Many of you may have been too young to remember the days when The Source truly was the bible of Hip Hop, I look at those days as fondly for the magazine as I do the music. Reginald C. Dennis was the music editor in those days; those days when Dre didn’t get 5 mics for The Chronic; those days when Nas did get 5 for Illmatic; those days when you didn’t need to be a multi-platinum rapper to get coverage. In his four years at The Source, Reginald saw the magazine go from the bottom to the top, but left after Dave Mays and Ray Benzino created an environment that could not be tolerated. For the first time in the 11 years since he left the magazine, Reginald C. Dennis tells all the tales. “Everything you are about to read is something that I’ve seen, heard, or know. It’s all opinion, of course, but as you’ll see, my positions are highly informed. You can hate it or love it.”
“Growing up in Harlem during the 70s, I pretty much had a ringside seat to the birth of Hip Hop. I lived in the Polo Grounds Projects, right across the street from Rucker Park and spent a lot of my childhood doing what I could to participate in the ongoing cultural narrative that was everyday Harlem life. By 1979 I was already well versed in the areas of emceeing and graffiti, but it was “Rapper’s Delight” that pretty much galvanized my generation and inspired me to step up my participation. I got my hands on every mixtape that I could beg, borrow or steal: Grandmaster Caz, Theodore, Busy Bee – I couldn’t get enough.”
Like many in the early generation of Hip Hop, Reginald found his place within the culture, “I was always pretty nice in my art classes and was an avid collector of comic books, so when the graffiti bug finally bit I knew that I’d found my place. From 1980 to 1984 my entire life revolved around graffiti.” With his complete obsession with Hip Hop culture he enrolled in Rutgers University and double majored in English and Africana studies. Things changed for him at Rutgers, “I got involved with campus politics and in the spirit of various anti-Apartheid movements I became quite militant and spent a lot of time being angry at the world. Back home in Harlem, many of my friends started getting caught up in the streets. Crack, guns and fast money was what it was all about and we all wondered what, if anything, we were going to do with our lives.”
In 1988 he discovered a record store called Varsity Records, owned and operated by a man named Bill Moss. It was there he discovered a whole new side of Hip Hop. “I began uncovering hundreds of rap records that I had never heard of. Too Short, NWA, The Ghetto Boys, 2 Live Crew – I didn’t know who these people were, but once I started listening I couldn’t get enough.” One day Bill handed him a magazine that he had received in the mail, and asked him to read it over to see if it was worth stocking. That magazine was The Source, and according to Reginald, “I am not exaggerating when I say that in that moment the course of my life was forever altered. This was the first time that a magazine ever spoke to me in a meaningful way. I had read a lot of good writing on Hip Hop – I was always looking through the Village Voice and Spin – and sometimes even Word Up and Fresh – but The Source was the only place where the music and culture were being discussed in the proper context and with the proper enthusiasm. And it just got better. I started with the third issue and never missed a beat. The Too Short/NWA cover, the Malcolm X issue, the "Decade of Rap" – it was as if I’d been spending my entire life waiting to read something like this, and somewhere in the back of my mind I began to wonder how I might become a part of it.”
It just so happened that in the spring of 1990, months before he was to graduate, he saw a job ad in the back of The Source. To that point, his only writing clip was a venomous rant that he’d sent to the editor of a campus paper for a negative review given to Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet. It was published on page one of the next edition and immediately became the talk of the campus, even leading to the editor receiving a few anonymous death threats. “It was my first inkling that my writing could bring out an emotional response from people, and I kind of dug it.”
A few days after sending all his info in, he got a call from Jon Shecter, the editor-in-chief and co-founder/owner of the magazine. “I met with Jon and immediately connected with him. He seemed impressed by my knowledge of Hip Hop and invited me to fall by later in the week to meet some of the other staffers. I did so and met cats like Dave Mays, Matty C and Reef for the first time. They were all busy working on the latest issue and deciding what music was going to be included in a summer preview section. We chopped it up and everything seemed to be cool. I was just trying to soak up as much as possible. It was a really cool atmosphere and I was definitely hoping to be a part of it. About a week later I was invited back. It was during that trip that I first met Ed Young. He was the third partner and the first Black person that I had met at The Source…but since I was trying to get a gig on the editorial side I had to focus on making a good impression on Jon and Reef.”
Unfortunately for Reginald, he didn’t get the editorial position. But that didn’t mean he didn’t stick around, “I did all of the work that no one else wanted to do. I shucked and jived and skinned and grinned. I ran errands. I made deliveries. I inputted 10,000 subscriptions into the Macintosh. I helped the art director, Erik Council, with lay out and post up. I tried to anticipate problems and be there to help solve them. I still continued to snag as many writing assignments as I could and slowly built my self up in the eyes of the editors. I was making progress, but it was slow and the only real opportunities seemed to be on the business side so when the Director of Retail Sales decided to leave the magazine, I was offered his position and happily accepted it.” He continues, “In the early 90s there was little confidence in the Hip Hop audience. We didn’t count. Distributors believed that our audience didn’t read and that a Hip Hop magazine would never be successful. Around this time Dave Mays decided to publish a supplement to The Source, which was creatively called The Source Supplement. Strictly for the industry, it was basically a collection of sales charts. I would call all of my retail accounts and get the top five rap sales from them. I would also contact regional video shows and ask what the most requested videos were. We did about two or three issues of the supplement and were astonished to learn that the most popular records in the country were not by the likes of Main Source and Brand Nubian but rather DJ Quik and MC Breed and the DFC. I was like 'whoa, there is a whole different country out here that is not being reflected in the pages of The Source.' So I started to step up my writing game, hoping that I could one day break into the editorial side and nudge the coverage so it spoke to a larger selection of the country.”
Soon enough Ed Young secured The Source’s first national newsstand distribution deal, and the current music editor announced his plans to leave. “The search was on for a suitable replacement. 'The Record Report' section was easily the magazine’s most popular — before the 'mic' icons were conceived of, albums were awarded a series of exploding records – and there were plans to revamp the section. I thought that I would be the perfect person to take over the job and patiently waited for the editors to approach me. They approached me all right, but only to ask me if I knew anyone who might be interested in taking the job! I was like, 'what the fuck?' So I threw my hat into the ring and announced to anyone who would listen my intention to become the first full time Music Editor of The Source. Because of my retail work I had a good idea of what was happening around the country and knew that there was a lot of good music out there that needed to be exposed by The Source. Plus, I just plain felt that I had a better feel for this stuff than everybody else. I told Dave Mays and he literally gave me one of those — 'Music Editor? You?' — kinds of looks. He clearly didn’t think I was up to the job. Fortunately David Watkins, Chris Wilder and James Bernard (a Source co-owner) disagreed and put pressure on Dave and Jon to give me the nod. Chris definitely felt that the more Black people on the editorial side the better and I totally agreed with him.”
HipHopDX: 1990 to 1994 was the zenith of The Source. The reputation of “the bible” was developed in those years. Being the music editor controlling such gospel, wouldn’t that make you god of hip-hop journalism?
Reginald Dennis: Well, that’s obviously not my call to make, but for a couple of years there we did exert an enormous amount of influence on this industry and much of what we did was indeed historic. But in those days, because we were all so young and so busy laying the foundations for this particular industry, there was really not a lot of time to put ourselves upon any kinds of pedestals or really look too far beyond the moment. Believe me, in terms of the media, we were nowhere near the top of the food chain. Every day life was often difficult. We were working ridiculously long hours, spending 100 degree summer afternoons in offices with no air conditioning and basically trying to hold all of this together without the benefit of any real adult supervision. The only thing that kept us going was our youth our competitive drive and our boundless energy. We all felt that this could be the start of something memorable, but once we stepped out of our comfort zones we realized that no one gave a rat’s ass what we were doing. But inside our little world, yeah, we were running shit.
DX: At the time, did you recognize the influence that you and your staff had?
RD: Within the confines of Hip Hop — of course! But much of it came from being in the right place at the right time. There was so much going on in the world that affected us, but there really weren’t many places where we could have our say. Let’s just take rap music for an example. When Ice Cube left NWA, the first I’d heard of it was in his interview in The Source. This was a pretty big news story, but since it wasn’t a mainstream story, it wasn’t really a story at all. Today if The Game leaves G-Unit for a week there is 24-hour coverage. But back then, it was felt that if The Source didn’t cover certain things, then perhaps no one else would either. So that was the biggest influence the magazine had. We were in a position to sell water to people who were dying of thirst in the dessert. The circulation was low in those days, maybe 40,000 copies printed. If you weren’t at the record store when it arrived then maybe you didn’t get a copy that month. There were riots in prisons all across the country because inmates were literally fighting over copies of the magazine. There were fistfights in record stores when cats simultaneously tried to grab the last copy on the rack.
In many instances we were the only link people had to this kindred community we all seemed to be searching for. We were so much more than a music magazine to our readers. I remember coming in to the office early one morning and taking a phone call from a distraught reader who had just watched the Rodney King beating on the news and wanted to know how we were going to cover it. He needed to be reassured that The Source would have something to say about the situation. During the first Gulf War I got a letter from a female soldier stationed in Saudi Arabia requesting her subscription be forwarded to her wartime address. She wrote that even though her unit was preparing to roll into Kuwait they very much needed to know the latest Hip Hop developments. I forwarded her subscription and did her one better — I mailed her a box of 100 copies of the latest issue so they could be distributed around the base. A few weeks later I received a package of my own, a thank you note and a small container of Saudi Arabian sand.
In a short period of time we were able to build up an enormous amount of good will, but for me it wasn’t about celebrity access or perks. It was about being able to connect with people all over the country. It was like suddenly finding yourself surrounded by thousands of long lost family members, folks who understood exactly where you were coming from — your tribe. We were simply the conduits for this energy. We were the staging ground.
The most fascinating part about the early days was how so much of it was built by simple word of mouth. Retailers would hook up their most influential tastemakers with the magazine just like sneaker companies would make sure that local drug dealers were the first to have the latest gear. We had a direct line to the streets and the streets had a direct line to us. Our regional reporters and college reps kept us connected to everything that was going on outside of NYC. The Source van was allowed entry into some of the most troubled areas of the country and we never had a problem. We were as safe on the road as we were at home. People – and I’m talking complete strangers here – went out of their way to take care of us. The Source logo meant you could have an all access pass to everything. Our circulation might have been below 50,000 copies, but our readers had a cultural influence vastly disproportionate to their numbers. And truth be told, it was that initial block of readers that held the most influence over the culture. They called the shots and we did our best to listen.
