Interview with Steve "Flash" Juon
Who is Steve Juon?
A life-long fan of hip-hop from the Midwest who runs the Internet's oldest continuously running hip-hop website, OHHLA.com, which has existed online since 1992.
Are you still an active DJ?
That depends on your definition. I haven't spun on the radio or owned my own turntables since I graduated from college, but I'm producing a weekly 30 minute podcast for RapReviews.com spotlighting podsafe (RIAA free) music.
What inspired me to create OHHLA?
The roots of the site go back to Usenet newsgroups in the early 1990's, where there was plenty of exposure for genres like rock and country, and groups dedicated to those genres where fans posted their lyrics. For hip-hop there was only one group, an "alternate" called alt.rap, which wasn't available to all users worldwide, and the lyrics which were posted came and went without being collected for later viewing. To me the most important part of rap had always been the rhymes, so I decided to save the lyrics as they were posted for future reference, and to make them easily available for others to read with a Gopher/FTP archive. That quickly turned into a website, which eventually was given the name OHHLA (The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive) to separate it from other imitators which came along later. This experience also led me to successfully campaign for the creation of a mainstream rec.music.hip-hop newsgroup.
What are the challenges of running OHHLA?
The monthly cost of bandwidth is the biggest challenge. Other than that the site is a labor of love which I and the other people who contribute hip-hop lyrics to it enjoy being a part of.
What are my pet peeves with submissions?
I don't have too many. Self-censorship is one. For accuracy and for the benefit of readers worldwide (it is after all a global site) I don't think any line in a song, no matter how offensive it might seem to the listener or the typist, should be edited out. I also expect songs to be commercially available when submitted - if you recorded a song in your bedroom and send me lyrics, that doesn't count.
What inspired you to create RapReviews?
Several factors. First I conceived of a site like OHHLA which would be a compendium of reviews for the entire span of hip-hop history. Second I foresaw the possibility that OHHLA might someday no longer exist, and I didn't want to have all my "eggs in one basket" as a webmaster. Third I had been writing reviews going back to the early 1990's, when I also launched the Internet's first electronic hip-hop newsletter (called HardC.O.R.E.). After graduating with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from ISU, I wanted to put those skills to use with a hip-hop site for news, reviews and interviews that people would check out every week.
What are the benefits of a detailed insightful review?
I don't want to know reviews of 150 words or less, because some can get a clear point across, but you could spend 150 words explaining the production techniques of a song and why the artist's lyrics on that song are so powerful and provocative - on just ONE SONG. I think longer reviews let you really explain the purpose, philosophy, and power of a hip-hop album instead of glossing over it.
How do you deal with backlash to a review?
Most of the time an artist doesn't go totally buck wild if they disagree with a review, which means most situations can be resolved with a peaceful exchange of e-mails. If the response is more vitriolic, I try to diffuse it by offering to have a different writer cover their next project, to get a different perspective on their music. If all else fails I remind people that I sent them a disclaimer before they sent us promo material for review where by agreeing to the disclaimer they agreed to any coverage of the album whether positive or negative - and if they're that unhappy we'll just agree to not deal with each other in the future and all move on.
What are my interests outside of hip-hop?
I recently took up fantasy football, but I'm still getting the hang of it. I've always been a fan of video games, particularly the Mega Man series, so with what little free time I have I enjoy getting the chance to blast on some (virtual) enemies. Mixed martial arts is a passion of mine - I have another website called AngryMarks.com where we cover MMA and pro wrestling, and I try to interview as many current and upcoming stars on podcasts as I possibly can. And I've always been a sports nut - I follow the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Cubs and of course my Alma mater.
Who is the best lyricist of all time?
Given how large OHHLA is, how many songs I've listened to in the last 30+ years, and how many lyrics I've personally typed up it's hard to pick +ONE+ lyricist. I'd rather name some of the ones I feel are the most influential to hip-hop, and on a short list of influential lyricists, I'd name KRS-One, Chuck D, Rakim, Ice Cube, Kurtis Blow, Jay-Z, Nas, Gift of Gab, Del, LL Cool J, GZA, Ice-T, Eazy-E and Busy Bee - just for a start.
Any final thoughts?
Hip-Hop without rhymes would be like a peanut butter sandwich without peanut butter - there's still some bread but nothing to fill it in.