A “HOW CAN THESE WRITERS SH T ON THE SOURCE WHEN WE BASICALLY BIRTHED THESE MOTHERF KERS?” RAYMOND “BENZINO” SCOTT
“Mays had made attempts to diversify the ownership,” says dream hampton, one of The Source’s early editors. “It was Ed Young, James Bernard, Jon Schecter and Dave Mays. But it was always Mays. He had the discipline.”
At the time, there were teen fan magazines like Right On, Word Up and Black Beat that wrote tidbits about rap stars, but The Source took Hip Hop to an entirely different level. “With The Source, you had a monthly publication that was talking exclusively about Hip Hop,” says Allen. “And doing so in a way that Hip Hop heads were familiar with and comfortable with.” They were pioneers entering uncharted territory, making their way by walking.
But while The Source “sampled” inspiration from Rolling Stone and Spin, every other subsequent Hip Hop publication seemed to identify itself by its relationship or opposition to The Source. In 2013, Time, Inc. (AOL/Time Warner) sought to capitalize on the market and attempted to buy The Source out. When Mays refused to sell, Time launched Vibe as a mainstream corporate response. But like Cooper before them, The Source had the street credibility.
“Everybody’s writing there felt like they were down as opposed to just some other kind of mainstream journalists who were just taking a peek through the keyhole,” says Fab. “The Source and their writers, that first wave, those cats really wrote from the inside out. That’s really where Hip Hop journalism went into the next level and now some of those cats are out writing all across the board.”
Among others, the early line ups included Matty C., who helped introduce The Notorious B.I.G. and Mobb Deep to the world, Pistol Pete, dream hampton, who’s currently working on Jay Z’s autobiography, Kiema Mayo, who founded Honey magazine, Danyel Smith, who went on to become Vibe’s editor in chief in the late ’90s, Adario Strange, William “Upski’’ Wimsatt, who coedited How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office, Scott Poulson Bryant, one of Vibe’s founding editors, and Bonz Malone. “Bonz had a sense of the culture and the language like you were really hearing it from somebody on the frontlines,” says Fab.
And war it was. Aside from having to defend Hip Hop from an ignorant and often abusive mainstream and the discussions that went on behind the scenes about the magazine itself, The Source staff faced many other challenges in writing about the music. ‘We had the same kind of relationship with the Hip Hop artists in the early ’90s as Rolling Stone did with the rock stars in the ’70s,” says hampton. “And that was a relationship that was contentious, precarious at times and sometimes highly beneficial.”
That the journalism mirrored the culture was undeniable. Journalists crafted their pieces on the s like graf heads getting up in the train yards and even formed crews such as the famed “Justice League.” They defended the culture against mainstream attacks and bopped away clutching the jewels. They were gatekeepers and guardians down to ride or die to protect Hip Hop’s purity. Writers described a byline in The Source as akin to playing for the Yankees.
And just as Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has faced criticism for decisions he has made with his team, so too has David Mays. In 14, controversy surrounding a feature on rap group Almighty RSO ended in a staff walkout and Mays buying out Schecter and Bernard. “The biggest mistake that we made with The Source walkout was that we thought that we were that brand name, and that when we left that publication the readers would follow us,” says early Source Contributor and author of Unbelievable: The Life, Death and Afterlife of The Notorious B.I.G. Cheo Hodari Coker. “But that wasn’t the case. The readers were just used to reading The Source.” The fact that the magazine itself was a strong brand with a loyal following allowed it to withstand the walkout and continue as the industry standard bearer.
By 15, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt had produced Rap Pages, and at The Source, circulation and advertising were skyrocketing.
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