DX: Would you say that is a major problem with the hip-hop industry today? That they dictate the direction now, rather than listen?
RD: One of many problems, I’m afraid. The industry is all about the hard sell and they make no secret of it. This youth market – the largest ever – will be the name of the game for the foreseeable future and with hip-hop already established as the world’s most effective delivery system, young consumers are about to be taken for a ride the likes of which we have never seen. But it’s not their fault, because until you are old enough to develop some semblance of critical reasoning, you will fall prey to every bright, shiny object that comes along. The industry is in the middle of the perfect storm and they plan to stay awhile. They are no longer compelled to listen to our wishes, and as consumers we don’t do nearly enough to voice our displeasure at the way things are going. So we get what we get.
How did this sad state of affairs come to pass? One word: laziness. Instead of going out in the wilderness and finding interesting things to expose, most industry shot callers and gatekeepers just sat back and let things come to them. Now, they still have to sift through a lot of garbage in order to find whatever gems might be lurking about, but what tends to happen is that people all over the country are sifting through the exact same piles of junk and simply selecting and serving up the best of the worst. And if the consumer has no objection – which very few 13-year-olds will — and older heads who might raise the alarm have been long pushed to the sidelines, then junk becomes the standard and the industry makes sure that its junk is attractively packaged and ready for replication and distribution.
This is why so many of the magazines are the same. If the same publicist sends out the same press package to everyone under the sun, and if five people bite, then you’ve got five magazines running the exact same story. If a radio format works in Seattle and Atlanta, then it will probably work in Chicago, Miami and New York. And if these institutions are profitable, then there won’t be any pressure or need for them to reinvent themselves. And this is the rut in which we find ourselves today. Back in the day, when the industry – or “machine” as brother Zino calls it – was still ramping up to speed, it had no choice but to follow the culture — which is why Hip Hop always seemed able to reinvent itself every eight months or so, and stay ten steps ahead of stagnation. The culture had an elasticity that we all took for granted and assumed would last forever. But the industry – and remember: the industry employs thousands of people whose only goal in life is to refine a successful approach until it becomes an irresistible force – is like the Borg from Star Trek: it will consume; it will adapt; and ultimately, it will set an agenda that serves only itself. It took about 20 years, but Hip Hop is now safely in pocket and it hurts my heart to see it come to this. McDonald’s is already paying rappers to name check hamburgers. Can it get any worse?
DX: Any albums you regret not giving the coveted 5 mic rating?
RD: Ok, we need a bit of context before I jump into this one. Awarding records 5 mics – classic status – has always been, on some levels, troubling to me. I mean, we are not only saying that a particular piece of music is superior to everything that is out now, but it will be better than most things released in the future as well. So we are being asked to be predictors of the future. But let me give you a little more context before I get too deep into it.
The Source started rolling in 1988, well after all the rules and sensibilities determining what was good and bad in hip-hop had already been established. I’d have to check my magazines to be sure, but if I recall correctly, The Source didn’t start really reviewing records until 1989 and those early reviews were not governed by any kind of rating system. You just read the review of, I dunno, Steady B, and either agreed or disagreed with it. By 1990 there was a five point rating system in place (but instead of mics, the governing icon was a series of exploding records). Art director Erik Council changed all that and so we began to rate with mics, and our five-point rating system mirrored what was seen in Rolling Stone and other places with a “1” being garbage and a “5” being a classic. So, from 1990 on we had things under control as far as the ratings went. But the problems was — and it didn’t seem like a problem early on — was what to do with all of the influential albums that had come out before the mic system had been conceived? I’m talking about the records that we compared all others to; the stuff that was never officially reviewed in the context of The Source’s 5 mic system, but nevertheless became our cultural gold standard. And it’s a pretty long list when you come to think about it. Let’s take a look at but a small sample of records not rated by The Source. (And yeah, I know that the magazine has practiced some revisionist history of late, but it’s easier to call those shots 20 years after the fact.) Raising Hell, Paid in Full, Criminal Minded, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, Critical Beatdown, It Takes a Nation of Millions, Straight Outta Compton, Long Live The Kane, Three Feet High And Rising… Without these records there probably wouldn’t have ever been a need for Hip Hop journalism and there certainly would never have been a Source had it not been for them, so to give records like Brand Nubian and A Tribe Called Quest five mics without ever having rated many of what I consider to be some of the greatest records of all time always made me feel a bit uneasy. But in 1991 it was obvious to anyone reading The Source or making records or writing reviews that everything was being compared to and judged by a standard that was felt and acknowledged by all but documented by none.
Now, with that bit of back-story out of the way, I’ll answer your question about record albums I regret not giving 5 mics. The answer is both yes and no. See, when I took over as music editor, one of the first things I did was put a moratorium on awarding albums 5 mics. My reasons were the following: I believed then – as I do now — that a piece of art can only achieve classic status in retrospect. How can you expect someone to receive an advance cassette of an album on a Thursday, listen to it and complete the review by the following Monday and be 100% confident that this particular record is not only better than everything out now, but will have a cultural impact that will loom over everything to come in the future? I mean that’s what we are really asking. And back in the day you were lucky if you had three days to make that kind of determination (Nowadays I think you are only allowed to listen to albums a few times in a label conference room while you busily scribble notes about what you are feeling. So the process seems to have gotten noticeably worse).
And what about records that are amazingly dope, but will probably not have any sort of enduring cultural resonance? Do you give them 5 mics? I mean, I like TI but I’m not prepared to put him up there with Eric B & Rakim, y’know. Scarface had a record out a few years ago that damn near had me doing back flips, but can’t even remember the album’s title today or recite any song lyrics. I think that record got 5 mics, but was it a situation of that record being the best thing out in a watered down, mediocre field, or did they truly believe that this was a record that folks would still be talking about 20 years from now? That’s the dilemma: temporary dopeness versus enduring dopeness. And a lot of people, in the initial excitement of being one of the first people on the planet to hear a dope record, get caught up in the moment and lose sight of what they are supposed to be doing.
In 1992 we gave Dr. Dre’s The Chronic 4.5 mics. Had I the opportunity to press reset, I would have given it a 5. Here’s the story:
We got the advance of the album in October of 1992 and it immediately became an office favorite. And our version was a little better than the one everyone else got to hear because we had the joint that was sequenced differently, had different song arrangements and in some instances, different lyrics. It was all good. In fact it was too good — and I didn’t want to let the album out of my sight, so I decided that it would be reviewed totally in house, meaning that a fellow Source editor would handle the task (I didn’t want to risk the tape coming up missing, which was always a concern if you were mailing things out of state for review or dealing with Hip Hop writers who, due to their weed habits, tended to misplace things or drop the critical ball from time to time).
So my man Matty C, fellow editor and the king of Unsigned Hype, did the do, and he gave it 4.5 — he thought "Lil' Ghetto Boy" was the weak link in the chain — and that was that. I was firm on my “no 5’s” rule and that was also that. If you check the actual review, you’ll see that the byline is attributed to “TMS” (The Mind Squad) — which, for those that don’t know, was how we handled things that were done by group effort or committee. I can’t remember why we didn’t use Matt’s name, but it couldn’t have been because of anything too serious.
Anyway, no one could have predicted the seismic shift that this album would produce. And it wasn’t like there was anyone on staff jumping up and demanding that this record be a 5. We sent the review off to the printer around the time "Nuthin But A G Thang" started to catch fire and we could all tell that the landscape was about to change. By the time the magazine went on sale the streets had declared that this album – an album that many folks had still yet to hear – (remember: one of the reasons why folks read The Source was because were getting the music first and regularly reviewing important albums two months before they hit the racks) – was going to be a classic. And to tell you the truth, we all knew it as well.
I remember going to the video shoot for Naughty By Nature’s "Hip Hop Hooray." It was being filmed in a studio just off Astor Place in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. I had the advance of The Chronic in my pocket the whole day. (I didn’t let that tape out of my sight for a second.) I watched Treach and Spike Lee do their thing for most of the afternoon, and if you’ll remember the video, much of it included footage of huge crowd scenes, which were being filmed that afternoon. So there were a lot of people around, maybe a couple of thousand all total; both inside the venue where the video was being shot and outside milling in the street and blocking traffic. You’ll also recall that that the video featured many Hip Hop guest stars, like Eazy-E and Run-D.M.C, who were also hanging out for their cameos. And because Naughty was so popular and because Spike was a celebrity director the video set became a news event and word began to spread that this was the place to be. It wasn’t long before The Source van arrived on the scene. And when I spotted it I came down stairs kicked it with my peeps. Well, since I had the Dre tape on me, and since the van had a ridiculous sound system, and since we had a huge crowd to play to… I put the tape in the deck and turned shit up full blast to get everyone’s attention and drown out the endless loop of Naughty’s constant "heeeeey, hooooo" chant. Well, the whole block literally stopped whatever they were doing and converged on the van in order to get a better listen. People were astonished by what they were hearing and began to pepper us with endless questions about the album. It was quite a moment. And when Nate Dogg came in with the "You picked the wrong mutha-fuckin’ dayeeeee…" part, I thought I was going to see people’s heads explode. Fab 5 Freddy actually climbed in the van and damn near put his head on the speakers. It was unreal. So yeah we knew early on that this was going to be the shit. The streets had spoken.
But I was trying to close the barn door after the horse had already escaped, and didn’t allow any flexibility for the possibility that we would encounter something that could be considered an instant classic. I set the ceiling at 4.5; it happened on my watch and I take full responsibility for the error.
Not giving The Chronic 5 mics did two things. One, it increased the level of background talk that The Source was biased against the West Coast. And two, it made getting 5 mics in The Source all the more desirable. In 1992, The Source was still the law of the land and people tended to go along with it. So, if The Chronic wasn’t worthy of 5 mics, then what was? It also elevated the historic status and overall value of the half dozen or so records that had received 5s in the past. By not getting 5 mics, The Chronic did more to elevate the status of the 5 mic club than any record that had previously received the award. It was the event that cemented the mics as Hip Hop’s governing standard.
