“Maybe I should be a firefighter,” Nathan Slavik thought while he chaperoned his daughter’s field trip to the fire station. “That would be great. They’re doing a real, tangible, good-for-people job.”
Slavik says he often questions his job and what it means for his future.
Being an online hip-hop journalist is a job that comes with uncertainty. Much like the music he writes about, the online journalism trade is ever changing.
“I get to feed my family doing this,” Slavik says. “Let’s be honest, that’s ridiculous.”
Slavik’s path to DJBooth.net, a popular hip-hop website, seems meant to be. Growing up in Boston, he was always a big fan of the genre.
“Maybe some kids were super into Star Wars or dinosaurs or trains,” Slavik says. “I just wanted to listen to the radio all the time.”
However, writing about hip-hop online was not always Slavik’s intended path. It took a few realizations and a posting on Craigslist to get him to DJ Booth.
Slavik got his start in print journalism with the L.A. Independent in 2006, but found the newsroom to be too hierarchical.
“The columnists were going to have to die before they gave up their spot,” Slavik says. “I was going to have to cover city hall meetings and other stuff for 15 years.”
Slavik decided to try online journalism, which was still in its early stages.
But Slavik did not jump from covering hospital shootings to doing album reviews. While working for Opposing Views, he covered a lot of national politics.
“I viewed myself as a very serious journalist,” Slavik says. “I had images in my head of breaking some huge story about a White House scandal.”
But the job paid poorly. So upon seeing a posting on Craigslist, Slavik started freelancing for DJ Booth.
“That was my side-hustle while I did the real journalism,” Slavik says. “I’d spend my day writing about gun control issues and then come home and do a review of the new Mike Jones album.”
In 2009, Slavik started working full-time for DJ Booth and founded a derivative site, Refined Hype, in the same year.
DJ Booth focused more on streaming, while Refined Hype dealt with original content.
While DJ Booth was starting to gain popularity, Refined Hype was garnering a following of its own.
“With Refined Hype, we were going to be more honest and more fearless,” Slavik says. “We weren’t going to worry about making people angry and really just try to break stories.”
He attributes the success of both DJ Booth and Refined Hype to going more in-depth than other sites.
In 2014, Refined Hype brought all of its content over to its mother site, DJ Booth. Slavik says the merger was to keep up with music websites that are trending towards original content.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in terms of the pure business and there’s no real blueprint for where you go,” Slavik says. “There’s no one who’s been doing this for 60 years that I can get mentorship from.”
What keeps Slavik writing about hip-hop is the music itself. Since its start, DJ Booth has given attention to successful artists like Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T. and Yelawolf ahead of a lot of other websites.
“I generally love the music and a core part of that love of music is always finding new artists, ” Slavik says. “The joy of discovery is one of the best joys there is. That’s why I do this in a lot of ways.”
Through all the doubts of the business, Slavik can’t really imagine being a firefighter, or a teacher, or a doctor.
“This is just who I am,” Slavik says. “I don’t think I could do anything else.”