This Record Store Day, UGHH has decided to celebrate a hand-picked mix of still-active underground legends with recent releases, canonized underground icons and a couple of cult favorites—creating exclusive sale bundles to salute some of the artists who have made a significant impact on the culture. In doing so, we aim to illustrate underground hip-hop’s longevity—as well as its staying power.

There has been a lot of debate about the state of the underground, recently. Some believe that, thanks to internet technology and the power it gives independent artists to reach wider fan bases, the underground has become the new mainstream—while others attest that, as long as a corporate music industry controls the majority of what does and doesn’t become successful on a mainstream level (despite some exceptions), the underground will continue to exist. Although it is clear that exactly what the underground is has evolved since the polarized “Rawkus Era” of the late ’90s, when emcees were either “independent as fuck” (to quote Company Flow’s old motto) or soulless commercial puppets (with no in-between), we at UGHH subscribe to the ideology that being dubbed underground is more than just an indication of one’s financial status or level of notoriety—and know firsthand that, musically, the underground is very much alive and healthy.

 
Speaking of Rawkus Records, considering that it’s funding was actually provided by the son of Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch, maybe the financial divide between underground and mainstream hip-hop was always a little more complex than once perceived. Regardless, unlike many mainstream artists (who tend to come and go, catering to a fickle corporate music industry that’ll sign and discard talent at the drop of a mixtape), underground emcees and producers often maintain longer, more influential careers. Just ask DOOM, Pharoahe Monch or El-P, to name a few—and try to remember all the one-hit wonders with platinum singles that came and went during the 30 odd years each have been in the game.

In the words of the great DJ Premier, who recently dropped his second PRhyme project with Royce Da 5’9” and remains as influential as ever: “Underground will live forever, baby. We just like roaches: never dyin’, always livin’…”

 

“And on that note, let’s get back to the program…” — Preemo

 

This year, underground Long Island legend Roc Marciano released the sequel to his gritty, soulful masterpiece Rosebudd’s Revenge, one of “UGHH’s Top 10 of 2017”—a contender for one of 2018’s best, as well. Though RR2: The Bitter Dose is only available to pre-order, the original joins his album with former group The UN, UN or U Out, his solo debut Marcberg, his sophomore release Reloaded and his 2013 mixtape The Pimpire Strikes Back in our Roc Marci vinyl bundle.

Having released one of this year’s strongest albums to date, we felt it only right to salute versatile Detroit producer and emcee Black Milk with a bundle. The CD version contains his three most recent joints: No Poison No Paradise, If There’s a Hell Below and, his latest, FEVER—as well as his collaborative project with Danny Brown, Black and Brown! Though FEVER is not yet available on wax, the vinyl bundle includes all of the other aforementioned albums, in addition to Tronic and Album of the Year.

One of the most consistent and celebrated artists the underground has ever spawned, London-born, Long Island-raised DOOM is a cultural icon. With over a dozen albums and collaborative projects under his belt, created using various aliases, the masked super villain has not slowed his conquest for world domination—releasing his most recent collaboration with Czarface this year. In our CD bundle, Czarface Meets Metal Face is offered alongside his fraternal group KMD’s Black Bastards, his solo debut Operation: Doomsday, Madvillainy (his Madvillain collaboration with Madlib), his sophomore album under the MF DOOM moniker, Mm.. Food, and The Mouse and the Mask (by DANGERDOOM, his group with Danger Mouse). In the vinyl bundle, Mm.. Food is replaced by KMD’s first album, Mr. Hood.

What is there to say about Detroit legend J Dilla that hasn’t already been said. Considered the G.O.A.T. by many, Dilla influenced an entire generation of producers—and his signature style has been emulated time and time again. One of the most original, timeless and universally-loved artists hip-hop has to offer, Jay Dee unquestionably made his mark on the game before passing in 2006. Our CD bundle includes his early work with Slum Village (Fan-Tas-Tic, Vol. 1 and Fantastic, Vol. 2), Ruff Draft and his Champion Sound album with Madlib (as Jaylib)—while the vinyl version swaps Donuts for Ruff Draft, and also includes posthumous releases The Shining and The Diary.

Before his untimely death in 2015, Brooklyn representative Sean Price had already become an underground icon in his own right. One of rap’s most consistent lyricists, his tongue-in-cheek wordplay and inimitable, pocketed flow earned him the number one spot on UGHH’s Top 10 of 2017″ list for his posthumous masterpiece Imperius Rex last year. Though he established himself as half of Heltah Skeltah and a member of the Boot Camp Clik, to celebrate his memory, we’ve created a vinyl bundle of his always-stellar solo studio projects: Monkey Barz, Jesus Price Supastar, Mic Tyson, Songs in the Key of Price and Imperius Rex.

