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Chuck D and Hip-Hop Legends Meet Mp3s

Big bucks — and big names — fuel a new crop of websites. But do they deliver?

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There were two booms in 1999: hip-hop and MP3. No surprise, then, to see the recent onslaught of new hip-hop sites, including AKA.com, Rapstation.com, Mjuice.com, Y2G.com, Hookt.com (due this month), and Def Jam founder Russell Simmons’ RS1W.com (slated for January). So why’d they all wait till now? ”For a long time,” says Mjuice founder Arnold Brown, ”the analysis went, ‘Hip-hop is targeted at black people, black people don’t have money, black people don’t have computers, black people aren’t online.”’ Regardless of who listens to hip-hop and who goes online, fear of a black planet now seems to have become awareness of a global market. A look at the first new sites to go live:

AKA.com
SLOGAN: The Hip Hop Network Through name-brand partnerships, AKA.com provides news, reviews, interviews, chats, free Web mail, and downloadable music and videos—with a handy hip-hop-specific search engine topping it all off. Unfortunately, you’ll have no idea how sections like AKA Hitlist and MP3 Hitlist differ from one another unless you dive in and discover that one delivers RealAudio streams, and one takes you to content at affiliated sites. B+

Mjuice.com
SLOGAN: Your Digital Music Destination Mjuice.com doesn’t just want to keep it real, it wants to keep it legal. Founded by a Silicon Valley attorney, the site requires a quick registration before granting fans access to secure downloadable songs—by Puff Daddy, Terror Squad, Pharoahe Monch, and many others. The good news is that many downloads include band bios and album artwork. The bad news: Files come in a proprietary format that works only with the Winamp player. Some songs are free; some cost a buck. And while the tracks aren’t exclusively hip-hop (there’s also rock, electronica, jazz, world, and soul), you can sort the music by genre and then by song title, artist name, or price (to push all the free tracks to the top, for example). One question: Couldn’t they squeeze a little search engine into this Mjuice? B

Y2G.com
SLOGAN: The Best of the Life The folks who created FUBU clothing have redirected their ”for us, by us” energies into a lifestyles website for and by hip-hop-friendly Generation Y-ers. Organized into various ”channels,” the site has cast its net as wide as possible by placing investment advice next to sports scores next to profiles of artists like Mos Def. And while some of the easy-branding freebies seem gratuitous—like a Y2G credit card—the Y2G radio player streams an excellent mix of hip-hop/ soul/R&B radio stations like San Francisco’s KMEL and New York’s WBLS. Steering off the music path, there are TV listings courtesy of GIST TV, book sales via Amazon.com, a search function powered by Lycos, and, of course, dope clothes. A-

Rapstation.com
SLOGAN: Break Free From the Matrix Public Enemy frontman Chuck D became MP3’s poster child when he started post-ing incendiary free songs at http://www.public-enemy.com more than a year ago. With Rapstation.com, he’s embarked on an e-mission to ”empower artists” so they can ”break free and learn about the business of the recording industry.” It’s a cluttered, dizzying, text-heavy destination, but one that’s chockful of columns, celebrity interviews (James Earl Jones on racism), MP3 songs with the usual RealAudio previews (example: Poor Righteous Teachers’ ”Can You Feel It”), streaming radio and video, tour schedules, public forums, and a search engine. As with other leaders of the Web’s new school, Rapstation proves you can fight the power—and still have fun. A-