Before me, the individual later known as DJ Vlad put up the first Mystik Journeymen site (not on its own domain); I think that was in 1996. So I believe Hiero online was there before the Mystik Journeymen were on the web. And it wasn’t until 1996 anyway that the Living Legends existed under that name. (Mystik Journeymen were earlier.)