Illustration: Chris Visions

The Black Internet Gold Rush That Wiped Away $75 Million in 18 Months

It wasn’t just Pets.com and eToys — 20 years ago, a slew of hip-hop and ‘urban’ sites became early casualties of the first dot-com bubble

I. THE GENESIS

“The way UBO was hiring people was like building a boat as people get on.”

“Like, sometimes I would look up from my desk and around the space and just think, I can’t believe this. This is the team I work for? This is the ’27 Yankees!”

II. THE BUBBLE

“Any idea you could think of, you could do it. My department was responsible for pulling off the launch party. We’re like, ‘What about renting Ellis Island?’ And it’s approved.”

III. “THE TECH JUST WASN’T THERE”

“You could make beats on Hookt. Like, what Genius is doing now? We were doing that in 2000. I don’t know why we did this, but we had a page where you could do graffiti. It even made the sound of spray cans.”

IV. UNDER FIRE

Some of the headshots that appeared on Urban Exposé. L-R, from top: Russell Simmons; the ventriloquist dummy Lester; Source owner Dave Mays; UBO co-founder Adam Kidron; Magic Johnson; 360HipHop editor-in-chief Selwyn Seyfu Hinds; Darien Dash, whose company, DME, was the first Black-owned internet company to be traded on Wall Street; Hookt president Brett Wright; Black Planet founder Omar Wasow. Photos courtesy of John Lee

“I just remember thinking, well shit, if we had this Urban Exposé guy here, maybe we could get something done.”

V. THE BUBBLE POPS

“I just looked around one day at all the empty desks and thought, ‘Oh my god. There’s no one here. Now what?’”

VI. BEYOND THE BUBBLE

Aliya S. King is an author, freelance writer and editor.

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