“Grouchy” Greg Watkins is a lot of things. Hip-hop historian is one. Entertainment industry vet and entrepreneur is another. Hip-hop culture connoisseur and musicology philosopher, for sure. Grouchy?
Despite his nickname, Watkins is one of the most pleasant, knowledgeable and well-respected hip-hop heads to grace the mid-Atlantic — and he calls Newark, Del., home. Watkins finds deep personal joy in passing his knowledge on to young up-and-comers, and he makes a point of making himself available and accessible to those looking for tips on navigating the industry.
Why? Because he’s been in the industry since the 1993, when he started his own record label, Oblique Recordings Inc. Watkins said the label was selling MP3s by 1996. It wasn’t the first time Watkins would be on the bleeding edge of new technology.
Back in ’98, two years after he closed the curtains on his label, Watkins and friend Chuck Creekmur founded AllHipHop.com, a website dedicated completely to hip-hop culture.
"We’re no different than ESPN. We have a serious operation. It’s a brand that’s known across the world."
“We cover everything from politics to the daily news of what’s going on inside of hip-hop, analysis of what’s going on inside of hip-hop, reviews, interviews with artists, rumors about what’s happening within the culture and videos, both custom and curated,” said Watkins.
By 2003, Watkins was raking in enough revenue to make AllHipHop.com his full-time job. And he was loving it.
“It was a real cool time. It was just the beginning,” Watkins said. “The labels were still popping. There was a lot of money still in the industry.”
Watkins isn’t telling a tall tale, either. By 2006, AllHipHop.com was attracting more traffic than hip-hop giants Vibe.com and BET.com with 5 million visitors every month. The site was on track to pull in $2 million in revenue by the end of the year, and even Def Jam founder, hip-hop entrepreneur and Run DMC alum Russell Simmons reviewed the site.
“Simply put, AllHipHop.com is such a great resource for hip-hop. I know that I can count on my daily news alerts being accurate and timely and AllHipHop is making a significant impact upon hip-hop,” Simmons wrote.
Watkins said Essence magazine called the site the “CNN of hip-hop,” and by 2007, AllHipHop was generating over $4 million in revenue. By 2009, AllHipHop was nominated for a BET Hip Hop award for best hip hop site — and it’s been nominated every year since (including this year’s awards on Oct. 13).
In 2011, AllHipHop struck up a relationship with Complex magazine, becoming a part of the media company’s ad network. The magazine recently landed a $21 million minority investment from Hearst Corp., but Watkins said the deal does not affect AllHipHop, which continues to produce original content for the magazine’s video platform.
The site has trailed a bit since peaking in the mid-2000s, but both AllHipHop.com and sister site CollegeHipHop.com continue to deliver hip-hop content every day.
“Revenue-wise, if you were to look at it on a graph or curve, you’d see a bit of up and down, up and down, up and down when it comes to what we’ve earned from the actual recorded music industry over the years,” admitted Watkins, adding that he and his company have done their best to stay on top of tech trends by trusting in content.
That deep catalog of hip-hop content is AllHipHop’s best friend.
“As a content creator, having access to such a deep library of music as a brand, being able to create content off of these deep wells of content that Spotify or Tidal [don’t have access to] has been a benefit for us as a brand.”
And while Gang Starr will always be his go-to, Watkins favorite artists right now include Kendrick Lamar, Travi$ Scott and Dizzy Wright.
“We’re a hip-hop website but we’re no different than ESPN. We have a serious operation,” she said. “It’s a brand that’s known across the world.”