A People with Passion series
November 4, 2011: Andrew Barber
Growing up outside of Indianapolis, Fake Shore Drive founder Andrew Barber fell in love with hip-hop the way many of us did: he heard it. Magazines, television, and radio fueled the love, and at the age of 26, living in Chicago, Barber took advantage of blogs, a new medium within a new medium, and launched fakeshoredrive.blogspot.com. Four years later, it’s his full-time job.
In the 14th installment of Jack M Silverstein’s Chicago journalism People With Passion series, Barber outlines his love of the culture, his path to Fake Shore, and his competition with Chicago’s “legitimate” news sources.
I grew up in Anderson, Indiana, which is a little outside of Indianapolis. They had a paper called the Harold-Bulletin, but it never spoke to me like reading the Source or magazines like that. I’d read books as a kid and all that stuff, but I cared much more about hip-hop than anything else. I always have. Those were my favorite things to do, going to the music store, the grocery store, wherever would have the Source magazine – as soon as it would come out I would be there. My mom would drive me there, my dad would drive me there, and I’d look for it. That, Rap Pages, any of those magazines from back then.
The first tape I had ever was He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper from DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. There was a song on there called “Nightmare on My Street” about Freddy Kreuger. That was at the height of Nightmare on Elm Street, when that was popular. Will Smith made a song about that, so we bought the tape. We loved DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” We thought they were cool because they seemed so much older than us. They looked like cool teenagers.
Then after a while you realize, “This is okay, but this is kind of soft compared to what Public Enemy’s talking about.” You see what Public Enemy’s talking about with Fight the Power and Fear of a Black Planet and all of this political stuff that you didn’t know was going on. You’re seeing them marching through Brooklyn, these videos with the signs – this was an introduction to something different. A little harder, and a little more militant. Same with NWA.
So then it’s like, “Well, screw DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. They’re rapping about sneaking out of the house and taking their parents’ car for a joy ride! NWA’s talking about fuck the police! This is some other stuff.” They’re cussing. They’re saying dirty words, and my parents don’t want me to have it. There’s a sticker on it.
I remember when one of my friend’s older brother’s turned me on to NWA. He was like three years older than me, and he had it. I was nine, and he was 12. He let me borrow it, I took it home, and I tried to have my dad dub a copy for me, a cassette tape. They put it on and, “Straight Outta Compton, crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube.” They were like, “No! You cannot have this!” They drove it back to his parents’ house and I started crying. I was devastated. From then on I had somebody else dub it for me, and I hid it in a bottom drawer of my house.
The Source was like ’86 – ’85, ’86. Dave Mays started it in college. And of course I didn’t know about it. Before the internet, you’re a young white kid, I wasn’t in Brooklyn, I wasn’t in New York or L.A. In the Midwest in general, there wasn’t anything going on.
I started exploring this stuff. The only information you could find was Rap City on BET, which I did have. I would watch that everyday, and I would watch Yo! MTV Raps on Saturdays until they started doing it everyday with Dr. Dre and Ed Lover. I would watch those shows everyday. That’s where I would learn about everything. That’s where you would learn about the rappers before there were the magazines that were syndicated.
Then Rap Pages came out, and Word Up! and those kinds of magazines. I would see them at Borders or wherever, and I would get them anytime I saw them. That’s where you would see the advertisements. You’d get to read reviews, and you’d get to see “This album coming soon!” so you’d know what the release dates were. You would read pieces on them and interviews. That was my way into the culture and learning and reading about these people.
Now there’s so much information available (snaps fingers) instantly on Twitter, that you can find anything about anybody. Wikipedia. But back then, even though they had videos, all you had was videos and magazines. You knew who they were and they kind of had characters in the videos. You kind of had to imagine what these people were really like.
Were you doing any journalism in high school?
No. Well I was on the yearbook and the newspaper. I guess that is journalism. That’s what it is! I guess I was doing it. I was on the yearbook and the newspaper.