Now I can talk your ears off about how, in terms of musical innovation and sheer cultural audacity, I believe that NWA’s Niggaz4Life was Dr. Dre’s true quantum leap. The Chronic is dope and deserves every accolade it has ever received, but the sudden jump between Straight Outta Compton and Niggaz4Life is a heart stopper. Yeah, by that point we’d all been following the evolution of Dre’s sound with the likes of The DOC and Above The Law and the 100 Miles and Runnin’ EP, but those first three songs on Niggaz4Life were unlike anything we had ever heard before. Just startling. And as masterful as The Chronic was, nothing on it – with the possible exception of Bitches Ain’t Shit — ever hit me in quite the same way.
The other record that probably should have gotten a 5 was the debut album from OutKast, but I’ll touch on that when I get to all of the Benzino stuff.
DX: Any albums you regret giving 5 mics?
RD: I only gave one 5 under my watch and it went to Nas’s Illmatic. It was the only time I ever broke the no 5 rule. Jon Shecter had gotten his hands on the album like eight months before it was scheduled to drop. And just like I was with The Chronic a few months earlier, Jon didn’t let the tape out of his sight. Not only that, but he constantly raved about it. Everyday. He played it in the office about a million times and very early on began to lobby for this record to receive 5 mics. Now I was cool with Nas and had been a fan since Live At The BBQ, but I wasn’t really stressing his album. It wasn’t coming out for at least half a year and I had other shit to do. But Jon couldn’t wait. And he began to micromanage everything concerning Nas’s coverage in The Source. He’d be like, "so who are you thinking about getting to review this album? This is going to be an important release and we can’t give it to just anybody, and I think I should be in on that decision." I told Jon that we’d work all of that stuff out when it was time to review the album. But everyday, Jon was like, "yo, this album is 5 mics — seriously, Reg, 5 mics."
Eventually he got on my last nerve and by the time I’d finally gotten a chance to listen to the album (remember: he wouldn’t let anyone borrow the record to check it out, so it was impossible for me to see if I would have liked it or not) lo and behold, I didn’t like it. And it was all because of Jon’s constant badgering! So when it came time to review the album, I decided that because my opinion had been tainted, I would sort of step back and let whatever Jon and the reviewer decided be the rating that the album got. So Minya Oh (then writing as Shorty, but now known to millions as Miss Info) did her thing and gave it 5 mics. I was happy, Jon was happy, Nas was happy, everybody was happy — except for all of the people who felt that The Chronic should have also gotten a 5. I’m just happy that Illmatic is universally acclaimed as a classic, so no one can accuse me of dropping the ball. But really, Jon Shecter made that call from the jump and he deserves all of the credit for his foresight. And if I hadn’t gone through what I did with The Chronic, I wouldn’t have had the flexibility to allow for the bending of my policy. So I think it all worked out well.
DX: Going back 10 plus years, is there any album that blew you away like no other?
RD: Back then there were so many good albums that it’s really hard to narrow it down to just one. But I will say that Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt will always have a special place in my heart. I’d known of Jay from his appearances with Jaz-O, but it wasn’t until I heard the single, "Dead Presidents," that I felt that this artist was going to make a huge major impact. And when the album dropped in ’96, I was about as far out of hip-hop as I had ever been in my entire life, and I really credit Reasonable Doubt as the event that really motivated me to get back into the game. I remember going to the HMV on 86th and Lexington on the day the album dropped and buying one of the four copies they had on display. I later checked the Soundscan for that week and was stunned to learn that the album had only sold maybe 25,000 units during its debut. I was kinda pissed off that an album of this magnitude really wasn’t getting a push in the press or setting sales records. And I remember waiting for a loooong time before reading Jigga’s Darrell Dawsey penned cover story in Rap Pages. I wasn’t reading any Hip Hop mags at the time, but I made an exception for Jay. Why The Source and Vibe were sleeping I don’t know, but when I launched XXL a year later I made sure that Jay-Z was on the first cover. It was only right.
DX: So would it be fair to say Jay is largely responsible for XXL existing?
RD: Well, I’m sure Harris Publications would have eventually put out a magazine called XXL no matter who the editor happened to be, but had Jay-Z not been able to articulate the things he did, I certainly wouldn’t have been inspired to go that extra mile and create the magazine that I did. I mean, Reasonable Doubt and the original 12-inch version of Dead Presidents was Hip Hop for grown ups; Grown man stuff, responsibility, living with regrets and facing the consequences of your actions. It was about depth, subtlety and layers, and I knew that my next magazine would have to embody those qualities. It was time to grow up. But at the same time I wanted to put something out there that was bold, arrogant and would catch your eye, so I just went back to my own personal experience and tried to apply it as best I could. Back in 1984 I would go miles out of my way to find a newsstand that sold The Robb Report and after listening to Jay’s music I got the sense that he might have done the same. If a magazine is to live up to the name XXL, then it has to be larger than life in every aspect, and Jay was well on his way to being that. He was the template. He opened the door that we pushed the magazine through.
I should also point out that Biggie was the other inspiration for XXL. I knew him from the Unsigned Hype days and there was a level of mutual respect. (Big personally requested that I review Ready To Die, but I had to turn him down – I didn’t need that kind of pressure). Fast-forward a few years and Biggie graces the cover of the preview issue of XXL – a 24-page give-a-way that we cooked up to generate excitement and let cats know that we were back in the game in a real way. I had plans to make Biggie an ongoing presence in the book, but unfortunately he was gunned down two days after we got the preview issue back from the printer. Big was XXL in words and deeds and it was important to me that we get his blessing. We managed to FedEx a copy out to Big the day before he passed, but we never got a chance to sit down and talk about it. I hope he liked it.
We had Jay on the cover of the first issue wearing a suit and walking out of a cigar humidor. And from that moment on everyone knew that XXL would be on some other shit. So even if Big wasn’t here to see it, I knew that Jay would be able to understand and appreciate what we were trying to accomplish. And he did. He would call me out of the blue to have detailed discussions about the magazine and he even name checked us in the song Imaginary Players with the line, I got bail money/XXL money.
DX: In 1994 you left the most sought after position in Hip Hop journalism. Why?
RD: By ’94 we’d been on the grind for a minute, and after many years of struggle things were finally beginning to pay off. The Hip Hop industry was in a mode of constant expansion. There were all sorts of new and exciting business opportunities popping up everyday and The Source was institutionally positioned to take advantage of them all. There were struggles to overcome, to be sure, but most of us felt we were in a good place. Unfortunately, because 90% of our attention and energy was focused on growing the business, we neglected to confront and solve a problem that had taken root within our little enterprise and was now beginning to expand at an alarming rate. The problem I’m referring to is Dave Mays’ troubling association with Boston criminal Raymond Scott a.k.a. Ray Dogg the Jackal a.k.a. Ray Benzino. The conflict started small — and for a long time was successfully contained by Mays — but by the time things reached their inevitable climax, everything would be forced into the light and our once tight knit family would be fractured beyond repair. When the smoke cleared Source owners Jon Shecter and James Bernard; assistant art director Carlos Vega; editors Shawnee Smith, Sonya Magett, Julia Chance, Robert Marriott, Carter Harris and myself would be forced to leave everything we had struggled to build. The Source — the institution that we had been privileged to serve — had become irrevocably corrupted by a creeping plague and we simply couldn’t stay.
Part 2: Benzino's Hostile Takeover
HipHopDX: When exactly did Ray Benzino come into the picture?
Reginald Dennis: That part of the tale begins in Boston around 1986, maybe ’87. I wasn’t a part of the story during those years and can only go by what people who were there have elected to tell me. Dave Mays and Jon Shecter were roommates at Harvard and after bonding over their love for Black culture they started a Hip Hop show on the campus station. I think Dave had already been working for the station at that time, selling radio spots to local businesses and figured that there might be some money to be made in the emerging Hip Hop market. The radio show was called "Street Beats" and Dave sold ads to local record stores and I guess Jon was in charge of the music. In time the show became quite popular and Dave, sensing that there more to be done with the market, compiled a list of all of the people who called into the show every week and – as the story is commonly told – put his hands on $250.00 dollars and with the help of a Boston gentleman named Kenny Mac, printed up a one page newsletter that he named The Source. Dave also had a hand in the business of concert promotion and would bring rap groups up to Boston to perform. (Dave once told me that it was at one of these shows that the artists who would one day be known as the Native Tongues first hooked up professionally.)
Along the way Dave met and befriended the front man of a notorious Boston street gang known as The Almighty RSO (Roxbury Street Organization or Real Strong Organization or Rock Shit On or Ray Scott Organization). In addition to their very real dealings in the street, they also sported a rap arm that had been working the local scene for years but had been unable to break through to the next stage. Dave and Ray became fast friends, and because he had at least a foot in the door of the industry, Ray figured it would be worth his while to latch on to Dave. You know, Ray’s a guy from the hood trying to do something meaningful with his life and he meets a silver spoon Harvard guy. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Ray would pick Dave as a suitable horse to bet on. Dave was probably going places in life and Ray decided that he would be going along for the ride as well.
Now Jon wasn’t really with Dave’s new choice of friends. See, unlike Dave, Jon was perfectly happy being a wealthy Jewish kid; and while he loved hanging out with Black people, he never got things twisted up. Dave, on the other hand, hated his whiteness, and sought to prove his coolness by actively seeking out the bottom element of the Black community to associate with.
A short time later the "Street Beats" radio show got a new DJ a guy who called himself Deff Jeff (There are stories that there was a DJ before Jeff and that something really bad may have happened to him, but sadly, since I’m only here to speak on the facts, I can’t get into any of the more troubling stories surrounding that particular era. And just so we are all clear, Kenny Mac, the guy who initially befriended Dave and free of charge helped with The Source’s initial launch would also meet an untimely end just a few years later). Jeff was also the DJ for The RSO and cut up the records while Dave and Jon did their thing. Shit was rolling along quite smoothly and one day during lunch Dave announced to Jon his intention to become the manager of The RSO. Jon thought the idea was totally bananas, that maybe these weren’t the cats that you’d want to entangle yourself with, but what could he do?
