Blog Science: Rafi, Khal and Reyn

Posted by Justin Boland on May 17, 2010 | 0 Comments

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There’s been a whole lot of bullshit written about bloggery-it’s the new radio, the new record label, and the replacement for television, magazines and newspapers.  Let’s be real: it’s just one more piece of the puzzle. HOWEVER. It’s also got the lowest barrier to entry available to a new artist, and that part is very important.  I know that Audible Hype readers come from all walks of life, from rappers to producers to bloggers to lead guitar players from brutal heavy metal bands.  So this article has something for everyone-it’s a collection of three short interviews with bloggers who I really respect, and I guarantee you’ll find something useful here…

Each of these guys is on my radar screen for being honest, dedicated, and having a distinctively real sense of taste.  They’re not chasing trends, they’re just posting about what they’re really digging (or bitterly hating, who knows).  Here, we’re discussing work process, being your own boss (and graphic designer), monetizing a hip hop blog, and dealing with artists. 

Rafi Kam from

Rafi Kam | Oh Word

What are the most important skills for DIY web design and troubleshooting?

Rafi Kam: It’s good to know standard practices for html and css. Javascript basics for front-end scripting if needed. Photoshop competency is very helpful too. There’s a ton of tutorial sites out there and people posting all kinds of problems and fixes so I feel Google’s web search is really the #1 tool for any web developer.

More than a skill-set, I think a certain mindset is key for DIY web design and troubleshooting. If you’re open to learning and willing to play with code you can solve any front-end problem with time and that’s how you learn. Sometimes the best way to learn how things are done is just to view the source code, the Firebug plugin for Firefox is a phenomenal tool for debugging but also for learning.

I came up on the community ten years ago but that’s not around anymore. Good resources for learning:, Elizabeth Castro’s quickstart books,,, and a really excellent book by Steve Krug on web usability called Don’t Make Me Think.

But there are many different ways to skin a cat and web design skills aren’t something people need in order to get into blogging. There’s a wealth of free templates and themes out there and even right out of the box, blog software looks pretty good. Nah Right is the most popular hip-hop blog around and it’s basically running on a Wordpress default theme.

I think good social skills can also be a good replacement for web design skills. Team up with a designer or if the problem is relatively minor just ask people for help. I’ve been on both sides of that. Great design isn’t my specialty so I tend to pick clean looks and turn to more skilled people for the accent graphics. With the old Oh Word, agent b did all the bad-ass art and illustrations. When I relaunched, Dukes from the Full Clip made the new logo. And on the flipside, I’ve offered free coding help to various bloggers when they’re sites have broken in some way. It’s good karma.

Do you think most Content Management Systems are functionally the same, or do you think there’s a clear winner?

Rafi Kam: I like hosting my blog myself so I can customize it any way, have my own domain and have access to all my data. So that rules out hosted services like Blogger. I think most CMS are fairly similar in concept, though I can tell you from having experience with Textpattern and Wordpress that there are pretty key differences in how they work. To me the winner is Wordpress if only because it had all the momentum, and so it has this large community of developers to answer questions, create new themes and plugins. The old Oh Word still runs on textpattern but it’s not much fun having an unpopular open-source CMS. You see this other product being really rapidly improved and extended and start to feel like you’re left in the dust.

Drupal has been getting a lot of attention to for more complex sites but I have no experience with it.

Running the whole operation yourself, time is always at a premium…what systems have been working for you to increase efficiency and reduce time demands?

Rafi Kam: Even though it’s just me now and I used to have a staff, I feel a lot less stress this year probably because of the way the site has changed and the way my perspective has changed from taking those months off. I’m basically just running this personal blog now, instead of having the site be in the style of this zine that it never really was. So I’m just blogging my thoughts on things and just sharing some items. It’s pretty damn casual.

That said, my system is pretty much keep a text file on my desktop or mobile with some ideas I’d like to blog about and update it once in a while. I flag items in google reader with a star to look at later if I think I might want to blog about it. As it turns out I star a ton of stuff that I never blog about but it’s handy to have a place to look back at later for ideas. Twitter serves a similar function at times. Little ideas that maybe I want to revisit later. And sometimes it gives me a place to test out how people react to those ideas.

