“When you think of hip-hop blogs, you think of us.” —LowKey, YouHeardThatNew

In 2009, Vibe magazine closed its doors, marking the end of an era. Founded by Quincy Jones and Time Warner in 1992, the magazine became a source for widely celebrated, award-winning journalism, and propelled the careers of everyone from 2Pac to Mariah Carey. Although Vibe was damaged by the recession and a stumbling music industry, its subscription numbers were solid. But the Internet caused the rates for print advertising to decline precipitously. The lower rates for online advertising didn't make up the difference, so few publications were willing to make the jump and invest fully in a web-driven direction. Established, undernourished websites like SOHH and AllHipHop moved sluggishly to fill the void, perhaps not recognizing the opportunity before them. More than other genres, hip-hop has a constant churn of news and music—diss tracks, rumors, radio freestyles, and illicit mixtapes have long been the culture's hidden backbone, flourishing outside the market of radio singles and major label albums. Likewise, the nonstop drip-drip-drip of music leaks had become a flood. With the music industry helpless to stop up the dam, the genre had a massive, invested audience, a surplus of product, and no platform.

This was the empty space a new generation of personalities and enthusiasts clambered to fill. And soon business was booming. As more and more readers shifted to the Internet for daily news and music, there was a huge opportunity to shape the conversation—and few magazines aggressively pursuing online audiences. In their place grew an ad hoc collection of independent hip-hop blogs, which rose in influence disproportionate to their small size, when compared with the fully-staffed magazines that came before them. In 2008, while print media foundered, seven of the biggest brand names in hip-hop blogging came together to form the New Music Cartel, whose members became the gatekeepers in a new era for hip-hop media: 2DopeBoyz, OnSmash, YouHeardThatNew, Xclusives Zone, Miss Info, DaJaz1, and the father of them all, NahRight. In the process, some bloggers became, for a brief window, rich.