Hailing from Connecticut, Apathy is a Northeastern fan-favorite who built a rep as part of the Demigodz crew. In 2017, he released the acclaimed self-titled Perestroika, a group project with D.I.T.C.’s own O.C., and followed it up with a solo offering this year. The Widow’s Son features a ridiculous cast of collaborators including Pharoahe Monch, M.O.P. and AG, as well as DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Nottz and Buckwild on production—and both albums join Weekend at the Cape, The Black Lodge, Honkey Kong, Connecticut Casual, Handshakes With Snakes and Dive Medicine: Chapter 1 in our CD bundle, while the vinyl version excludes Weekend at the Cape, The Black Lodge and Honkey Kong.

Elusive, Bronx-bred trio the Juggaknots are true artists’ artists—revered by practically every emcee that arose from New York City’s underground hip-hop scene in the late ’90s. Though the all-sibling group of Breeze Brewin, Buddy Slim and Queen Herawin only release projects every decade or so, their existing two studio albums, Breeze’s starring role on Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves and some sporadic vinyl releases have managed to uphold the group’s legacy—despite most of their projects’ limited availability. Just last year, over 20 years after its release, a reissue of their classic self-titled debut flew off of UGHH’s shelves—so we decided to secure some rare 12″ vinyl singles (“She Loves Me Not,” “New $/Sumday,” “WKRP In NYC/Generally/J-Solo” and “Berzerkowitz”), as well as the even rarer CD mixtape The Love Deluxe Movement, straight from the source and offer them as part of our exclusive Juggaknots bundle.

I’m excited to announce the launch of UGHH Magazine, one of our first moves to becoming more of a media company. To clarify, we will always be a record store, but to insulate ourselves from changes in consumer behavior of physical media, and capture more people, we are adding things that the rest of the modern Internet is using to our arsenal. I’m going to use this post as an opportunity to give a bit of an update on everything we’ve been cooking up and what you can expect moving forward.

Over the last five months, we’ve put over a collective 1500 hours into the site. That’s not including my own time, Jeremy, Adam’s or that of editorial staff. I’d estimate that if we included all those other people it may be closer to double that. We’ve done a ton of strategic planning and somewhat re-platformed to put rappers and content front and center. We’ve also made sure to connect articles and artist content with their relevant products to make it easier for you to discover new rappers. We’ve been working incredibly hard on this and you’ll soon start to see more and more things happening visually with a complete redesign coming down the pike before the end of the year.

So, I just want to take this moment to shoutout to the iPullRank team for all of their hard work in addition to all other very demanding client work we do.

UGHH Magazine

As I mentioned before, the state of online journalism is generally in disarray when it comes to quality. That’s largely due to performance in the web environment (pageviews) lending itself to low culture content. In other words, cat videos get more views than say – coverage on the State of the Union. Naturally, that is true in any creative pursuit, but the Buzzfeedifocation of music websites as of late has left me unfulfilled as a reader. Despite that, there have been flashes of brilliance on those sites and I want to build UGHH into the magazine that is comprised more so of those flashes of brilliance and does a much better job of getting to the bottom of the story.

In starting UGHH Magazine, we are focusing on digging deeper and telling higher quality stories. We’ve brought on one of the stars of hip-hop, culture writing and general media badass Kathy Iandoli as our Editor-at-Large. She has been reaching out to her network of journalists with legit pens and getting us exceptional stories. On the iPullRank side, our Content Strategy Lead Fajr Muhammad is working with her to push the bar. But please, don’t judge either of these wonderful women based on the grammar and punctuation of what I write.


What you can expect from our publication is a shift away from interviews with rappers built on stock questions. You can expect us to get investigative and dig into the stories that haven’t been told about this community. You can expect better content experiences where we go the extra mile to make things beautiful, data-driven and visually interesting. You can expect not to read articles about articles or news that isn’t news. People that write for UGHH will write the types of articles that they wish they could write on the sites that are solely after the pageview.

We’re a record store, so that monetization avenue affords us the ability to not live solely on advertising and we can invest in quality over the opportunity to drive short attention span traffic. We’re attempting to serve slow-cooked gourmet meals rather fast food.

You can also expect that we will challenge our readers and cover topics and artists that other people won’t. UGHH has long represented hiphop’s counterculture. It was the original platform for the “independent as fuck” movement or mantra. We’er not here to recreate that, rather we’re here to capture its evolution and modernize the approach.