Brandon Soderberg recently told me that the new Oh Word feels like an extension of my Twitter page, and I guess I’ve helped that connection along by rotating through the same background images on both. Maybe more consciously after he said that.

I have this idea to start scraping some of my favorite blogs for videos, create automated playlists based on them and then remove whatever I want to afterwards but I’ve yet to implement that. It’s this week’s idea.

Nosy question: at Back Brain, we’ve watched our google adsense income dwindle to a fraction of what it was 1 or 2 years ago.  Have you seen anything similar on your projects?

Rafi Kam: Ads never made me a ton of money except when I was running text-link-ads and then I had to worry about getting penalized by google someday. That day never came but I ended up removing them rather than worry about it. And when I brought Oh Word back I just made this decision not to run any ads there. I don’t feel like the money made running ads was worth it for me. Sure, many people do it and readers are being trained to just ignore them. But I felt like this blog represents me and I just want to talk with people and then launch my own commercial projects in the future. I don’t have anything against bloggers who run ads but I just sort of hate the whole advertising model. I don’t want to put stuff in front of my readers that I didn’t decide to put there myself and I don’t want people to have to worry about my credibility or lease out part of my page. Oh Word’s not here to sell other people’s crap that I don’t believe in nor to sell my readers to advertisers.

At the same time, the IC’s are part of the Youtube Partner program so don’t let me get too high and mighty. I’m just trying to keep Oh Word more personal.

Khal from

Khal | Rock the Dub

What kind of systems do you use to reduce the time demands your web projects place on you?

Khal: I try to be as organized as possible when working with projects. I recently bought my first smartphone, so having access to a calendar, as well as my e-mail, helps me keep on top of things if I need to contact someone and get status on things. I’m not ALWAYS at the computer, so if I just need to confirm something really quick while I’m on the go, I do that.

Has ad income been steady for you, or have you seen it dropping off in the past two years?

Khal: For my blog, I’ve actually seen my ad revenue increase over the last few years. I’ve surprisingly seen an increase in hits and such each year - nothing shocking - but for being someone who isn’t affiliated with any larger sites, and work my way to getting consistent hits, its opened doors for me.

What do artists usually get wrong when they try and contact you for favors and features?

Khal: I could go on for days about this, but I’ll just knock down some of my pet peeves. I see a lot of artists who think that just because they send you an e-mail, you’re required to post it. I had one PR guy who shall remain nameless get into an argument with me because he lied and said I’d post his artist’s material, then when I told him that never happened, he began to berate me on how crap my blog was anyways. I also don’t like having to hound you for more info - if you want something posted, make sure you include everything, including pictures and some kind of website link (myspace, twitter, etc.). I’ve also seen a lot of artists send you an email saying they’ve sent an exclusive, but with a simple Google search, you can find it on other sites. Don’t treat bloggers or any kind of writer like they are a fool - that’s the easiest way to not get coverage. Be upfront and honest with your intentions - if it works out, great. If not, that happens too.

Do you think that hip hop blogs have hit an over-saturation point in 09, or is there still a lot of room for new voices, angles and projects?

Khal: There’s always room for new voices and projects, but yes, the fact that so many blogs seem to pop up from no where can discourage or stifle things. Especially when a lot of these bloggers are more concerned with being a star, becoming some kind of web celebrity. You can do a LOT with a weblog, but there are many site who seem to be stuck covering the same artists, the same project, because they think it will bring in hits. That’s part of the reason why I purposefully try to cover different, fresh stuff, and give those opportunities to artists I’m feeling but aren’t getting a lot of press. It’s sort of what RTD is known for in some circles. It’s cool to highlight what you like, but if you highlight it like x amount of popular blogs do it, why bother? And more importantly, why would a reader hit your site when you’re mirroring someone else? They might as well go to the larger site, right?

David Reyneke from


What kind of work went into co-ordinating your mixtape of exclusive material?

Reyn: Yes, the mixtape! That is my pride and joy right there. Ever since this blog became a reality, that was one of the main goals I set out to achieve.  Transmitting Live Volume One was basically built around relationships we had made over the past eight months or so in business. I had met DJ Traumatix over twitter, but our initial talks had little to do with music actually. I requested for some help with my Calculus class and he came around in the clutch to give me a few pointers. After building a bit, I felt very confident in his abilities as a DJ as well as just being a great person, so I gave him the reigns on this mixtape. Also have to shout out Theodor3 for hooking us up with the artwork. Met him through the homie Magnus of A crazy website that I linked up with way back and have been building with ever since!