I went to Indiana University. And I didn’t do anything at IU. I would just read fanatically about hip-hop. I’ve always been a music head, so I was into music, but in college there obviously weren’t blogs then. I never took journalism classes in college. That wasn’t my interest. I was more interested in partying with girls and not really even worried about schoolwork. I was there for the social aspect, which I kind of regret now. I wish I would have paid more attention and been a little bit more focused on that, but I did okay. I graduated with a 3.2 or something.
I knew that I always wanted to work in the music industry. My concern in college wasn’t so much writing about hip-hop. It was more, I want to be in the music business. I want to have a label, I want to be an A&R, I want to get a job at Jive or Def Jam. That’s my goal. Landed a position at Q101 for an internship. I knew a family friend who was working there in sales and he got me the gig. I moved here for the summer, worked at the station, and I loved it. Summer of ’03. Before my fifth year.
I did that and I loved it. I love doing radio. I worked for Mancow and they were putting me on air to do dumb stuff. And Sludge who was an on-air personality at the time, and they let me do skits and interview people. I remember I got to interview Evanescence and I was like, “This is so cool!” I was touching something that I always wanted to do and be a part of. “Okay, this is it.”
After I graduated I moved to Chicago. I didn’t have a job, but all my friends were here and I just wanted to get up here. At that point I’m looking for anything. I got an ‘in’ with FX television network, but it was doing sales. Advertising sales. I didn’t care, because I was like, “This is a major television network.” Maybe I can’t work in music, but I’ll go work in TV.
But being right out of college, I didn’t know that selling advertising was completely unrelated to the creative aspect. I figured that maybe with my connections I could get in there and it would lead to something else. Of course it didn’t. I’d been working here for a few years, and that was when the blogs started popping up all over the place. ‘04/’05 blogs start popping up.
That sounds right. Facebook started in ’04.
Yeah, so it wasn’t there when we were at IU. We didn’t have it then. I was just reading blogs all the time. I started out reading the hip-hop websites, allhiphop.com, HipHopDx, whichever ones were around at the time. It was funny, it was wittier, it wasn’t written like traditional journalism. You could show more personality. I thought that was really cool. I read them for two years. I sat back and was like, “You know what? This is something that I can do. These guys are not more knowledgeable than I am. They’re saying nothing that I couldn’t say and that I couldn’t say better.”
One day, it was October of ’07, I just kind of started it. I’m like, I’m in Chicago, and there’s this crazy music scene. There’s all this stuff going on locally that nobody’s covering. Lupe was getting coverage. Twista. Of course Kanye and Common. If you weren’t one of those four, you didn’t exist. These dudes in Chicago had nothing. The Cool Kids weren’t even getting coverage. They were starting to pop up a little here and there, but they weren’t really popping online at all like that.
Let me cover my town. Let me cover what’s going on here. If nobody else is doing it, I’ll do it. I’ll post events. If I hear about something going on – 9th Wonder is going to be at Abbey Pub – I’ll post a flyer. Wu-Tang Clan’s coming to town – I’m going to try to get a pass and cover it. Or I’ll buy a ticket, I’ll write about it, I’ll take video.
I was sitting in my apartment one day and I was hungover, and I was like, “Man, I want to start blogging. I’ll just do it today.” (claps hands) The name Fake Shore Drive popped in my head. I wanted it to be something Chicago. That’s something people could easily remember. Started a little blogspot, fakeshoredrive.blogspot.com, and I just started going to events, taking pictures, writing, reviewing, just random stuff. Anything I could.
I made a stack of cards. I bought like 2000 cards for 100 bucks, and I was just going to any event that I could and passing out cards. I would go to anything hip-hop related. Any concert. It was crazy. I had my address on them and my phone number, stuff I wouldn’t even imagine doing now. I was just thirsty to get on. I was passing out these cards, and people are like, “What is this? What do you do? What’s a blog? You want me to send you my music for free? Yeah right!” People didn’t know about it here then. It was before mp3 blogs had really blown up, so people were looking at me crazy. But I kept being persistent.
