Filed under: In The Trenches,Internets,Interviews,Lost In Yonkers,Not Your Average
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Photo: Alexander Richter
If you want to check the newest/latest in the rap world, you’re first stop on the intehnets is probably gonna be Nah Right. As the originator of aggregate-style content back when your average hip-hop blog was usually an article with a couple of mp3′s at the end, eskay has carved-out his own lane in the blog game over the past four years, reaching the point where even you’re favorite rapper is checking it on the daily. I spoke to eskay about a month ago, starting off with some discussion of his life before blogging.
Robbie: What can you tell me about your graff days?
eskay: I started writing in 7th grade. I was a little toy, I didn’t know how to write – that’s how most writer’s start out. I actually stole my name from Subway Art. That was my graffiti bible, basically. I was 11 or 12 and I didn’t know shit about graffiti, other than what I saw on trains when I went to the city or what I saw on walls around my way. So I got Subway Art, and it had that SKEME piece on the cover and I was like, ‘Oh, I like that name’. I’m gonna take it’. I didn’t really understand that that’s not how it works! You could get killed for taking another writer’s name at the time! [chuckles] I was only writing walking back-and-forth the five blocks to school, or going up the park where there was a bunch of graff, so I wasn’t really violating like that. I quickly learned that you can’t do that, so I just shortened it to SK and I’ve had that name ever since. I used a bunch of different spellings nowadays I use ESKAY, although I’m kinda retired from graff now. In my high school days I started chilling in the city more. I ran around in Washington Heights and Brooklyn a lot and started to link with the more famous writers. I could go on for hours about that…
Were you mainly a bomber or did you get into piecing?
Trains were over by that time I started writing – this was early 90’s, so trains were finished. It was all walls and street bombing at the time. Now in New York city you hardly see any graff on the train stations, but back then in the early 90’s, even though the trains were clean, a lot of the stations were still bombed. I chilled in Washington Heights a lot, and the 1 Line runs through Manhattan, so we would really hit the 1 Line a lot. We would do rooftops and store-gates and all the standard graff spots that you hit. I really wasn’t into piecing too much. I tried it, but it takes a lot of talent. I consider myself a pretty good writer – I was pretty good at throw-ups and stuff like that – but I never got into big productions. I really was more of a street bomber. I did a lot of tagging and a lot of fill-ins and that’s pretty much it. I never really got into the more artistic stuff.
What was the next step after that? Pause tapes? Deejaying?
Yeah, definitely used to do pause tapes. Stretch and Bobbito, early 90’s, was our main source of underground, non-mainstream rap. We were staying-up late to tape that and make pause tapes of our favorite joints. This was the time when I was juts getting into high school – mainly Stretch and Bob and Yo! MTV Raps. That was like our only source of new music for the most part. I started doing more cohesive mixtapes later on, once the internet hit, but real early on it was the two-deck cassette radio joint of shit recorded off the radio. [laughs]
I assume you used to cop all the Clue mixtapes?
Definitely. Real early on it was Ron G, Double R, S&S, those guys were real big in the early 90’s and then the Clue era hit. Clue really changed the mixtape game – he moved it into the exclusive era where your mixtape didn’t really matter unless you had some new, exclusive shit. Back then, you couldn’t even get that shit in Yonkers, so we had to take our bus pass and hop on the Yonkers bus system to the 4 train, then go to Fordham Road to Young Star on Fordham to get all the new shit at the time. It was really only Clue at the time that was killing it like that. So we’d go down – hop the train of course – then hit 181st for some weed, you know?
What were they charging for a Clue tape?
Five or six dollars back then.
Then pop that shit in the Walkman…
Yeah, man, with the big fuckin’ headphones and no rewind button! Only fast forward, so you had to flip the tape over and fast-forward it if you wanted to hear the song again! [laughs]
What about copping bootlegs off the street vendors?
Early on, there were only a few spots you could go to to cop the tapes but then the bootleggers started to come in real heavy. They were bootlegging not only the albums that were coming out at the time, but they were also starting to bootleg the mix CD’s. You would walk-up Fordham or 125 and you would see tables of albums and mixtapes. It’s crazy to think about now, ‘cos you could never do that in New York now, but back then it was a free-for-all. You need a license now to even stand out there and sell anything, and you definitely can’t sell bootleg shit out there in the street!
There wouldn’t be much of a market for bootleg CD’s now anyway.
Right. Nowdays, you really only see bootleg DVD’s.
So was there anywhere in Yonkers to cop new music back then?
The center of Yonkers is Getty Square. That’s the downtown area of Yonkers, and the main area where there are clothing stores and the main hub for the bus system, so before school or after school that’s where everybody would stop and link-up. That’s where all the fights would happen and all that shit. There was a record store that was in square for many, many years – I wanna say it was called Music Man – and they would have shit, but they would always have it late. Yonkers was always late on shit. You could go there and get a Clue CD, but you would get it a couple of weeks after the fact – nowadays, to get something a couple of weeks after the fact is like ancient – but back then it was so bad, but we still wanted that shit the day the day it dropped, so we’d go downtown and find it.
What was the rap scene like in your neighborhood back then? Were you messing with The Warlox?
