Many supporters of the magazine think it has made a big mistake by taking sides in the Benzino-Eminem battle.
Last February, David Mays, CEO and founder of The Source, and I talked on the phone for almost an hour. He was trying to explain to me why he had decided to put the power and reputation of his 15-year-old magazine behind rapper Benzino’s fight with Eminem. Mays described the battle in racial, ideological terms.
”Hip-hop made me respect black people,” said Mays, a white man who started The Source while a student at Harvard. “Eminem’s impact is reversing that entire trend. White kids are growing up claiming hip-hop as their own. That’s the agenda Eminem’s machine is passing.”
What he failed to see is what’s plain to even the magazine’s supporters: That it’s an egregious conflict of interest for The Source to take sides, since, under his given name, Raymond Scott, Benzino is a co-founder and executive of the magazine.
”Benzino needs to be more professional with it,” said Wilkine Brutus, a college student who came down from Tallahassee for the Source Awards show on Monday. “He shouldn’t knock a performer as high class as Eminem.”
Everyone I talked with last week, from some of the music industry’s top leaders to young fans, think The Source has made a big mistake. The Benzino-Eminem battle has now mushroomed into a ”battle royale,” as former Source editor Selwyn Seyfu Hinds put it in February. On The Source’s side: the record label Murder, Inc. camp, including rapper Ja Rule. Many other acts, such as producers of the year The Neptunes, also turned out for the awards show and gave the magazine their respects.
”It’s unfortunate everybody can’t be a part of it,” said Cam’ron, who won the Source’s best-acting award. “But the world doesn’t stop.”
On Eminem’s side: 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Interscope Records, and XXL magazine. 50 was the night’s big winner, but he, Em, and such top artists as Jay-Z and Missy Elliott were M.I.A. in MIA.
”It would have been great if there had been more support from artists out here,” said one executive involved in the show, who requested anonymity. “But acts are wary of lining up with a supposedly unbiased publication that’s clearly choosing sides.”
Mays won’t talk to me anymore. Upset with my February article, The Source’s publicist refused my requests for an interview and denied me credentials for covering the show — a remarkably unprofessional way for a magazine to treat journalists. So instead of being stuck in a press room, I watched from a seat bought by The Herald. Though the show was a logistical nightmare, it was also a lot of fun.
The Source’s historical timing was excellent. Last week, for the first time, the top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 were by black artists. Hip-hop is to today’s youth what rock was in the ’60s: the defining music of a generation (or two).
”I love it, mostly because hip-hop has not gone pop; pop came to hip-hop,” says Stephen Hill, the senior vice president at BET who supervised the taping (to be broadcast 8 p.m. Nov. 11).
But this historic chart moment also disproves Mays’s argument: Eminem isn’t whitewashing hip-hop; instead, pop is blacker than ever.
It’s strange that 50 Cent won three trophies. The awards are determined by a panel of DJs over whom Mays could presumably exercise influence. Did he let 50 win as some kind of olive branch? Or did he have to bow to the demands of the hip-hop community, which stands behind 50 despite The Source’s efforts to discredit him? Whenever 50’s name was announced as a nominee, the crowd cheered. Ja Rule was booed.
What’s sad about The Source war is that Mays constantly says hip-hop is a unifying music — and he’s fostered the biggest schism since the East Coast-West Coast rivalry of the ’80s.
The controversy also takes away from the important political and social work people in hip-hop are doing. Last Saturday, the Source Youth Foundation, which gives money to inner-city organizations, and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, an activist group founded by Russell Simmons, held a concert and meeting. The event was moved at the last minute, received little promotion from The Source, and was the most poorly attended summit in HSAN history.
Thousands have shown up in Detroit and Philadelphia; there were about 100 people at the Caleb Center in Liberty City. Too bad, since if there’s an area that could benefit from the organization’s drive to register black voters and improve public education, it’s South Florida.
”We’re trying to build an infrastructure around a new kind of consciousness,” Simmons said Saturday. “It’s becoming in style to pay attention to social issues.”
Mays says it all the time: Hip-hop is at a historic moment. He sees it as a crisis, the cooptation of a black art form by Eminem’s ”mainstream media” minions.
But Darryl McDaniels, the DMC of legendary rap group Run-D.M.C., put it differently when he accepted the DJ of the year trophy for his slain band member, Jam Master Jay:
“This hip-hop thing is gigantic. It’s big, it’s ridiculous — and we are all in this together. We’ve got to take this hip-hop s – – – and change the world.”
The Source’s statements are becoming more and more ridiculous. We all know that hip hop is a genre created by Blacks.Eminem is very conscious of his skin color and of being a white man growing up among Blacks. I think Eminem has opened a new path to the youth…thanks to him, hip hop is becoming more universal. There is nothing bad about, if non- Blacks love black music.Moreover it is a strong weapon against racism. Eminem reunites the black and white underclasses.
According to me, music doesn’t belong to a specific ethnic group,even if it has been created by it. Music belongs to anybody , music is universal. There shouldn’t be any racism in hip hop. The Source owner’s arguments are even not credible.