Mela Machinko’s “I Hate the Term ‘Underground'” piece is a fitting example of such an article that challenges commonly held beliefs. I love that she’s tackled the idea head-on because “underground” is such a nebulous concept for the music and culture that we all love.

Kathy and Fajr have done a wonderful job kickstarting the magazine in a short timeframe and I’m excited to see how we collectively grow it into a must read. There is a lot I want to achieve visually on the site and we’re still looking for additional design folks to work alongside our internal design resources to deliver timely production of customized visual elements that will really set the site apart. Do holler if you’re interested.

As of late, we’ve been getting a lot of questions as to how to submit for coverage on the site. For those of you that want a guaranteed video feature in our video section, continue to follow the process on our FAQ page in paragraph with the heading “How Do I Get My Music Video In Your Videos Section.” Those videos are not editorial placements. For those of you looking to get into an editorial feature, shoot your submission to submissions@ughh.com. Just know that those are reviewed once a week and it’s completely up to the discretion of the editorial team to decide what gets coverage.

Everyone else, I invite you to check out the magazine and subscribe to the mailing list. There’s a whole lot of new stuff in the works.

Sales So Far

I made a bit of a pledge to be as transparent as I can with how things are going, so here is a look at year over year sales through the end of May.

For some background, the iPullRank team took over the reins at the end of January and began working on the strategic direction of the company and the site. So, the site had continued doing what it was doing with light changes here and there.

In March, we did a beta launch of the UGHH Premier subscription service starting with our most frequent customers and working our way down to the top 50%. The whole time we’d been gearing up for an April release of the new content-driven version of the site and UGHH Magazine in advance of Record Store Day. We missed April on that release, but we were still able to have what Adam called the best Record Store Day to date. Mid-May we finally got the new site live, but ran into technical difficulties with Shopify that caused the store to be down for a day and made us pivot on a core part of our strategy.

Also, with dramatic change in site structure, you can expect an initial drop in traffic and sales of some kind. All in all, we are ~10k short of the revenue that the site generated in 2016, but showing a small profit whereas the company had lost nearly 4k by this time. I’m happy that the opportunity cost has not been much higher to get us to this point, because now we have the infrastructure and access in place to pivot much more quickly.


That said, our expenses are still quite high because we took on the debt that the company already had. We’ve been systematically honoring all those debts and paying them down while at the same time kicking off new initiatives. So, while the business expenses are a bit lower in aggregate, they creep up as we continue to reinvest in the business.

That said, we very much appreciate everyone who has shown their support to help keep us going.

WTF is UGHH Premier?

As I mentioned above, UndergroundHipHop.com is becoming a media company. We will always be an e-commerce company bringing you the best is in physical media like vinyl, cd, t-shirts and whatever other merchandise rappers can dream up. In fact, we are actively seeking partnerships to create such original merchandising. Roc Marciano action figure anyone?

The media model is built from subscription. Naturally, the more subscribers we have, the bigger things we can do. Right now, we’ve got podcasts and mix shows in the works and we are in talks with folks about releasing albums and documentaries with hopes that we can expand into custom programming like online tv shows in the future. UGHH Premier is our answer to Amazon Prime with a heavy helping of the Netflix model. For those that don’t remember, when Amazon Prime first launched in 2005 it was largely about free shipping and it wasn’t until about 2012 when evolved into a multitude of media-driven perks. The current perks for UGHH Premier customers are:

  • VIP Pricing
  • Priority Customer Service
  • Free Entry to Concerts
  • Access to Exclusive Music and Video
  • Early Access to Exclusive Super Limited Releases
  • Access to Flash Sales

You might wonder why we don’t offer free shipping with this, it’s entirely a technical limitation that we will remedy once we switch e-commerce platforms. Another common question I get is “why would rappers do a release with us in such an ‘isolated’ environment?” Really, there’s two reasons:

  1. The independent rap audience is still on UGHH in a very focused way. Unlike Bandcamp or Facebook, you’re not competing for attention with more famous people and memes. When you’re on the UGHH platform, a visitor is looking for a specific thing. So, would you rather get 20% of 250,000 people’s attention that really care or 0.000001% of 1.6 billion that don’t? I’ll answer that for you, you want the more focused attention.
  2. We offer a better deal than a record label wherein backend is an actual material thing. Additionally, because our model is subscription-based, artists get paid every year for a single sale.


For our customers, I believe all the current incentives are worthwhile, but since our customer base is rightfully very price-conscious, let’s focus there. We did competitive pricing analysis that revealed we were, on average 8.6%-15.2% more expensive than sites in our competitive set for products that we both sell. Note: There are plenty of products that we sell that are unique to us so it was never fair to say that UGHH was expensive. In some cases, our competition is also a distributor or a label so they have more control over prices or can sell certain items cheaper as a loss leader. Then there was one site that sells items for dramatically lower prices, but their stock is way smaller than ours. So, the 15-20% VIP discount that UGHH Premier members receive effectively makes UGHH the best option for purchasing your music. That discount applies to any sale items as well, so it quickly pays for itself. All the additional incentives just sweeten the deal.