I hit up rappers through MySpace: “Please send me something. Send me your videos, let me premier them.” Eventually people started coming around. Some big names. I got a couple breaks. Bump J, who’s now in jail for bank robbery, he got a big deal from Atlantic, a million dollar deal, and he somehow got off his label. I did a post about it: “Bump J is out of his contract at Atlantic. He’s a free agent. We’re happy. I can’t wait for him.”
Somebody in their camp must have been reading the site. They must have been googling him or they found the site somehow. They emailed me. “Yo, can we send you some music? Bump J’s free and we love your site. Can we work with you?” I’m like, “Are you kidding?” So they started sending me music. I was befriended by the most gangster rap crew in the city. These guys are co-signing me. They’re introducing me to No I.D. and Mikkey Halsted and L.E.P. I get to meet the Legendary Traxster through them, and that introduces me to Twista. All of a sudden one dot connects another, one door opens another. Boom! I’m in the door with all of these people. I’m talking to Rhymefest on the phone. These rappers know who I am. This is really cool.
I like being known as a blogger, but you also want to be respected. So you have to be factual. You have to be a legitimate source. Now the RedEye and publications like that can quote me because they know I’m a legitimate source. I may not be an accredited source like a newspaper or whatever, but I’m legitimate. I’m consistent. I don’t post ridiculous, salacious stories like a Media Takeout. I don’t post crazy videos like a World Star Hip-Hop. I do consider what I do journalism, because I’m just not writing crazy, ridiculous whatever. I’m documenting this. I would call that journalism. I’m documenting this scene.
Doing this – I’m out, I meet the people, I have personal relationships with most of the rappers now. They’re my friends. A lot of times it’s like, Dude, this song that you gave me sucks. Your album is not good. But they’re your friends. It’s not like you can rip on them. But at the same time, you’re a journalist. You owe it to yourself and to your readers to let somebody know that this is crap. That’s when it becomes a different thing. I’ve had rappers get mad at me. I’ve had people call me, threaten me.
I do believe that sometimes it’s better not to say anything. Let the people speak about it. That’s the good thing about blogs. Now with commenters, yeah, a lot of it is slanderous and obnoxious, but the people will speak if they don’t like it. If they love it, they’ll say something, and if they hate it, they’re also going to say something.
So somebody who you’re friends with whose music you respect, they send you the latest track, and you listen to it and you’re like, (makes “this is bad” face). What do you do?
I’ll post it.
Is it clear from your description that you’re not as excited about it as you normally are when you love something?
Yeah. That’s true. I’m sure you can read between the lines. I won’t come out and say, “This is hot garbage.” (Laughs.) Sometimes I want to, believe me, but it’s also a hip-hop thing – as tough as these rappers are, they’re super sensitive. They get mad. They’ll want to fight you. They’ll come looking for you. At the same time, you have to preserve yourself, and your brand. You have to be fair.
Obviously a blog’s not going to get the same kind of love as somebody who writes for the Tribune, the Sun-Times, the RedEye, the Reader. At the end of the day, even though it’s become more than just a blog in the eyes of people that are more powerful than me, it’s still a blog.
But I have earned a lot of respect, and I get access to stuff now, shows that beforehand only certain publications could get. I’ll give you an example. A few weeks ago, Common was doing his book release party. I was the only hip-hop blog there. There wasn’t a Rap Radar or Smoking Section. Ruby Hornet wasn’t there. Go Where Hip-Hop wasn’t there. Luckily I knew people – they were like, “You can do this, but we can’t guarantee that Common’s gonna do this. You’ve got NBC 5 in front of you. You’ve got CelebTV in front of you. You’ve got the Trib in front of you.”
Common did, I think he did the Tribune, and then he’s like, “They gotta go. They gotta go.” And they’re like, “There’s all these other publications here. Fake Shore’s here.” And he’s like, “Where’s Fake Shore? I’m doing them, and everybody else can go.” He left the red carpet and sat down with me like we are right now. He didn’t just answer questions with a mic in his face on the red carpet. He sat down and gave me five minutes.
