Before YouTube ruled, and long before Tidal, Spotify and Apple Music squabbled, regional hip-hop scenes in Houston, Oakland and more adopted sites like Zshare, YouSendIt and Hulkshare as their free distribution network, with blogs picking up on the artists long before established radio stations did. Andrew Friedman looks back at 10 unsung classics from hip-hop’s more innocent Zshare era.
Last week, one of the biggest rappers in the world performed his diss track aimed at another one of the biggest rappers in the world live on stage.
The visuals for the performance were a Powerpoint presentation of internet jokes, some of which were made by the social media divisions of publicly traded companies. Dr. Dre put an album out (!) and a not-negligible piece of the story was which of the many competing music streaming services would carry it. A couple months ago, a reasonably successful Los Angeles rapper who I have never met interacted with me online because he was amused by a dumb joke I made about Crip Walking.
The internet is so entrenched in hip-hop that we take little miracles like these for granted. It’s easy to forget that even without sophisticated, well-capitalized mobile apps, the simple way in which the internet connected people across state lines and demographic boundaries was revolutionary, and this especially goes for the frustratingly provincial rap community. Internet buzz helped wildly fruitful scenes in Houston and Oakland go national and helped Clipse escape industry purgatory, and that’s to say nothing of how free mixtapes revolutionized the way artists release music. You know the story.
But the internet didn’t just help regional stars go national, it raised the profile for every local artist. As rappers found a way to get their music online, blogs emerged that focused on local scenes (launching the careers of some of your favorite music writers in the process). Sites like So Many Shrimp, Government Names, Cocaine Blunts, Discobelle and The Fader, as well as the flourishing community on the Hollerboard, highlighted a lot of random and memorable hip-hop in the mid-2000s.
What I don’t remember is why Zshare was the music-sharing medium of choice at the time. YouSendIt was popping for a while too, but then it either added a timer or a download limit and everybody jumped ship. Zshare tried to add a 30-second delay before enabling the download link, but there was an easy workaround. Some of this era’s Zshare classics were legitimate radio hits in their respective markets; some were small time anomalies. They have very little else in common, but they definitely capture a specific time and place (on the internet). Here are 10 of my favorites.
FiC – ‘I Rep Minnesota’
Pretty much exactly what you would think a rap song from 2006 called ‘I Rep Minnesota’ would be, except it’s thankfully more inspired by Jeezy than Brother Ali (no shots, just sayin’). Orchestral fake Shawty Redd beat, screwed up hook, iPod-inspired art, probably some references to snow. I had to hit Minnesota representer Mike the 2600 King for the track and re-up it myself, as it no longer lives online.
4-IZE – ‘Ron Artest’
4-IZE ran with Ludacris’s DTP crew for a minute, but this 2005-ish ode to the Malice at the Palace is his most significant contribution to hip-hop. If you throw a drink at him, he will go Ron Artest on you. Extra early 2000s points for referencing the Incredible Hulk, and for rhyming “Incredible Hulk” with itself.
Jackie Chain – ‘Rollin’
‘Rollin’ was the outside world’s first taste of the weird, wonderful rap scene in Huntsville, Alabama, which would bless the world with G-Side and Slow Motion Sounds. But before any of that popped off, we had this E-Pill anthem that flips a mid-90s trance anthem by a white guy with one of the best terrible rap pun names ever.
Wes Fif feat. B.o.B. – ‘Haterz Everywhere’
I’m pretty sure this track pre-dated Wiz Khalifa rapping over Alice Deejay and anyone complaining about trance rap. At the time it was just funny as hell to hear someone yelling about haters over a bootleg version of ‘Sandstorm’. DJs were mixing this into, like, ‘Never Scared’. Ignore the Bobby Ray cameo – I don’t think he was a known quantity when this dropped.
Dude N Nem – ‘Watch My Feet’
One of the (regrettably) small number of Chicago rap songs that incorporate juke and/or footwork with the visuals to match. The raps are fun as hell: a shirt that says “shirt” is Sesame Street humor, which is the best kind. And there’s a remix with Twista. Dude N Nem were signed to TVT and put out an album called Tinted Incubators (!).
Basswood Lane – ‘Ciabatta Bread’
It’s a Texas rap song with a screwed up hook about ciabatta bread. I’m not sure I need to say anything else.
Young Leek – ‘Jiggle It’
‘Jiggle It’ might be a shade too big to make this list. It got a legit Def Jam release in 2006 and, more importantly, it was the song you had to know to avoid getting shot by Snoop and Chris in season three of The Wire. But it was a Baltimore staple first, produced by Blaqstarr while he was taking a break from laying down the blueprint for the next two decades of club music.
Trunk Boiz – ‘Scraper Bike’
I could do an entire list just of hyphy joints, but the hyphy joint about tricked-out bikes is up there with the A’s mascot turf dancing and the guy getting his car stolen while he’s ghostriding his whip. Oakland is a weird place. That said, the Scraper Bike movement is a real thing and still going strong.
Messy Marv – ‘Don’t You Say That’
The Boy Boy Young Mess is a Bay Area legend known as much for his raps as his tendency to beef with everybody. In 2005 he made a throwback electro track about people with bad breath.
Lady Tigra – ‘Pinkberry Song’
In 2007 both Pinkberry and the idea of hiring half of L’Trimm do a song about Pinkberry were novel ideas. It appeared first on her MySpace page but was also available for download – via Zshare, of course.