Around this time, 1986-87, they say the Harvard campus endured a bit of a crime wave and the RSO name might have rang out a time or two. There were stories of people getting yoked up at the radio station and there is an interesting tale regarding a Harvard student who lived just down the hall from Dave and Jon who was selling weed in order to subsidize his student activities. Well, one day, as the story goes, he got robbed. They say he had some kind of sword held up to his neck and that his assailant allegedly later said of the incident, “Fuck him — he goes to Harvard, he’s already starting out in a better place than me, so fuck him!”
And if I am to believe the things that were told to me by the people who were there at the time, this type of stuff was happening more than a little bit. Campus authorities overreacted and blamed the "Street Beats" radio program for allowing the school to be invaded by a criminal element that they believed traveled with Hip Hop culture. So that version of "Street Beats" came to a premature end. But Dave and Jon now had The Source up and running, and in time were joined by Ed Young and James Bernard.
So that’s pretty much how that particular story began. But to really get into it, you’d have to talk to the folks who were in Boston during those years.
DX: When did Ray’s presence at The Source become known?
RD: Remember, I didn’t join the team until 1990 and I don’t think I even met Ray before 1991. So whatever was happening was really off the radar. I mean we all have friends who aren’t exactly solid citizens, so I wouldn’t necessarily notice if anyone was rolling like that. Not really a cause for alarm.
One night there were a few guys hanging around the office waiting for Dave. They kept to themselves and didn’t cause any problems. I was in Jon Shecter’s office and we were just chopping it up and the topic of our discussion turned to guns. Jon said something like, “Oh, I’ll bet there are a few guns in the office right now.” And he nodded towards the outside area where Dave’s friends were waiting. But that was pretty much it.
Once, in my capacity as office errand boy, I was asked by Dave Mays to run up the street to a videotape duplicating service with a VHS tape that he had given to me. He handed me some money and asked me to get about 25 copies made. So I walked up to the spot and waited around while they made the copies. When they were done the sales person asked me to watch one of the tapes on the monitor to make that everything was all right. So I did, and was surprised to see David Mays in a rap video. It was RSO and in the video Dave acted as the groups manager. So I’m like, "oh snap – what’s going on here?" I walk back to the office and the first thing I do is ask Dave about the video. Dave’s like, oh, I thought you knew. Those are my friends from Boston and I’m helping them out. I had no reason to take Dave at anything other than his word, but I did start to ask other people in the office about this group that Dave was befriending.
Derrick Hawes, a childhood friend of Dave’s from DC was the Director of Retail Sales, and as the business side intern I spent a lot of time doing what ever he needed me to do. I really liked Derrick or “Devil” as we called him a lot. I learned many things from him and for a young guy he possessed a level of maturity that was beyond most of us. He’d already finished a stint in the US Navy, was married and had a beautiful daughter. And like most cats from DC, he loved go-go and R&B but really only dealt with Hip Hop when he couldn’t avoid it. He had a much different perspective on things and I really enjoyed the time I would spend with him each morning before the phone started ringing off the hook.
One morning Devil played a cassette for me. It was some smooth R&B, like a mix between Keith Sweat and Frankie Beverly. Shit was really tight and was just as good as anything currently on the radio. So I’m asking for the name of the artist so I can go cop the album and Devil says, nah, that’s my boy from DC, who I’m trying to get hooked up. I ask if Dave is involved in this at all, and Devil shoots me an annoyed look and tells me that Dave has all of the guy’s stuff but has been very slow in shopping it around and setting up any meetings.
I’m like wow, I see Dave trying to set things up for RSO nearly every day. Why wouldn’t he be trying to do something for your boy? His shit could pop off. Devil’s like, yeah, but I don’t think Dave is feeling it like that. And that’s pretty much were we left it.
Sometime in 1991 Dave started playing me some music from RSO. Back in those days we would often stop by the office on weekends, when things were a bit more relaxed and you turn up the stereo as loud as you wanted while you worked. So I’m doing my thing and Dave is up front working on something and he says, let me give you an advance preview of something and tell me what you think. And he plays me some RSO cuts that I think are pretty damn good. There is one guy in the group who really stands out. His style was like Redman’s but this was before we knew who Redman was, so this kid – who was called something like The Wild Juvenile – really caught my ear. I told Dave that I liked the stuff and he told me that the group had just landed a deal with Tommy Boy records, the number two label behind Def Jam. So this was a pretty major accomplishment.
A few months later the Juvenile kid gets stabbed to death during an altercation with some bouncers in a Boston club. The guy was only like 17 so it was a really sad turn of events. And because Tommy Boy had signed the group primarily because of him, they started to make noises about maybe dropping the RSO project altogether. Dave stepped in and basically saved the deal and RSO went back into the studio to try to reconfigure things.
The group was doing some recording in NYC off and on and whenever they were in town they would drop by. By now I knew who they were and would kick it with Ray for a few minutes whenever he would fall through. I never had a problem with the dude.
DX: There are plenty of Suge-esque stories about Benzino’s acquisition of half The Source, the most infamous being Ray coming into Mays’ office with his Boston gangstas complete with guns and ultimatums. Should people believe that?
RD: People are going to believe what they want, but all I can do is tell you everything that happened while I was there and let you make the call for yourself.
In the summer of ’91 The Source threw a huge party during the New Music Seminar. It was the party where the Cold Crush Brothers had their reunion and it was a pretty hot ticket. I remember walking over to the venue during the afternoon to check on whatever it was folks needed me to check on and as I walked out somebody called my name. I turned around saw a huge van filled with about 30 guys all wearing Boston Bruins gear. It was the first time I’d seen The RSO at full strength. I walked over spotted Ray and gave him a pound. We chopped it up for a second and then I was out. As I walked away I was like, "Damn, them niggas roll deep. I’m glad they on our side. Shit."
In 1992 they put out a record called “One In The Chamba” on Tommy Boy. It was a really good song about police brutality and the need to always protect oneself. I was music editor by this time and selected the record as a "Sure Shot Single" and even reviewed the song myself. It was doing well and working its way up the charts, but then Ice-T’s “Cop Killer” controversy jumped off and Time Warner decided that in order to be accountable to their shareholders they needed to censor any groups with anti-law enforcement lyrics. And since Warner Music distributed Tommy Boy, the group was dropped. Not only that, RSO had come under fire from some Boston police advocacy groups who were accusing them of every crime under the sun.
During the “Cop Killer” thing I accused Ice-T of bowing down to Time Warner and not keeping it gangster. This began a major feud between the magazine and Ice-T that went on for years. Ray backed me up on my stance and basically called Ice-T out, accusing him of being the Ross Perot of rap. And because of this, I had warm feelings for Ray — as I do for all people who have my back.
The “Cop Killer” situation was a huge news story and because RSO was one of its many victims, Ray was giving a lot quotes to the media; a lot of newspaper stuff. Spin magazine also, I think. So RSO were getting their names out there and they were clearly on the right side of the issue. And since we were beefing with Ice-T and we were down with RSO, we had no problem covering the story ourselves.
In time the controversy died down. But despite their notoriety, The Almighty RSO soon found themselves back in The Bean, at square one and looking for a record deal. And remember, this is at a time when The Source is just beginning to gain speed, and Ray is back in Boston, about as far out of the loop as you can be and I believe that this is when the problems really began. Ray really needed the record thing to happen because the way things were going it was only a matter of time before the streets caught up with them. Ray was committed to delivering his crew from a life of crime, and you can never fault him for that.
Ray began to pressure Dave about getting them a new deal. Dave also looked around to find a manager for them, someone who could be devoted to them full time. I think the dude’s name was Dick Scott and he was an industry vet who with groups like Showbiz & AG was just starting to make some noise in the rap game. But for whatever reason, I don’t think it ever panned out. Sadly, from Ray’s perspective, it looked as if Dave and The Source were leaving him behind. Plus, like most artists, he would thumb through the magazine and see all kinds of groups covered that he felt he was better than. And after a while, I think he felt that maybe Dave wasn’t working hard enough on getting them another deal. I didn’t know any of this at the time, but I could tell that there was now an air of tension whenever he would come up to the office. It wasn’t anything major, but you could definitely tell that something was going on.
Our receptionist during those days was a woman named Stephanie Jackson, and when she would go out for lunch or take a break, if the phone rang you picked it up. We all took turns doing it. One afternoon, I pick up the phone and it’s Ray. He asks to speak to Dave, so I put him on hold and ring Dave’s office. Dave tells me he is busy right now and to tell Ray that he’ll call him back in a minute. I tell Ray and he’s like, "No, tell Dave I really need to talk to him." I do so and Dave once again says that he will call him back later. I tell Ray and this motherfucker erupts like Mt. Vesuvius. “What! You tell that motherfucker he’d better talk to me or else I’m going to come down there and fuck him up!” I’m like, whoa — dude sounds serious. Dave had better talk to this man.
I relay the message and Dave takes the call. A few minutes later he comes out to the front and sheepishly tells me that Ray was just joking and for me not to be concerned. I don’t really buy what he is telling me, but far be it from me to make any value judgments about a dispute between two friends.
The next little RSO incident occurs when Dave excitedly shows me a videotape of an open mic type event that took place somewhere in Boston. After the show is over you see about 45 guys all wearing Boston Bruins gear just milling about and not making any effort to leave the venue. Well the guy on stage is telling everyone one to leave. He’s like, the show is over and you got to be up out of here. So, I’m looking at Dave, and I’m like "Why are you showing this to me?" He’s like, "Just wait… just wait." So the dude on the stage is still trying to clear the room, but now it looks as if every one is slowly beginning to shuffle out. But I guess they were going too slow and he says, “I know y’all got places to be, so why don’t y’all get out there so you can sell y’all jumbs. (Jumbos – crack, as I had to explain to Mays.) " Well, he shouldn’t have said that. 45 dudes stop in unison and turn as one towards the stage. Maaan, they beat this nigga down to the gristle. I was like, oooooooo. And Dave is happily grinning and nodding his head. But I’m thinking to myself that this is pretty messed up and there is no way in the world can you can tell me that after the show these guys didn’t hit the corner and pump their jumbs, so why were they so offended? But after seeing them in action like that, I was always a little concerned whenever they came around, especially now that Ray was beginning to lean on Dave just a taste.