I really didn’t pay attention to The LOX when they were The Warlox. I guess I wasn’t really interested in local MC’s at the time. DMX was big in Yonkers as a local artist at the time. There were a bunch of dudes from Yonkers – Black Jesus, Phil Blunts – but I never really got up on The LOX until they became The LOX and signed with Diddy. I always remember the first time I heard a LOX joint was when my man played it for me. It was on a Bad Boy mixtape and he was like, ‘Yo, these cats are Yonkers’. I was like, ‘Oh, shit! My city is coming up!’ A lot of my peoples went to school with The LOX at the time, my man Amaury – KEM – he always tells me the story he put Styles P onto Nas. He brought Illmatic to school and played it to Styles P for the first time. He always takes credit for making Styles want to rap after he heard the Nas…[laughs] But I honestly wasn’t paying a lot of attention to them when they were just local Yonkers rappers.
How did you get into the I.T. game?
After I left high school I went and I did a year at Borough of Manhattan Community College down on Chamber Street. That shit was just another high school, basically. It was just a fashion show and popularity contest. [laughs] I was majoring in Liberal Arts, which basically means I don’t know what the fuck to do with my life! I did a year there and I was like, ‘Fuck this!’ and dropped out and got a job working fast food at Popeye’s. I was the fried chicken man! [laughs] I think we’ve all put in a little bid at a fast-food place at some time or another. Then my sister-in-law got me a job in the mail-room at the publishing house that she worked at. At that age and at that time that was all me and my boys could ever aspire to was like a fuckin’ mail-room job downtown. That was like the ultimate job you could get. [laughs] I did that for like a year and a half, maybe two years and the company had a real entry-level position in the I.T. department, doing help-desk, answering the phone and doing trouble tickets and stuff like that. So I applied for it and I got it – I guess it’s cheaper for them to hire somebody from within and give them a shit salary than it is to hire somebody that actually knows what they’re doing!
At that point, the extent of my computer knowledge was basically fucking around with my dad’s AOL account. Going into chat rooms, trying to talk to girls…this was ’97, so back then you wouldn’t even get an mp3. You’d get a Windows Media file or a Real Audio file back then…so I didn’t really know shit about computers, but when I got that job I just buckled down and really started studying on my own. The company paid for some classes and stuff, so I did that for the next seven years or so. I eventually rose from a lowly call center guy to pretty much supervisor of my department. If I had never gotten that job I probably wouldn’t be a blogger today, so it’s kinda ill how that shit played out.
So at what point did you start using company resources to start blogging?
Around 2004 I discovered blogs, and that year I really started reading blogs heavily and I discovered a few hip-hop blogs. Around May of 2005 I decided, ‘Let me start a site’. I actually had a little personal Blogspot blog before that, where I just wrote about nonsense that nobody really cares about – like my own personal life and shit – then I said, ‘Lemme do a real, actual site’. I had the nahright.com domain name that I had purchased a couple of months before, so I bought some hosting and set-up a site.
I’m trying to remember what blogs were out back then…
It was like O-Dub, Beats and Rants…were you around back then? Did you start that year?
Yeah, but I didn’t really do anything good until mid-2005.
Right. Hashim’s blog…you’d Google ‘hip-hop blogs’ and it would come-up with site. He was up on his search-engine optimization real early…He also had a short-lived mixtape site which I did reviews for early on. I think I had already launched Nah Right at the time though.
Was Bol around back then?
I’m pretty sure he was around.
Jay Smooth was for sure.
Jay Smooth was a big inspiration to me.
Something I find amusing is that dude’s try and have these fancy-ass templates, but you’re stuck with a default WordPress theme. It’s proven that it’s all about the content.
At the time I had big plans in my head, I was like, ‘If this thing ever gets going, I’m gonna redesign it and I‘m gonna make it all pretty with logos and graphics and all that shit’. As time passed and the site got popular, a lotta people were like, ‘I like the simple layout. That’s a big factor in why I like your site so much’. So I was like, ‘You know what? Fuck it. I’m just gonna leave it like this’. Like you said, it’s all about the content.
Was there a turning point where you went, ‘Holy shit! This is getting good!’
Hashim was working at SOHH at the time – he was the Blog Editor – and he asked me to do their New York blog. He was one of the first people to really say, ‘This kid might have something to offer here, let’s give him a shot’. So I did that. The moment I realized, ‘Oh shit, I might have something here!’ was when Bun B reached out to me to do an interview…a site had done an interview where the writer claimed that saw him in the strip club and they sat-down for this interview. Bun said, ‘I wasn’t in the strip club. I never did the interview with you. This interview is fraudulent. He kinda reached-out to me to set the record straight and give his side of it and denounce the interview, basically. I got on the phone with him – first of all, it was amazing that somebody like Bun would be reaching out to me. I was amazed that he even knew about my site, but then while I was on the phone with him he really told me, ‘Yo, you know you really got something there. There’s a lotta people in the industry who read your site and pay attention to it, quiet as kept’. I figured that maybe a few people were looking at my site, but that’s when it really it really hit home that I had something that was starting to pop. Soon after that, Elliott [Wilson] reached out to me and offered me a job at XXL.
Next up: eskay’s time at XXLmag.com , the evolution of Nah Right and why the Nah comments section is ‘the gulliest on the internet’…
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