Is Okayplayer Played Out?

Illustration for article titled Is Okayplayer Played Out?

What's your favorite "black-out" verse in hip-hop?

When did Black Thought cut off his dreads?

Anyone notice white women growing ass?

The discussions range from the whimsical to the trivial on okayplayer, the pioneering digital home of artists such as The Roots, Common, Erykah Badu, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. For nearly a decade now, okayplayer has promoted artistry in an often-barren world of black pop music. OKP's reviews section is a forum for below-the-radar artists to get heard. Message boards have lit up around politics, race and even, um, body trends.


A space before MySpace, a celebrity face before Facebook, for years, no one on the Internet did black alternative cool quite like okayplayer.

The site is coming up on its 10-year anniversary, an eternity in Web years. And now that the Afrosphere is in full bloom and the very '90s "neo-soul" genre has faded, a question has emerged: Has okayplayer become the digital equivalent to the old man at the club?

Brian "B. Kyle" Atkins, who's been working at the site since 1999, says no. "OKP certainly maintains its relevance, evidenced by the public's site traffic, involvement and enthusiastic participation. OKP offers a unique Web experience to its visitors that not many others can."

True enough. That's what I have always liked about the site. There are no managers or scripts, and some of its artists, like Badu, ?uestlove and Virginia emcee Skillz, are regulars on the message boards, chewing the fat without filters.

Tim M. Atkins, who filmed a documentary on the site, agrees the site is still relevant. But admits that some areas of the site have become an echo chamber. The message boards, for example. "Conversations, you feel like you've had them over and over," he said. Binlahab, an okayplayer since 2000, agrees. "Vets have read it all and are kind of above it all," he said. "Rookies think they are the first people to come on the board and make a post like 'Have ya'll noticed white girls been growing ass?!'"

Okayplayer was born in 1999, the brainchild of The Roots'  ?uestlove and University of Pennsylvania student Angela Nissel, now known for her work as a head writer for television's Scrubs.


At the time, The Roots needed a Web site to promote its Things Fall Apart album and ?uest envisioned a place where fans could enjoy exclusive, behind-the-scenes group access while also chatting online with the actual members.

"?uest is the most eager to interact with the fans and carry out discussions with them on a variety of topics on a peer level," said okpdan, the Web site's brand director. "He's an extreme lover of music and pop culture himself."


The leaders of okayplayer realize it's crucial for the site to continue to evolve. The Roots released its 10th album, Rising Down, in April. To help promote it, OKP officials flipped the switch on a new upgraded site, dubbed the "beta-jawn."

The looks of the blogs are being tweaked, and the site is still being rebuilt, okpdan said. It will also relaunch its artists section, but there's no time frame on the move. And there are plans in the works to commemorate okayplayer's 10-year anniversary.


Over the years, okayplayer has become a gathering place "for people who are fans of those artists and the collective ideals they embody," okpdan said. "It just became this place you could go to talk about music with like-minded folks, and that continues today."

And the industry still seems to think the site is relevant. In October, okayplayer was named this year's Best Hip-Hop Site by VH1 Hip-Hop Honors with 53 percent of the vote. Mochacity finished second with 44 percent, according to a VH1 poll.


Not only is okayplayer still relevant, but it represents all that is good in music. Facebook and MySpace are more personal and allow people to reconnect with long-lost friends and family. But there are few other places on the Web to build friendships with others who share a progressive philosophy about music and get exclusives on new projects directly from the artists who share that sensibility.

OKP allows us to connect personally with the artists we love, and we fall in love with each other in the process. So if we are the old man at the club, at least we are in good company.


Marcus J. Moore, or Double M, has been a member of okayplayer since 2000.