By 1993, Dave had managed to get RSO a deal with Latifah’s Flavor Unit records. They put out a single or two, but nothing happened and they were quickly dropped from the label. Now shit was beginning to get thick. Ray was spending a lot of time in NYC and the office talk was that he was staying in Dave’s cramped Jersey City apartment and threatening to not leave until Dave got him another deal.
One evening James Bernard went with Dave up to his apartment. James said that they could hear all kinds of laughter coming from Dave’s place as they walked down the hall, but as soon as he stuck his key in the door and walked in, the whole atmosphere changed. Something was about to go down. And it did. Ray started yelling at Dave about all of the things that he wasn’t doing for the group. James said it was tense and that the other members of the crew were ice-grilling Dave and invading his personal space. At one point Ray became so angry towards Dave that he paused to search for the worse thing he could possibly say to him. According to James Bernard he called Dave “a Hitler.” (Now remember what you’ve just read because it comes up again later.) Dave is Jewish and you would think that even among friends that such a statement would be crossing a line that didn’t need to be crossed. That was just a taste of what Dave’s life was beginning to become. But like I said, he did his best to keep what was going on under wraps for as long as he could.
The RSO began to develop a negative reputation among their peers as well. In 1992 The Source put together a promotional tour of Black colleges. We got a bunch of artists, loaded up the busses and went out on the road. This was l think during RSO’s stint on Tommy Boy, but I’m not 100% positive. Anyway, where other artists like MC Serch or Organized Konfusion traveled only with the bare necessities, RSO came with their full contingent plus an auxiliary force called the Legion of Doom. They brought their own van because there were so many of them. Anyway there were a few shows where RSO, taking offense at some of their tour mates, began to act in a hostile manner towards them. One artist made the mistake of joking that a member of RSO resembled Humpty Hump. Well, that particular artist was quickly surrounded and shown the error of his ways. And this kind of stuff began to happen more and more. There were definitely storm clouds gathering on the horizon, but it never really affected the average Source staffer.
Around the end of 1993, I learned that Dave Mays had asked for permission from his partners to loan Ray the sum of $12,000 so he could film a video in support of new music he was recording with the hope of landing yet another deal. The partners agreed and a few weeks later I watched the video in the conference room with Ray. For the budget he was working with it looked pretty good, and Ray proved himself to be a capable director. I recall the end of the video showed Ray in the studio smoking a blunt and on the table was a copy of our Miami issue, the cover featuring Luke on a golf course. The final shot of the video was a mock up of a Source cover that featured The RSO. Again, I didn’t have anything negative to say, and wished him luck with is project. Ray was driving a new 190 around this time, so I figured that he was doing what he had to do regardless.
1994 was the year everything came out into the open. The magazine had been undergoing a lot of change. Ed Young returned from his tour of duty at The New Republic. Brett Wright departed to handle marketing at Uptown Records. Chris Wilder went off to Sony. David Watkins moved on and co-founded one of the first urban marketing firms – Da Streets, Inc — with the indefatigable Chris Latimer. Jon Shecter had only recently returned to the magazine after a lengthy sabbatical — during which time James Bernard and I vastly changed the tone and direction of the book. Joining the soon-to-be departing Kierna Mayo were new editors Carter Harris, Shawnee Smith and Robert Marriott. Sonya Magett and Julia Chance were handling the growing fashion side of things and over on the business side Jeremy Miller took on retail and circulation and Paul Narvaez and Mike Elliot assisted on marketing and ancillary business development.
Ray would come up to the office and be taken aback by all of the new faces. The Source was about to make the big jump and again Ray felt he was being left behind. Plus, he felt that the new staffers – most of them not knowing anything of the Boston days — didn’t respect him and he started to pick these really childish kinds of fights in order to test hearts and boundaries.
(I’m almost ashamed to talk about some of this stuff, because looking back it is so silly, and I’m sure that folks reading this will be like, wha – this is what all the fuss was about? But like everything else in life, big events have small origins.)
RSO cats would continue to visit Dave after hours, but now there was a new twist. Every time these niggas came into the office something would invariably come up missing. I might have a stack of t-shirts in my office on Friday, but when I came in on Monday my shit would be gone. I’d also notice when things on my desk had been tampered with and every once in a while I’d reach for a record only to find that it had magically grown legs and walked out of my office. And this was starting to happen to other people as well. Matty C, who was now doing A&R for Loud Records, still maintained a desk at The Source where he would do the "Unsigned Hype" column. An avid record collector, he would always have a lot of good shit in his stash. Well, one evening I saw RSO members E Devious and Deff Jeff walking around the office. Jeff was holding a big garbage bag, but I didn’t take much notice of it and after a while they left. The next afternoon, Matt came in and screamed bloody murder. His records were gone. I put two and two together and came up with a pair of likely suspects (one of these clowns actually stole a prototype of one of the early Source Awards. I guess even back then they knew that was the only way they would ever get one). (Ed’s note: Zzzzzing!)
When I told Dave about the ongoing problem, he said that he would talk to Ray and straighten things out. He also went out of his way to make excuses for the thieving. Because they were poor and from the streets, Dave reasoned, they simply couldn’t help themselves after seeing the overwhelming abundance of goodies that we’d selfishly hoarded. I’m like, huh – you can’t be serious? But Dave was totally serious.
I really didn’t want to make a big deal about it, but the way it was done, it seemed to be some kind of challenge. Y’know, to see how we would react. And Ray, when I would run into him in the halls, would often lob darts at the new staffers. He once told me that The Source was being replaced by “suit and tie wearing buppies who don’t know anything about Hip Hop.” I brought it up to Dave, and he sneered at me and said that Ray was correct in his assessment.
But again, Ray never had any kind of slick talk for me when we would meet face to face. In fact he was a huge fan of my writing and would often ask me questions about what I was working on. He was very interested in my column, "The Dennis Files," and once after some dude shot him (just a flesh wound, unfortunately) he called me up about maybe putting that bit of news in the magazine. I might have, but I can’t remember.
But still the complaints about The RSO continued and now instead of taking things under advisement, Dave would be like, whatever. Like he didn’t care or that folks somehow deserved what was happening. So I took the hint and basically stopped communicating with Dave. I just focused on doing my job.
In 1994 we held a roundtable discussion on “gangsta rap” and featured artists like Scarface, MC Eiht and Spice 1 on the cover. The summit took place at the Houston ranch of Rap-A-Lot founder James Smith. When he learned of our plans, Dave suggested that we include Ray as a representative of East Coast street life. It made sense to us, so Ray was invited to participate. Dave also flew down to observe things as well (Not shocking since The Source and Rap-A-Lot go back a long time, back to when Rap-A-Lot was just a pager number). What we didn’t know at the time was that Dave spent the entirety of that weekend in Houston desperately attempting to land RSO a deal on Rap-A-Lot. Rob Marriott was the moderator of the Gangsta Summit and new Source intern Allen S. Gordon made valuable contributions as well. None of the other artists — Scarface, Havocc from South Central Cartel, Spice 1, MC Eiht — none of them knew Ray from Adam. And really, if the truth is to be told here, his accomplishments really didn’t match the others, but he was treated as an equal and fellow soldier in the struggle. But when it came time for Ray to make the contributions that we had flown him down for, he was surprisingly unfocused and inarticulate. Everyone there will tell you that he really had nothing of value to contribute. Ray saw that he was bombing in front of his fellow gangsters and it bothered him. But instead of taking the blame for his unpreparedness, he placed the blame on others. Rob Marriott, in particular. He felt that Rob had made him look bad on purpose and when everyone came back to New York, he made a point to try to make things hard on Rob.
Just after the 1994 Source Awards (a disaster of such magnitude that even after all of these years, I still can’t bring myself to talk about it) Ray began to slowly go out of his fucking mind. He hated Rob and would do all kinds of passive aggressive bitchy shit like calling him up, making threats and then quickly hanging up. He would also do these things to Carter Harris, but never face to face.
Rob Marriott reviewed the first OutKast album. He gave it 4.5 mics. I agreed with his opinion and the rating stood. When Ray found out about this (for some reason Ray just hated OutKast, and you have to wonder if that is why it took them so many years to get a Source cover), he hit the roof. He walked into Rob’s office and struck up a very loud conversation. I was next door hanging out in James Bernard’s office and we heard all of this yelling and screaming. It sounded like a fight was about to jump off. I walk into Rob’s office just as Ray is leaving and catch the last volley of “fuck yous.” Ray continues down the hall to Dave’s office. I ask Rob what is going on and he tells me that Ray started bugging out over the Outkast review, calling the group bullshit, and making threats about what he would do if the next RSO album doesn’t receive similarly high marks.
I’m like, ‘really?’ And walk down to Dave’s office in search of Ray. I get there and see Ray sitting on Dave’s sofa so I walk over and stand right over him. I start yelling at him and he pops up off the couch like he wants to do something. Now Ray is only five feet tall in Timbs and two pairs of socks, so the whole thing looks ridiculous. Dave is looking nervous and by now other people have made it back to Dave’s office to see where this will all end up. Ray and I square off for about ten very tense seconds and then sensing that he’s not ready to throw a punch, I give him a few more “fuck you, nigga"s and then start walking out of Dave’s office. On the way out I can hear Ray screaming my name, calling me all kinds of bitches and motherfuckers, but he’s only saying this shit as I’m walking away, so I’ve got his number.
Understanding that shit is about to get really out of control, we try to once again to appeal to Dave to do something about his friends. Ray has upped the ante by stating that if his next album doesn’t get 4 mics he will start “puttin’ niggas in bodybags.” He has made threats towards Carter and Rob. Ray and I have squared off. This is probably not going to end well. Now he’s talking about the review of his next album and what we had better do for him. I’m like, what review? Another one of my rules was that if an artist made any threats towards a staff member (and it was beginning to happen more and more as The Source became more critical and less industry friendly), we would simply not cover them. End of story. Ray knew this, and by making his threats he also knew that his name would never be mentioned in the magazine so long as I was there.
Dave had only just been able to secure RSO a new deal at RCA records. It wasn’t a deal for a full LP, but rather a five or six song EP (I was the one who suggested that Dave shop RSO as an EP) . Full-page ads began to appear in the magazine promoting the upcoming release. The pressure was on and nether side was willing to back down.
