January 20, 2004
The Real History of The Source - Part One
In the latest issue of The Source they finally deliver their (surprisingly dull) wall-to-wall assault on Eminem, complete with bonus CD. In her editor's note Kim Osorio proclaims that "Eminem and his people wanted to stop the truth from reaching the public," and assures the reader that "our intentions have always been to present you, the reader, with the truth, and to give you the information you need to draw your own conclusion."
But all this righteous talk rings hollow, for numerous reasons. For one thing, The Source is lying to readers about its own history in every single issue, by listing Raymond "Benzino" Scott as a co-founder of the magazine alongside David Mays.
Regular readers will know that this crap drives me up the wall. What bothers me most is the injustice of seeing all the real co-founders besides David Mays being written out of history. So I've taken some time to try and compile the real story of how The Source magazine got started as best I can, and post it here so people will have a reference. Much of this post is drawn from material gathered by Irina Slutsky for a research project at the Columbia School of Journalism. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from Irina's previously unpublished interviews.
If anyone has additions or corrections let me know. I'd love to get a little more detail on Ed Young.. he seems to be the enigmatic, Jarobi-esque member of the founding four, nobody says much about what he was doing. But this should provide a more complete and accurate accounting of The Source's origins than was available online up until now.
The Real History of The Source (Part One)
The story of The Source begins in 1988, when Harvard's radio station added a hip-hop show to its lineup for the first time. The show was entitled "Street Beat", and was put together by two sophomores: Jon Shecter, a Philadelphia native, and David Mays, whose nickname "Go-Go Dave" paid tribute to his D.C. roots. Both had been hip-hop fans from the first time they heard "Rapper's Delight", and they jumped at the chance to show their love on Harvard's WHBR 95.3 FM, a 3000-watt station that reached most of Boston.
The show quickly struck a chord, and as their growing audience lit up the phones with questions about the new music they heard, the ever-enterprising Mays had an idea to further capitalize on this interest. He started taking down the addresses of everyone who called in, and soon found himself with over 1,000 people on his mailing list. In the summer of 1988 he hit those 1,000 mailboxes with the premiere issue of "The Source: Boston's First and Only Rap Music Newsletter".
Mays sent it out for free, paying for printing and postage by selling ad space to local record stores. Named after a line from BDP's classic "Ya Slippin" ("you wanna hear a fresh rhyme you come to the source!"), this original Source was not in magazine form, simply a one-page newsletter listing new releases and upcoming concerts in the area. But when Jon Shecter came back from summer vacation in the fall of '88, Jon and David decided to become partners and make a business out of this, and The Source as we know it today was born.
Throughout their junior year at Harvard, Mays and Shecter produced The Source out of their dorm room, now selling each issue for a dollar. Shecter was in charge of editorial duties, while Mays handled the business end. They started out doing everything themselves, writing all the articles, typing everything up and xeroxing it themselves, then mailing everything out. Not surprisingly it became hard for them to stay focused on their classes, and at that point Shecter says "we majored in The Source and minored in academics".
But their hard work was paying off, and by the end of their junior year The Source was being read as far away as San Francisco, where a Harvard law student named James Bernard picked up a copy during his summer vacation in 1989. As soon as he walked into Leopold's records and saw LL Cool J's smiling face on the cover (The Source's first color cover) Bernard was fascinated, and he spent his entire 4th of July weekend reading The Source over and over. "I just couldn't believe there was an intelligent hip-hop magazine," remembers Bernard.
Bernard noted that the magazine came out of Boston, and upon his return to Harvard he sought out the founders and invited them to dinner at the newly opened Boston Chicken (which later evolved into the Boston Market chain). Soon after this meeting Bernard officially entered the fold as The Source's third staff member.
"I kind of fell in with Jon, he and I got along better" recalls Bernard, and he joined Shecter in writing and editing the magazine while Mays continued running the business end. Bernard's presence intensified the political consciousness that the Source would become known for, and one of their first issues after he arrived featured Malcolm X on the cover. Both and Mays and Shecter were committed to making this more than just another gossip rag like Black Beat or Right on. At the helm of hip-hop's first authentic magazine of its own, Bernard and Shecter aspired to set a standard for representing the culture with intelligent discussion and serious analysis.
They were always acutely aware of this responsibility, even in the finer details of punctuation. "We had a long argument about the punctuation in N.W.A," remembers Bernard. On the album there was no period after the 'A', which is technically incorrect, but after much deliberatation Bernard and Shecter decided not to add another period in their articles. "Now I see that in the New York Times," says Bernard with pride, "and we helped to set that. We were all about that kind of stuff. We cared about that."
While Bernard and Shecter were establishing traditions on the editorial side, another Harvard undergrad named Ed Young joined David Mays in overseeing business matters, and became the Source's fourth staff member. This was the team that oversaw The Source until Mays and Shecter graduated in 1990, and kept it rolling from then on. A year later The Source had grown so rapidly that even the Wall Street Journal had to take heed, in a story on September 25th, 1991 that noted:
Source Magazine, started in a Harvard University dormitory three years ago by David Mays and Jon Shecter, reflects the personal passion of its two white founders for black-oriented rap music; the magazine is sold mostly in record stores; it has a circulation of less than 40,000, but advertising pages rose 25% in the past year. Revenue this year will reach $900,000, up from last years $340,000."
With David Mays and Ed Young working tirelessly to expand its readership and draw new advertisers, alongside Jon Shecter and James Bernard shaping its content and editorial voice, The Source had firmly established itself as hip-hop culture's paper of record. Though it may be hard to believe now, by the time they moved their offices to New York in 1991 fans across the globe were calling The Source their "bible of hip-hop", and doing so without a trace of sarcasm.
These are the four founders of The Source: David Mays, Jon Shecter, James Bernard and Ed Young. Anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or lying to you. When they falsely cite David Mays and Raymond "Benzino" Scott as their co-founders in the front of every issue, those who currently run The Source are guilty of the latter. They champion themselves as crusaders for truth, even as they refuse to tell you the truth about their own history.
You will notice that Raymond Scott AKA Ray Dogg AKA Benzino's name did not appear anywhere in this post. That's because he played no part whatsoever in starting the magazine. His role in this drama will be the focus of Part 2, which I hope to post up soon. It will probably be juicy.