Thus far we’ve secured exclusive music from Ghostface, Conway the Machine, Smif & Wessun, Cormega and many more. We’ve gotten Premier subscribers into concerts headlined by Raekwon, Arrested Development, B.o.B, Devin the Dude, Das Efx, Ceschi, and more. You can certainly expect the perks to grow and our ability as the program matures. If you haven’t signed up, head over to the UGHH Premier page and get started today.

Ultimately, UGHH Premier is a way for us to hook our customers up and a way for us to build better avenues for rappers to release their music where they can make more money.

PackFM40 and UGHH Powered Shows

PackFM is turning 40, today actually, and is throwing a concert this coming Friday to celebrate that. PackFM being both UGHH family and my real-life family made it obvious that we should use this opportunity to pilot the “UGHH Powered” show.


The UGHH Powered conert entails promotion of the show through our various channels, giveaways, a premium artist page, UGHH kiosks at the show and filming of the show in 360 video for view on the UGHH Premier channel. These are also shows that UGHH Premier customers can get free entry into.

Another component of this is putting quality standards in place, much like Rhymesayers Entertainment has seemed to develop with their tours. When have you gone to a Brother Ali show, heard bad sound, an annoying host, a substandard performance or had the party start late? Shouldn’t every show you spend your hard-earned money and time on be the same?

The goal is to build a promoter network of UGHH Powered shows and continually improve the quality of the show experience for show-goers. Promoters and artists interested in joining the network, please contact Jeremy@ughh.com.

We hope that you’ll join us for PackFM’s show on June 16th. Get your tickets here.

UGHH20 Update

On the topic of shows, you must be wondering about the 20th anniversary show that we’ve been cooking up. We ran into a bit of a roadblock with finding the right headliner that the venue believes can pack in the 2500 capacity space, but this is still a super high priority concert for us. We really want to deliver an incredible show experience and don’t want to have to cut corners on anything.

We’re working on enlisting some help in this area and we hope we can announce the date and the lineup in the coming weeks. Nonetheless, we are still aiming for September and I’m excited about the rest of the lineup that we have built.

UGHH HQ is Moving to NYC

Earlier this week, Jeremy drove a U-Haul to NYC from Boston to move UGHH to the iPullRank office in NYC. While Adam and Jeremy will still be based in Boston, UGHH will be HQ’d in NYC moving forward. With our shift to more of a media company this makes sense since the iPullRank office is in the heart of NYC’s media center, a block away from Rockefeller Center and two blocks from Complex.com.


Jeremy will focus more on business development, Adam will focus on site maintenance and customer service and our new NYC-based guy Lou will focus on order fulfillment and UGHH Premier customer service.

We’ve begun filming video in the office and will continue to use iPullRank resources to create things until UGHH outgrows the space and moves to its own office here in NYC. So, rappers, give us a shout as you make your promotional rounds.

What About The Forum?

Users on the forum have said that I haven’t talked about the forum enough. We have a lot of things in the works for the forum. The iPullRank team has scoured the feedback in the threads and has given a lot more visibility to forum by directly linking to the boards from the homepage. I personally recognize the forum as one of the few vibrant hiphop communities that is still alive.

Previously, most hip-hop sites had message boards and this is one of the few that has stood the test of time. That said, I have not wanted to stir the pot too much to date, but there will be a lot of change moving forward. Once Adam finishes with the migration of all the historical data to the new platform, we will be on a modern message board software and we’ll have all the required features to breathe new life into it. We’re building a better integration with the rest of the site so you won’t need to have separate logins for each section and we’ve got some ideas for content that is specific to the forum. For example, we’ll be doing a PackFM AmA this week.

There is a lot coming to get people more involved and I’m excited to share it with y’all. So don’t worry forum heads, I got y’all.

We’re Still Looking to Work with You

While the team we’ve put together is strong and we are systematically plugging away at our goals, we’re still looking to get you involved. Whether you’re an artist going looking for a home for your next release or a writer tired of writing articles about articles, a promoter looking to enter the UGHH Powered show network, or a member of our community that wants to just contribute somehow, we’d love to hear from you. As always, you can reach me at mike@ughh.com.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll catch y’all on the next update and hope to see those of y’all in the Greater NYC area at the PackFM40 show. Thank you for your continued support.