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Taking hip-hop to new heights

Story Highlights

• Felicia Palmer co-founded SOHH.com
• Site is leader in hip-hop music coverage
• SOHH has grown greatly, provides "voice for the people"
By Jennifer Jenkins
CNN
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(CNN) -- "What's the Internet?"

That was the response Felicia Palmer got 12 years ago when she went to some record labels to offer promotion for artists on her recently launched hip-hop site, SOHH.com.

In 1995, though its roots went back more than 20 years, hip-hop still hadn't established a formidable presence online, despite increasing commercial and mainstream success.

Palmer saw an opportunity.

"We thought, this is hip-hop, we love hip-hop, and guess what, there's this thing called the Internet," Palmer says. (Watch SOHH.com's creator tell her story Video)

"We weren't satisfied in what we saw in terms of the coverage of hip-hop and the presentation of it, so we wanted to find a vehicle where we could present our own perspectives and be able to change the landscape a little bit."

Armed with an entrepreneurial spirit and a genuine love for the music, Palmer and her husband and partner, Steven Samuel, launched SOHH as an online site with news and message boards focused on the hip-hop community.

SOHH survived the dot-com bust of the late 1990s, and five years after its launch, Rolling Stone proclaimed SOHH the "best overall hip-hop site."

Growing up with hip-hop

Palmer grew up during the '70s in the Bronx, New York, widely regarded as the birthplace of hip-hop. With an older brother who was a member of a local rap group, the hallways in her house were often filled with music blasting from five-foot high speakers.

Despite her roots in the hip-hop culture, Palmer didn't set out to be a trailblazer in the online world of hip-hop.

After graduating from high school with honors, Palmer went on to study at Cornell University, with plans to become a veterinarian. Intense science courses quickly convinced her to switch her focus to business management studies, but Palmer also ran into obstacles outside the classroom.

"The culture shock of being a sprinkle of pepper in a sea of salt was overwhelming," she says. "I distinctly remember being in one of the huge cafeterias the first week of school and saying to myself, 'What do I say to them?' "

Palmer toughed it out, and graduated in 1993.

After graduating, Palmer went to work for a small licensing firm that had been founded by two young women. She credits her experience there with giving her the motivation to launch SOHH.

"It was there that I learned that I could be an entrepreneur. They gave me the inspiration to have my own company," Palmer says.

Palmer went on to serve as the new-media manager for Essence magazine, helping to launch the magazine's first Web site, and simultaneously launching communications company 4Control Media and SOHH.com in her spare time.

After two years at Essence, she quit her job to pursue SOHH full time.

'A voice for the people'

Initially launched with just a focus on forums and message boards, SOHH quickly grew to include breaking-news updates and longer feature pieces on artists and figures in the industry.

Today, SOHH gets an average of 1.5 million unique visitors monthly, and boasts a full-time staff that produces news updates, columns and blogs, video features and a healthy dose of user interaction in the form of comments and message boards.

Much of SOHH's success is owed to Palmer's savvy in filling the online void in the hip-hop community in the early '90s. Palmer says it took time to convince the record labels and artists that the online effort was worth it.

"We just wore them out with our staying power and our ability to build audience and relevancy by working around them," Palmer says.

"Now that SOHH.com has reached the mass audience and acquired significant market share, the labels work with us to promote their hottest projects, test market new music and build audience for emerging projects."

Last year, Palmer and staff launched a special TV/video section of SOHH, showcasing movie trailers and advertisements, and began creating their own feature video packages and interviews for the site.

Plans include launching a broadband video download platform and expanding SOHH's in-house video producing and offerings.

Though the hip-hop industry has shifted as it has gained mainstream popularity, Palmer is confident that SOHH will continue to grow.

"We realized when we started SOHH and were doing it on our own that it had more energy, it spoke to the people," says Palmer. "It spoke to what people needed and it was a voice for people who didn't have a voice."

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Felicia Palmer founded SOHH.com more than 10 years ago, creating one of the first online hip-hop communities.

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