Good stuff. Although I thought Benzino's father was Italian? And it's foul how Jon Shecter is being edited out of the Source's history.. more on that later.
A Source of Discomfort
How did it come to pass that the nation's biggest rap magazine is gunning for hip-hop's biggest star?
...On Jan. 12, The Source plans to ship out 800,000 copies of a CD on which a young Eminem clumsily raps, "Black girls are dumb, and white girls are good chicks." This should be a major coup for the magazine — a world-famous white rapper uttering a racist phrase — yet somehow it isn't. Eminem has already issued an apology, explaining that the tape is 10 years old and he made it just after breaking up with an African-American girlfriend. "I reacted like the angry, stupid kid I was," he said. Almost all the hip-hop community has accepted Eminem's contrition as sincere, and outrage has boomeranged on the questionable journalistic judgment of Mays and The Source.
Ever since Mays, as an undergraduate at Harvard, founded the self-proclaimed "magazine of hip-hop music, culture and politics," ethics have been a sore spot. While much of the magazine's early journalism was daring, some of it was also tainted by Mays' friendships with the rappers he covered. One of them was Ray (Benzino) Scott. "I met Ray when I had just got to Harvard and started my rap radio show," says Mays. "He had the hottest group in Boston, and yes, I became their manager, just as he helped me with my dream to start The Source."
Benzino, who is black and Puerto Rican, may have helped The Source, but it wasn't long before his friendship with Mays was also hurting it. In 1994 Benzino and his fledgling rap group, the Almighty RSO, went to editors at The Source, threatening to "put n_____s in body bags" if their album wasn't positively reviewed. (Benzino maintains he was kidding.) The editors knew that their boss was managing the group, and on those grounds, they refused to cover the band at all. But as The Source went to press, Mays inserted a three-page profile of the band into the magazine. When the editors discovered that Mays had not only overruled them but had personally written the profile, many quit in protest.
The Source's credibility took a hit, but Mays persevered, hiring new writers, and at least financially, the magazine recovered and even thrived. Meanwhile, Benzino re-formed the Almighty RSO into Made Men and continued getting favorable coverage from The Source — despite being dropped by several record labels. In 2001 Benzino was added to The Source's masthead as a co-owner, though he admits he has never invested in the magazine...
...A Source staffer says, "It's insane for a rap magazine to antagonize the No. 1 rapper the way we have. I can't believe Dave would be doing this if Benzino wasn't in his ear all the time." Mays says, "We're in a no-win situation with conflict of interest, but what do you want me to do about it? Benzino is like a brother, and I'm not going to stop being with him." The war with Eminem has had real costs. Interscope Records — home of Eminem, 50 Cent and Dr. Dre — has pulled its ads from the magazine, and Mays concedes that the past year has been "very tough financially." But The Source's long-term problem is not money but credibility. Unearthing the Eminem "black girls" tape required journalistic initiative, and Eminem's rise has had real consequences for hip-hop. "This is a huge story," says Mays. But David Mays is probably the wrong man to tell it.