During a discussion of these events with James and Dave, I told Dave that I think it would be best if Ray were banned from coming into the office. Dave looked at me and sneered, “Who the fuck are you?” I was like, ‘word?’ And Dave Mays — the man who put me on and showed me the ropes; the guy with whom I stood with shoulder to shoulder when drama threatened to jump off; the man who I defended at the expense of my professional reputation when a host of Black music executives told me not to trust him – slowly died before my eyes.
A few days later, no doubt facing unimaginable pressure from Ray, Dave called me into his office to try to patch things up. He told me that Ray was his best friend and if need be, he would “take a bullet” for him and I was not being fair. But I was beyond the point of reason and was not trying to hear any of it. I wasn’t going to help him. “No review,” I said. “Not even for me?” he appealed, obviously trying to tap into my positive memories of better days at The Source, feelings that he knew meant the world to me. “No Dave, not even for you.” And I don’t recall saying much to him ever again.
Dave moved himself and part of business side to an office one flight up on the sixth floor. And outside of just going up there to check it out, no one from the editorial side spent much time up there. And when Dave would come down to the fifth floor, we’d all be like, what’s this chump doing down here? It was serious, we literally hated each other, and yet we still had to work together to put out the magazine, which was becoming more ambitious by the month. Some of our best work appeared during those final days. We knew it could all end at anytime and were rushing to get our stuff out there.
James Bernard had reached his breaking point and was beginning to make noises about quitting. If James quit then so would I, because then there would really be no one up there looking out for me. Jon Shecter would always be the heart and soul of The Source, but James was my mentor and without him around, the content of the magazine would quickly revert to a rather pedestrian examination of Hip Hop trivia (Jon Shecter openly opposed many of the things that he saw in the magazine; he wanted things to go in a more accessible, non-confrontational direction). I started to seriously consider what I would do if I had to make a sudden exit from The Source.
But then, suddenly, things seemed to ease off. There was no more Ray. There was no more office drama. Dave stopped coming down stairs. I got a substantial raise in salary. James stopped talking about quitting. Jon stopped complaining about the content of the magazine. It looked as if we’d managed to move beyond this troubled period.
But we were wrong. We didn’t know that Dave had already been secretly interviewing people to take James’ place should he ever make good on his threats to leave. We didn’t know that Dave had sent writer Bonz Malone up to Boston to interview RSO for a feature that he planned to secretly insert into the magazine without the knowledge of his partners in editorial. We didn’t know a lot of things.
And so it all reached its climax in September 1994. We had put the Redman cover to bed about a week and a half earlier and Dave had gotten an advance copy. He told James he wanted to meet with him to discuss a few things. When they met the first thing Dave wanted to discuss was my attitude. The second thing was the three page RSO story that he had secretly inserted in the magazine. That was pretty much it. James told me what happened when he got back to the office. I was stunned and knew that for me, the battle was lost. There was no way that I could work again with Dave Mays. I went back up to my office and began to pack up my most important documents. Carter and Rob were still working and came into my office. I told them what just happened and how I was packing my shit up. I didn’t know how it was all going to shake out, but I’d had enough. That was on a Friday. On Sunday we held an editorial staff meeting in a Times Square hotel. James passed around his resignation letter. In his letter he called Dave out and broke down the situation point by point. James and I were definitely going to walk and so was Jon, so it was really for the benefit of the remaining staff that we’d had the meeting. We were just giving them a heads up. Shawnee Smith didn’t think that any of us should be leaving; if anyone should be forced to leave it should be Dave Mays. We couldn’t disagree with her logic so we began to strategize a way to make that happen.
We decided that we should expose what Dave had done to the media and maybe that would force him to see the error of his ways and do the right thing and step down. Dave had lost perspective. This was gross misconduct and he needed to go. But first James and Jon wanted to get Dave to admit what he had done. They met with Dave and secretly tape recorded the conversation, but Dave didn’t crack and basically handed Jon an editorial page plan for the next issue and told him to get to work. When Jon came down to his office he checked his phone messages. And there it was, a venomous rant from Raymond Scott warning him that if he opened his mouth about what had transpired and didn’t go along with the program, something bad would happen to him. Jon called us into the office and played the message. A few minutes later we were walking towards the police station.
The detective told us that his job was to arrest people but that might make the situation worse. He suggested that we try to hash this all out through a court ordered mediation. We figured that it was worth a shot so we agreed to meet at the courthouse the next morning to file the paperwork. The thing was, the papers had to be served on Ray like a summons, and we really didn’t know where Ray would be on any given day. But when we got back to the office I checked my messages and lo and behold I got a request from a publicist at RCA records inviting me to RSO’s press day. I was like wow, even the record label doesn’t even know about the story, or else why would they be asking me to come down there and interview them? So we knew where Ray would be and the next morning James and I waited for Jon to show up at the court building. He never showed. We went upstairs and got the writ. A court officer asked if we would like a police officer to serve Ray. We declined, not wanting to humiliate him in front of the people at the label. It would send a better message we felt, if we did the job ourselves. We came back to the office and waited around until it was time to go down to RCA records.
We arrived at the building at the appointed time and got visitors passes from the security desk. We went upstairs and were greeted by a publicist who was happy to see us. We hung out in her office until the group was finished with their previous interview. At one point Ray walked down the hall and right past the office where we were waiting. My first instinct was to grab the writ from James and just hand it to Ray right then and be done with it. But I didn’t. Instead we waited until they were ready for us. Another publicist brought us into a really small lounge area where we found the group relaxing and checking their pagers. Ray was stunned when he saw us walk in. He didn’t know what to expect and he started acting really jittery. He was like, "Yo, I didn’t know The Source was coming down." He was shook. James handed him the paper, which was in a Source envelope. He took it, opened it up and stared at it for about ten seconds. He started to scowl and then he started to shake is head. “Yo, you trying to make niggas look bad?” he growled.
The publicist was still in the room and Ray asked her to leave. Ray starts babbling something about how Jon said that the group didn’t deserve coverage, that to do that would be unethical. From what he is saying it is clear that Dave has totally painted Jon as the bad guy, culprit and ringleader. I looked over to the other side of the room and saw E Devious, Tony Rhome and Deff Jeff begin to rise and make their way towards me. I looked over at James and he was already grappling with Ray. E Devious reaches into his pocket and I immediately grab him. The room is so small that neither of us have any room to really swing on each other. James makes it to the door and we all spill out into the hallway. E and I are going at it pretty good, but it is clear that because we are so out numbered it’s only a matter of time before we get stomped out. Then Tony Rhome comes over and starts hitting me with an umbrella. Shit is starting to go bad and images of that dude at the Boston club begin to flash through my mind. I’m like, nah, can’t win this one. I’ve got to be out. James and I catch a lucky break and make it to the main doors and walk to the elevators. RSO doesn’t follow us. On the way down I’m like, "Ok, that was interesting."
So shit is pretty much over. There will be no mediation. There will be no fixing things. We get back to 594 Broadway and just as we are about to enter the building someone calls our names. We turn around and see Jon Shecter walking across the street. He asks what happened. We explain it to him while making our way upstairs to the office. Jon tells us that they got a panicked call that something bad had happened at RCA records and after Dave rushed down to see what it was, Ed Young came over and made everyone evacuate the office. When we got upstairs it seemed as if we were the only ones there, but down the hall I could see that there was still someone in Ed’s office. We don’t spend more than a few minutes at The Source. We grab what we need to grab and break out before more trouble arrives (I would later learn that Ed Young had a business side intern go to our workstations and download anything that looked like it could be used for the next issue. That’s where his head was at, that was his first concern).
We part ways with Jon and head over to the office of a friend. We’ve still got James’ resignation letter and we plan to fax it out to The Power Network: The Source’s list of 5000 key industry insiders, radio DJs and retailers. We are joined by another one of our interns and we send it out. We wonder what the reaction will be. These days you can send a million emails with the push of a button but back then we had to do it the hard way – a preprogrammed fax list. All over the country people read James’ letter and pagers and office phones begin blowing up. At RCA Dave is trying to manage the situation and calm Ray down. The fax arrives. Dave reads it and he and The RSO drop everything and dash back to The Source, hoping to catch us in the act. Dave also calls the phone company to stop the transmission, but because he doesn’t have the correct password the faxes continue to roll out. By the time they get up to The Source we are long gone and James’ letter is the talk of the industry.
The next morning James and I show up for work. We didn’t expect to do anything, but there was some unfinished business to take care of. We brought up some muscle this time and were definitely prepared for whatever might happen. When I got to the office I saw a locksmith changing the lock on the outer door. I gave a nod to our receptionist, and she made sure the inner door was kept open. There was some kind of armed guard who had been hired to keep us out, but he was quickly overwhelmed. I walked to Ed’s office. He was surprised to see me. I sat down on his sofa and stared at him. He tried to explain that what Dave had done was wrong, but we were being unreasonable and should have consulted him before acting. He said that The Source had lost all of its advertising. He told me that we had caused $10,000 in damage to the RCA offices and they were going to sue us. I stood up, shook his hand and walked out. Ed was my man and it had come to this. It was unreal. I said my goodbyes to J-Mill and walked over to the editorial side. Our offices had been ransacked. If Dave and Ray were in the area then they were up on the 6th floor and scared to come down.
The rest of the staff eventually showed up and we packed up the rest of our stuff. Downstairs we loaded up our cars. Bonz Malone happened to walk by and harsh words were exchanged. He babbled some shit about “the hierarchy.” We drove to a local restaurant for a last meal together. And that, as they say, was that.
Part 3: Mays, Benzino, and a Gun
HipHopDX: After Benzino threatened to start “puttin’ niggas in bodybags” if his next album didn’t get at least 4 mics, I suppose you weren’t surprised to see his Made Men album get 4.5?
Reginald Dennis: Nope, not at all. But to be fair, I never listened to as much as one song from that joint, so I really can’t say what it deserved. Who knows, maybe it was worth the rating? People still bump that album, right?
DX: You said the ’94 Source Awards were such a disaster that you can’t bring yourself to talk about it…thus making it an even more enticing topic. Can you shed a little light as to why it is such a painful memory?
