Sound Opportunity

By Christine Kempista

A consummate student of emerging trends and a serial early adopter, Watkins has always pushed the boundaries of norms and expectations, leading him to co-create AllHipHop.com, which has become a global online authority of hip-hop news and culture. The company celebrated its 25th anniversary in October, which coincided with the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.

Standing at the intersection of technology and hip hop, Watkins was ahead of his time, fully understanding the juggernaut that could be created when you combine the two. But what makes Watkins’ story such a model for young entrepreneurs is not just his work ethic, but his innate ability to connect with people and give them what they want before they know they want it.

“Greg is one of those unheralded geniuses we all need to recognize,” says Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur, Watkin’s business partner and co-founder of AllHipHop.com.

Early Days

Born in Albany, New York, one of Watkins’ earliest memories is of a cassette tape recorder his parents gave him around the age of 2.

“I just remember being so captivated by the music coming out of this little machine and pushing all the buttons,” says Watkins. “From that point forward, I was into gadgets.”

In 1979, his family moved to Newark’s Brookside neighborhood for his father’s job at ICI. Fascinated with discovering the way devices worked, Watkins spent endless hours of his childhood analyzing and dismantling gadgets of all shapes and sizes. Simultaneously, he occupied himself with his parents’ record collection, devouring the written content on the album covers as soon as he could read. 

“I was just thrilled by it all,” says Watkins.

‘Game Over’

Serendipitously, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, hip hop’s cultural movement out of New York City took off like wildfire and started to spread to the suburbs.

“One day, I rode my bike around back of the Kimberton apartments, and I saw a big circle of people,” says Watkins. “I squeezed my way through to see what was going on, and they were breakdancing. They were windmilling and popping, and there was a big boombox playing music. Game over. That’s what I wanted to do.”

From that moment forward, Watkins and his friends became hip-hop devotees, adopting its fashion trends and breakdancing moves, listening to artists like Run DMC, the Boogie Boys, and UTFO on repeat, and honing their own rap skills. For Watkins, Creekmur, and countless kids across the country, hip-hop wasn’t just a passing fad; it became a way of life, helping them find their sense of self and their voice.

“Hip-hop was a voice of the youth, the voice of the voiceless,” says Creekmur. “It was very revolutionary in its look and substance, challenging conventional thought, challenging the government sometimes, challenging fashion sometimes. And the component that really spoke to me was hip-hop’s opposition to racism.”

‘Neighborhood House’

Watkins’ family home in Brookside became the epicenter of this hip hop groundswell in Newark.

“Our house was the neighborhood house,” says Watkins. “My mom always embraced us doing hip-hop, and she knew it was better for us to be in the house than out on the streets.”

The house served as a hip-hop incubator for Watkins, his siblings, and their friends with aspirations of musical fame and fortune. In sixth grade, he was rapping, and by seventh and eighth grade, he was laying down tracks, starting to produce his own music, and DJing. 

Realizing his passion for production, he cold-called recording studios in the area, asking to come in and check out their spaces and equipment.

“It was a second epiphany where I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is where I want to be,’” says Watkins.

By ninth grade, he and his groups were recording at Target Recording Studios in Newark, which satisfied both his musical ambitions and his innate love of technology.

“He came in with this high stovepipe haircut, and he just seemed really young,” says Marc Moss, who, with his late brother Keith, owned Target Recording Studios. “But Greg gave me as much education as I gave him because I didn’t know that much about rap music and sampling.”

Simultaneously, he started building his own collection of professional recording equipment, embracing the most cutting-edge technology on the market. In 11th grade, when given the choice between a down payment for a car and a $3,000 keyboard, Watkins chose the keyboard.

“Best decision of my life,” he says.  

In the ensuing years, Watkins worked closely with the Moss brothers as he launched his own record label, Oblique Recordings, and emerged as a producer for local hip-hop artists, including his younger brother Marcus Watkins, who performs under the name Marchitect. 

“Everything fell under the umbrella ‘The Outfit,’ and it was amazing to make music with everyone in the recording studio and Greg’s home studio, affectionately known as the 49,” says friend and collaborator Dr. Harun Thomas, professor in the School of Communication at Daytona State College.

Focused on his career as a hip-hop producer, Watkins enrolled at the Art Institute of Philadelphia to augment his engineering and marketing tool kit. To describe this point in his life as busy would be a gross understatement.

According to Creekmur, “Greg was the first person I knew personally that was really taking it seriously as an artist, as a musician, as a producer.”

While his days were consumed with classwork, internships, performances, production, and recordings, he also launched his label online.

“I had been on computers, mind you, almost all my life,” says Watkins. “My dad bought us our first TI-99/4AA in 1983. By the time the Internet came around, I was like ‘I get the concept, but what is it?’ My dad for Christmas bought us a Compaq computer. And that’s when I got it. Game over.” 

Filling the Void

While he worked tirelessly to get artists he was working with noticed by major players in Philly and New York, he ran into a problem he couldn’t solve. Everyone was moving away, which in turn presented an absolutely lifechanging opportunity for Watkins.

When he first launched his label online, Watkins had registered a number of domains, including AllHipHop.com, to hedge his bets on what would be most memorable for early Internet users. He eventually jettisoned ObliqueRecordings.com and started selling his music online solely through AllHipHop.com in 1996.

At the same time, Creekmur, a journalism graduate from UD who was working as a freelance writer for various regional and national publications, had launched Tantrum Magazine, a lifestyle website dedicated to hip-hop music, fashion and culture. Creekmur had an idea.