As for the music on the tape, that was mostly just due to the tons of persistence I threw into making these artists submit music. For the most part, all the artists on here are very close friends that we have made over the past few months. But even with the relationship there, you have to get on there tails and continuously ask for the track. Several songs came in well after the due date, but that was expected, especially since this was our first mixtape. I think it will be much easier for the upcoming projects we are working on. I would love to tell you about some of the stuff we are working on by the way, but that is just going to have to wait!

What do artists usually get wrong when they try and contact you for favors and features?

Reyn: Very glad you asked this question, because it is something that needs to be addressed. The first thing I would love to let all artists know, is that I give each and every one of their submissions a listen. I get a whole bunch of stuff each and every day, so sending the same music eight times is not the right way to go.

When it comes to actually sending music here are some things I look for… Proper Grammar usage, an attached file so I can stream it right out of my gmail account, a usershare link or some media site that has no wait time, and artwork that is very hi-res (none of this 300x300 garbage). Artists have to remember that they are selling a product. If it looks like trash, it will be treated like trash. I understand not everyone has the top-notch resources that some labels have, but you can always try your best and make due with what you do have.

One more thing about this, there is a difference between being persistent and being a jerk. I understand artists are trying to push your music, I did the same with my blog. There is also a difference between asking for a favor, and demanding that we do something. I have no obligations to most artists. Besides a few that do things for us outside of music, why do I “need” to post your new mixtape? It would be great if artists used proper manners when addressing us, stuff like that goes a long way!

Do you think that hip hop blogs have hit an over-saturation point in 09, or is there still a lot of room for new voices, angles and projects?

Reyn: Another good question! I think there are tons of opportunities in the blogosphere. Take a look at us! Only a few months ago soulsupreme and I were just chatting on AIM when I brought up the idea to start a blog. All it takes is determination, persistence and a strong love for hip-hop. I know I sound a lot like a football coach, but that is exactly what it takes.

You could say that the there is an over-saturation of blogs, but that is just one dimension of things. I guarantee you if you search “Kid Cudi” right now, you will come up with at least 500 blogs talking about that dude. If you search someone like ObjektivOne or dumhi, who are both creating some amazing music and we are pushing hard, you will come up with only a few results. And artists like this are almost everywhere, you just need to sniff them out and you can find that lane where your blog belongs. There is a huge demand for new music, there just needs to be someone who has the courage to break away from the cookie-cutter blog model and talk about the music they actually feel.

If you have a unique idea and you think you can do it better than the next guy, go for it! Don’t let anything hold you back. If you want to get MF Doom to hook you up with an exclusive, go to his house and knock on his door and till he throws his mask at you Oddjob style. What do you have to lose? If all else fails, shut the site down and move on with your life. But if it takes off, well then you have one of the most amazing experiences in your life right on your computer screen. It’s amazing, one second you can be eating your Honey Nut Cheerios at the kitchen table, and the next you are talking to an emcee that you have been a huge fan of for several years. The possibilities are endless, just get up, get out and get something! Who said that, Cee-Lo?

One last question I’ve asked everyone else: What kind of systems do you use to reduce the time demands your web projects place on you?

Reyn: When we started the site, I didn’t really plan as well as I should have to be honest. I just didn’t think there would be this much work, I treated it more like a hobby. Now that the site is becoming much bigger and there are tons of people involved, I had to take action. My main suggestion is to stay organized as much as you can, that is the key to success in the blogging world, and in any world really.

Since the real rush has begun, I have started to streamline each operation one at a time. One system we use is dedicated to our album reviews. We have a list on an outside forum and we post up and check off reviews that are available and taken. It seems to be working very well, almost all the writers meet their deadlines and have no problems. That’s just one example of the different systems we have set up for each department of operations.

There Will Be a Next Time…


What questions do you want to see asked in future installments? Who would you like to see getting interviewed? This comment section is an open forum for requests…let a mammal know.

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Music by Justin Boland