RD: The Source Awards began in 1991 as a simple reader survey bound into the magazine. In 1992 things took a small step forward as an embryonic version of the awards ran during a couple of consecutive episodes of Yo! MTV Raps. At the end of 1993 Dave informed us that he was planning to turn The Source Awards into a major event and that he needed the editorial staff to pitch in wherever necessary. This was right as the conflict between Dave and editorial began to escalate and many of us were not looking forward to the prospect of spending our few moments of downtime slaving away on one of Dave’s side projects. But at that point we were still a team and we all understood that to the outside world if the Awards didn’t come off as advertised the blame would fall mostly on editorial, so we tried to make the best of the situation. It was tense, though. Dave was in the habit of handing out unsolicited critiques of the editorial side and only really treated people in a civil manner when he needed something. If he didn’t need to parade advertisers through the editorial plantation or need brown faces to accompany him on meetings, Dave treated us as little more than a bunch of chattering voices that he was under no obligation to listen to.
With the Awards Dave needed us to come up with 99% of the content. We suggested categories and nominees. Jon Shecter produced a really nice short film on the history of Hip Hop that was shown during the production. We did our best to strike a balance between what Dave needed for his business purposes and what we as fans wanted to see included in an awards show dedicated to Hip Hop. But ultimately Dave went in a different direction and basically used The Source Awards as a vehicle to take advertising executives on a wild African safari.
As the launch date drew closer – the show was in April, right when Ray really started bugging out – it became clear to us on editorial that Dave wasn’t nearly as adept with dealing with the politics of such an undertaking as he thought he was. The guest list was a disaster, with dozens of Hip Hop pioneers not even invited. And who had to deal with those explosive situations – the editorial side! We all have our horror stories, but I had to spend a very tense 15 minutes in the hallway outside of the office trying to stop two old school legends from rushing into Dave’s office and hanging him out of the window until he coughed up some tickets. And if it wasn’t for Russell Simmons stepping in and basically tearing Dave a new asshole, the 1994 Source Awards would have had very little in the way of old school representation and participation (DJ Hollywood was the best part of that night, and Dave had no clue who he was!).
But it got worse. As the buzz surrounding the awards began to build, so did talk of a possible boycott by artists and organizations who felt that The Source had no legitimate right to select and judge who or what embodied Hip Hop. KRS-1 caused a huge problem during the home stretch. Not only was he not going to appear at the awards, but he was also going to badmouth it and do his best to derail it. Dave got really scared and begged Jon, myself and a few other brown faces to have lunch with Kris and get him back on board. Thing is, KRS is no fool and every problem he had with the award show was valid. We weren’t looking at the entirety of the Hip Hop spectrum; we were only focusing on rap. We had no category for best graffiti or best b-boy. And Kris took great pains to let us know that he felt the magazine was losing its focus and if we were not careful we would wake up one day to find ourselves working at an urbanized Rolling Stone. He was correct on everything he said, but the way he said it to us –whew! Believe me, you don’t want to be across the table from KRS-1 when he is belligerent, surly and has an axe to grind. It was the worst lunch ever and was typical of what we had to deal with while Dave was back in the office fucking up the comp list, stepping on toes and making our lives miserable with an award show that none of us wanted to be a part of.
Then came the last straw. Dave told us that due to a ticket shortage, staffers would only be allowed two guests apiece. This was a problem because we all had people coming out of the woodwork looking to get hooked up. I’m talking friends, family – people who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Many of our loyal freelancers couldn’t get tickets. It was a bad situation to be in. Dave made sure that all of his people had as many tickets as they needed, including 75 RSO members and scores of assorted industry parasites, but the people who actually made the magazine each month – many of them were left out in the cold. It got so tense that I didn’t even want to answer my phone.
The awards themselves were an absolute catastrophe. Bernie Mac was the host – why, I have no idea. He was a disaster. Either he couldn’t see his cue cards or he couldn’t read at all. The show moved along in fits and starts and the natives – the thousands of fans who bought tickets for the event — began to get restless. We thought there would be a riot during one of the show’s many lulls. The highlight of the night was when A Tribe Called Quest came out on stage. They were either going to perform or present an award, I can’t remember which, but as soon as Q-Tip opened his mouth to do what they were going to do – a music cue blasted through the speakers and Tupac and his crew rushed on stage and began performing. Everyone was stunned, was it a mistake or was it on purpose? And as soon as ‘Pac finished his song, he screamed, “Fuck y’all!” to the audience, slammed the mic to the ground and vanished backstage just as quickly as he appeared. Everyone had the same thought: did Tupac just dis Quest? Next thing you know all these Zulu Nation cats are on stage and one dude is threatening ‘Pac, for disrespecting their Zulu comrades. I started looking for the emergency exit. I was like, yeah — now this is The Source Awards!
The next morning many of us showed up early for work and had an informal meeting. Since most of the industry had yet to make it back to their desks, the phones where strangely silent. We all agreed the awards were a disaster and wondered what the effect would be on our professional reputations. Jon and James wanted to meet with Dave to go over the night’s events, but Dave never met with them. He was holed up with the marketing staff watching the videotape of the show and editing it down to a promotional reel that would be used to secure the television broadcast of next year’s show. When they asked Dave why they weren’t invited to the meeting, he told them that since they wouldn’t have had anything worthwhile to contribute they didn’t need to be there. It was just one more log on the burning fire of resentment.
And speaking of Source Awards, here’s something that you might find interesting. Did you ever wonder why Suge called out Puffy during the 1995 broadcast? Well a couple of Source staffers were hanging out at the venue during the rehearsals when Biggie and later Suge happened to wander by. Biggie began to voice his displeasure about being on Bad Boy and was talking about possibly making a change. Suge told him that he would be happy to have him at Death Row and that they should talk about how they could make that happen. And that’s how the whole mess started.
DX: What are some of the other events that were the writing on the wall for this downward spiral?
RD: The Source has been the subject of so much revisionist history over the years that even the people who work there don’t know what is what. There is a lot of stuff that has yet to come out, and really those stories for other people to tell, but I’ll definitely toss a few gems put there to get the debate going and also do my best to clear up some of the erroneous information regarding our groups initial departure. I’ll do my best to keep it brief, but you know how I do.
In 1994 people said we were crazy, but the arc of the universe bends towards justice and today, in 2005, I don’t think there are many people outside of Dave and Ray who would doubt the veracity of our actions. The very same industry that once sided with Dave has now abandoned him. We accused Dave of managing The RSO, thus giving them an unfair advantage causing a huge conflict of interest. Today Dave will happily tell you that he was indeed the manager of the group and his actions were totally justified. Dave accused us of being unprofessional, of being unmanageable, of using the magazine to air our petty beefs and start vendettas that were bad for business. Well, that seems to be their standard operating procedure these days. We were accused of using Hip Hop as a means for us to live out ghetto fantasies that we were never really built for, but really, that seems to describe David Mays far more than any one of us.
So much of this stuff isn’t even worthy of discussing any more. But there are a few things that Dave has always tried to keep hidden and now is as good a time as any to grab the old flashlight and see what we can see. Again, the conclusions that I draw and the information that I reveal is based on what I’ve witnessed, heard and know. I’m calling it the way I see it and like Andre 3000, I’m just being honest.
I don’t think Dave is a happy man. His friendship with Ray has cost him dearly in all aspects of his life. And while he tries his best to project a veneer of steely calm and unwavering capability, those who know him and have seem him in his quiet moments will tell you a different story.
Dave has been searching for a way to free himself from the clutches of Raymond Scott for many years. He thought that providing Ray with a career would be enough and that he would go off on his own. But that never seems to be the result. If anything, these very public incidents over the years have only served to shackle them together even tighter.
Dave had a friend once, the very same person he once tapped to replace James Bernard. One night he called her up and cried and cried and cried and cried. Dave blubbered to her that he “wished RSO would just die.”
When he found out that Sonya Magett, our fashion editor, could not be enticed to return to The Source, he called a former staffer and cried and cried and cried. He could not understand why Sonya had lost all respect for him. Unfortunately for Dave, the former staffer that he called used to be married to a man who is like a brother to me. The world is small and very few secrets are kept.
There was a man on The Source’s marketing team who once witnessed Ray berating Dave in the office. It seems that Ray was upset at the lack of community outreach programs affiliated with The Source (back in the day James Bernard and I would spend a lot of our down time visiting schools and lecturing and mentoring young people, there was no official Source mandate to do so, we just did it on the strength) and screamed on Dave to the point where he burst into tears. “I’m trying, Ray,” he wailed like a little sissy.
One of our old interns had an interesting discussion with an RSO member who was busy loitering around the office one day. The intern, a very good friend of ours, was a bit miffed at something Dave had said to him. The RSO member had a remedy — one he said worked for him whenever he felt that Dave had forgotten his place. “Just slap him,” was the sage advice. “Just slap him.”
There was another man on the marketing team, a person who started back when we were there. It was his second day on the job and he witnessed something that shook him to the core of his being. Ray locked the two of them in Dave’s office and lovingly placed a pistol to the side of Dave’s head. “Homeboy was crying,” is what this marketing man told anyone who would listen.
We know someone who lives right next door to Dave’s parents in DC. When the situation went down between us and Dave the fallout was far reaching. The two neighbors stopped talking to one another. It was a sad situation, but one day Dave’s mother sought out her former friend, apologized for the despicable actions of her son and explained, “David is afraid, he is in way over his head and can’t figure a way out of this.”
I could go on, but once you’ve heard one story you’ve heard them all. Dave is Dave. His heart pumps pink Kool-Aid. For all of his love of the ghetto he never learned lesson one of surviving in the hood: Under no circumstances are you to you ever give your lunch money to a bully. It is far better to take the ass whoppin’ than to be some nigga's personal ATM. But Dave never seemed to figure that out and that is why he is in the dire straits that he currently finds himself. I once met a man who introduced himself to me as “Dave Mays’ future extorter.” Really, now, is that what you want to be known for? It’s worse than pathetic.
