Internetworking

Imagine a star-studded awards show held at one of New York City’s posh night spots, with appearances by Busta Rhymes, Wyclef, L.L. Cool J, Missy Elliot and other hip-hop artists. No it’s not the Soul Train Awards. Welcome to the Online Hip-Hop Awards, the Grammys of the Net, where fans nationwide are able to go online and vote in 21 categories ranging from Website of the Year and Best Online Magazine, to Best New Artist and Album of the Year.

“This is the first music awards show to bridge the divide between a worldwide community of fans and artists using the Internet and technology,” says Felicia Palmer, the show’s co-founder and executive producer. Having gained so much notoriety, there is talk of broadcasting next year’s show on network or cable TV.

The Online Hip-Hop Awards is the brainchild of Palmer and Steven Samuel, co-CEOs of 4CONTROL, a new media production company based in New York. Since its founding in 1995, 4CONTROL has developed Web content, online promotions, and interactive CDs for such clients as MCA Records, Simon & Schuster, and the Tamara Hayle Mysteries series.

4Control’s biggest baby is Support Online Hip-Hop (SOHH, www.sohh.com), a virtual clearinghouse where Web enthusiasts worldwide congregate to share resources, gather information or simply find the latest scoop. “Community” is the growing emphasis behind many Internet companies and Websites today. Even major e-commerce sites are now adding enhanced community features to attract and retain customers. 4CONTROL is a pioneer that has stayed in tune with this movement.

Palmer and Samuel, who are both 28, first cut their teeth in the new media business in 1994 when they co-produced a monthly Internet music newsletter called 4CONTROL Music Wire. “We noticed the presence of a hip-hop environment on the Net, when it cost $1.99 to $2.99 per minute to get on AOL,” says Palmer, a graduate of Cornell University. “There were crews of about 50 people [including Samuel, a rap artist at the time], who were getting online every night to meet in a music chat room and battle other MCs.”

Out of this group of cyberrappers emerged an underground culture. They even created their own language-keystyle-using the computer to write rhymes online, says Samuel. “The purpose of the newsletter was to introduce other young people to the Internet,” he adds. “We had columns about music events that were happening online.”

Hoping to attract advertisers, Palmer and Samuel mailed copies of the first issue and a promotional sheet to more than 500 record executives at 100 different companies, including Arista and Sony. The response: little to none. After only three issues, they halted production, no longer able to shell out-of-pocket expenses of about $1,500 a month to print roughly 500 copies.

Undaunted, they decided to recast the publication as a Website, which was a lot cheaper to run, at around $100 a month. The enterprising duo self-taught themselves about HTML and programming. They officially launched SOHH.com in 1996 to recognize the efforts of Webmasters and hip-hop fans. “In 1994, there was something called

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