He knew it was more important to talk to me than it was necessarily to talk to any other of those big publications. “Fake Shore Drive? These guys know what they’re talking about. They’re legit. They represent Chicago. I’m going to give them my time, and more time than I gave everybody else.” I thought that was pretty cool.
I still worked at FX until about eight months ago. Now I’m doing this full-time. By the grace of God, you know, I’m very fortunate, I’m very happy that I’m able to do this. I think it comes from those years of me reading about hip-hop and being a student of the culture, a student of the music, being knowledgeable about it, being able to write about it, doing things in a timely fashion, being consistent, being accurate, and being somebody that people trust.
The access between blogs and other publications has changed. I remember when I used to have to fight to cover this stuff. Now it seems like there’s so many blogs. There’s like ten blogs in Chicago. And they all can get access because people just want coverage. You go to a show and there’s no fans anymore. There’s everyone with a flip cam trying to get footage. There’s everybody backstage getting an interview trying to ask the same questions. You go and compete with ten other sites to get an interview where people are asking the same questions, where people are rushing to get home to put it up before you. It’s that kind of game. So now I’m trying to do more of a slow approach and get better interviews and different access to different people. Not just guys who come through the market and stop through Chicago. I try to talk to legends and really do things.
There’s probably five other blogs that try to do what I do. I’m not saying Ruby Hornet or Go Where Hip-Hop because they’ve been around almost as long as me. I’m talking about blogs that say, “We cover Chicago artists better than Fake Shore Drive. Fuck Fake Shore Drive. We’re taking them out. We’re gonna be the next one. Watch yourself.” They’ll hit me up on Twitter all day. They’ll email me. They’ll say snide remarks on Facebook and stuff like that. People are gunning for me. Like, “We want your spot.”
I’m like, “Alright, here’s my blueprint. I’ll teach you how to do it! You see what I’ve done. Can you do it better than me? You can get access. Fine, you’re in there. You’re in the door. But are people going to come to you? Do people trust you? Are you good? Are you consistent? Is this something that you really want, or are you just trying to do this so you can go to shows for free and meet rappers and hang out with rappers and stuff like that?” I feel like a lot of people now are just starting blogs and tumblrs and stuff like that just so they can get access to people.
I stay super hungry. I don’t want to lose. I don’t want people to beat me at this. I want to compete with the big dogs, the nation-wide blogs. I want a spot. I’m going to work as hard as I can to be relevant and remain relevant and not lose my spot. Not even just being Chicago, but anywhere. Like I said, I worked a full-time job and did Fake Shore. I’m doing two full-time things. I’m living two lives. I’m working corporate, and I’m running a blog while I work there. When I get off work I’m going to events and doing interviews and updating my site. A lot of people start blogs and then get lazy and don’t want to do it anymore. They just don’t have the hunger or the drive. And I’ve thankfully never lost the drive.
I now get to make a living at this. I hope that I keep it up. Obviously I don’t look at it like blogs killed newspapers, or radio and TV – all of these things can exist. But what’s going to come along next? What’s going to be the next blog? What’s going to be the next thing? Are blogs dying out? Is Tumblr next? Are people just going straight to Twitter? It’s always about keeping your eye on what’s next. It’s not about being a dinosaur and saying, “Well, this is what I do and I’m just going to keep doing this.” No. It’s finding other ways to keep my brand relevant, trying to diversify what I do. It’s maintaining relevancy and not growing complacent.
I’m more focused than ever. I want to keep doing this. Never would I thought this would be something I would do full-time, so I want to keep getting better, keep learning. I learn something new about writing everyday. Better ways to frame sentences, this and that. I practice. I’m trying to get better.
PREVIOUSLY IN THE SERIES:
(NOTE: The dates below refer to the date of the interview. The order is the date they were run.)
December 12, 2008: Alex Kotlowitz (re-edited August 15, 2011)