But now shit is getting a little difficult for Dave and his merry band. Life is tearing hot strips off his back right about now. The word from high up in his company is that The Source has less than a year. The last time it got this bad Earl Graves, the wealthy publisher of Black Enterprise, stepped in with a much needed cash infusion. I’m sure Mr. Graves had no idea at the time that the suddenly revealed “co-owner” of The Source was Raymond Scott: career criminal. I wonder what Mr. Graves has to say every time some negative press reaches the media. Do you think he is happy having to explain the actions of a person named Benzino to his influential friends? Do you think he regrets taking the advice of his son and getting mixed up in this sad enterprise in the first place? Streets is talking. And we mean Wall St.
And since I am opening up the crypt of secrets, I’ll give you one that I’ve been keeping for a few years. While I don’t have a lot of time to devote to what is going on at The Source these days — and really, Dave and Ray would be highly upset if they actually knew how little I think about them — I have, from time to time, helped to set a few things in motion that have come back to haunt them. I can’t get into everything I’ve done, but there is one particular scheme that I am most proud of, and I figure that now is as good a time as any to come clean with something that many of my peers have long suspected. In 1999 I arranged for Ray Benzino & The Made Men to receive the cover of Rap Pages magazine.
Allen S. Gordon, the former editor of Rap Pages magazine, was once a former intern at The Source. He worked his way up into an editorship and when the Rap Pages job opened up, he packed his bags and headed out to LA. Now Allen and I are tight, and since he never had any great love for Dave and Ray, he was quite intrigued with my suggestion to shine the spotlight on them. The wheels were soon set in motion. A writer went up to Boston and did the story and sometime after that, the Made Men flew out to LA for their cover shoot. I had to take one for the team, as portions of their interview painted me in the worst light imaginable. Man they talked all kinds of shit about me, and I was definitely a little heated when I read the story, but I had to suck it up because I knew that the eventual punchline would be sweeter than anything I’d ever experienced.
The issue hit the racks and The Made Men looked like complete buffoons. No star power at all. Zero. And what do you think happened when Ray marched triumphantly into The Source offices with his coveted magazine cover? Well, for starters he told the editor of the moment that a rap magazine out here had finally shown some guts. A real editor had finally stepped up and recognized the greatness that is Benzino! Ray had taken the bait. We left a bottle of piss on the table and he came by and gulped down every drop! He actually thought that someone would actually believe it was a good idea to put his wack-ass group on the cover of a magazine. Not only that, but he felt that he should have more. In fact, he felt he deserved more. And thus a seed was planted. A seed that would one day grow into Ray crossing the final line and demanding that he be put on the cover of The Source.
But Ray, as usual, could not perceive the bigger picture. He did not understand that by popping up on the cover of Rap Pages, a national magazine, that industry tongues would begin to wag. “What the fuck?!” is what label people muttered all across the globe. “How did Mays pull this off?” they wondered. Up until now dealing with Dave and Ray was seen as the cost of doing business. But now things were different. This was public, out in the open. They were flaunting it. It was too much and many label executives – especially the ones with artists still awaiting magazine covers of their own — began to seethe.
Magazine people began to voice their displeasure as well. Such open corruption? How? Why? And they began to point fingers and spread great falsehoods about those they claimed were responsible.
Yes, people were talking about the Made Men, but as usual, it was for all of the wrong reasons. Ray, however, couldn’t tell the difference and thought it was all good.
The Rap Pages cover ended up being the worst thing that ever happened to this or any other Source staff. Ray was livid that he had to travel across the county to get the love that he should have gotten at home. His ego inflated and he began to berate the staff. He eventually called a meeting and, as the story goes, locked the entire editorial staff in a conference room. Also in the conference room were selected members of Ray’s “security detail.” From all accounts that I have heard of that day, Ray was in rare form. He had a stack of recent issues of The Source, and went through them all, pointing out their shortcomings; he literally had much of The Source staff in tears. People were literally holding hands under the table and both men and women exchanged tear-filled glances. I’ve even heard that there was an Uzi on the table. It was, they said, the worst staff meeting ever.
Soon there would be changes, and thus began the next mass editorial exodus. The crazy part was this: outside of the original Mind Squad, this staff was probably the most capable team that the magazine had ever fielded, but one by one Ray managed to drive them out and replace them with an endless succession of cheaper, more malleable equivalents.
Soon Ray would reveal himself as the “co-owner” of The Source — a secret so tightly held that no one, not even Dave Mays, knew about it until it was revealed in the Miami Herald one wacky morning. A Made Men album would finally receive a 4.5 mic rating and not long after that Ray would at long last find himself on the cover of The Source.
Ray’s Source cover would knock over even more dominos and eventually set the stage for much of the misfortune that is currently decimating the magazine: pending bankruptcy; staffers working without benefits; falling circulation; declining ad sales; smaller office space; rubber paychecks; a revolving door of employees; a ban on Dr. Dre, Eminem and The G-Unit. The list goes on and on.
But it would never have happened if Ray had not taken the initial bait. I figured out a long time ago — but not quick enough to save myself — that the best way to fuck with Ray is to make sure that he gets everything he wants and then all you have to do is sit back, put your feet up and watch him fuck it all off. The law of the universe states that everything he touches must turn to shit. I was happy to see him on the cover of Rap Pages because I knew that it would be the beginning of the end for him. It’s like in that old movie Carrie. Yeah, you are the queen of the prom, but look out for that bucket filled with pigs’ blood. Ka-Bonk!
But even though my scheme achieved the desired effect, I do regret the collateral damage that it caused. But sometimes these things have to be done.
DX: You said you once met a man who called himself “Dave Mays’ future extorter,” can you say who that man was?
RD: Sorry, but as I’m quite fond of breathing air everyday, I’ll have to keep that one to myself. But I will tell you this: Dave Mays and his future extorter have definitely hung out on occasion – but I don’t think Dave understood the severity of those meetings and who this guy is connected to. Believe me, if they decided to take over The Source they could do it in an afternoon. But it’s all good. I’m sure my man was just joking.
DX: What is your take on the whole Source and Eminem controversy?
RD: I think it is unfortunate. It has certainly diminished whatever was left of their credibility and I imagine it’s had a tremendous negative impact on their business. I can’t say I’m surprised by any of this since beefing with artists is a proud Source tradition, but what’s going on now is almost too painful to watch. At some point you have to suck it up and put the health of the business over your own personal concerns. I mean, back when we were getting under the skin of artists, it was mostly good-natured ribbing. Hip Hop artists are notoriously thin skinned, and while they feel perfectly justified going into a studio and giving voice to their opinions – whether informed or not – they really don’t like it when someone forces them to be accountable for what they have said. So, whatever beefs we may have been involved with – and yes, there were many – we were always coming from a position of truth. So if we caught someone in a lie or they tried to threaten us – well, we wouldn’t keep it a secret and would give as good as we got.
This whole thing with Eminem, try as I might I really can’t figure out what the beef is. I mean, I know that Ray is going on and on about “the machine” and how it’s racist machinations sustain artists like Eminem at the expense of others, but I really don’t see it that way. If anyone has benefited from “the machine” it is Ray.
The Source is “the machine.” How else could someone like Ray manage to get himself so many record deals? And get so many artists to collaborate with him? He’s obviously plugged into something. When he took over The Source and forced us out, the entire music industry sided with David Mays. That is “the machine” at work. I can’t begin to tell you how many reporters that I talked with over the years, reporters who were committed to telling our story and exposing The Source’s shady dealings, who suddenly found that their story had been squashed at the highest levels. Spin magazine spiked two such stories — one in 1994 and one just a few years ago. Rolling Stone mysteriously put the breaks on a lengthy investigative piece back in 1999. Did Dave make a call? Did he appeal to certain people on an institutional level? Was their some kind of business advantage to be gained by sweeping certain things under the rug? Who knows? What I do know is that the credible investigative coverage on all of The Source’s woes has for the most part occurred outside of the music industry. Why is that? I think it speaks for itself, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide. The music media turned a shamefully blind eye to this situation many years ago. And as far as the traditional Hip Hop media goes… nigga please! Shameful. But on the bright side, it’s been the websites that have been doing the lion’s share of what little “insider” coverage that’s managed to squeeze out, but they haven’t been able to go deep because they don’t really know who to talk to or what to ask. Hopefully that will change.
The recent Beef II DVD documentary had an entire section detailing The Source’s dirt mysteriously excised from the official commercial release. I’ve heard stories that the DVDs distributor might have been leaned on. That one video executive might have said, “It’s not worth getting killed over.” (And there is talk that putting out the DVD in its intended form might have caused a conflict with The Source — who also had a deal with the very same distributor to put out their Source Hits album).
But if you are going to rage against a “machine,” let’s talk about the one that prevents the truth from coming out. The one that has hundreds of writers and dozens of editors afraid to speak out on what is going on right before their eyes. But I understand, really. If a position at The Source is a goal of yours, then you will probably want to steer clear of any negative dealings with Dave or Ray. If you are a media entity seeking to partner with The Source – because let’s face it, if you are not positioned within the business of Hip Hop, then you really aren’t in business – then you might not want to expose their criminal ways either. And that is how “the machine” works. It keeps everything worth knowing in the dark.
Ray has been allowed to cheat his way into becoming a household name, but he couldn’t have done it with out the help of the entire industry. Dave has been able to collude with numerous institutions in an effort to keep his dirt on the hush hush, but he couldn’t have done it without so many people looking the other way. Just check out their annual list of the most influential people in Hip Hop and you will see many of their long time cronies smiling right back at you (And I find it beyond humorous that so many of the people criticizing him today are people who have in the past, happily participated in the big cover up).
It’s beyond me to understand how Dave and Ray could ever be victimized by Eminem’s success, but it is clear that they feel as much. To hear Ray calling Em “rap’s Hitler” takes me back to Ray calling Dave the exact same thing. I mean, Ray’s playbook doesn’t have a lot of pages, and if you spend enough time with him you will see that he tends to repeat himself. He calls Dave “a Hitler,” he calls Jon a “sellout white boy bitch,” and yet he holds himself up as some sort of paragon of diversity and understanding. Hell, he considers himself to be Hip Hop’s Malcolm X! This nigga’s coat is seriously missing a few buttons.
Ray would like you to believe that the world is stacked against him, but all of his misfortunes are by his own hand. In 1992, when The RSO was dropped by Tommy Boy, the “Cop Killer” controversy was widely acknowledged as the reason. Ray was simply caught between forces larger than him and that’s the way the media covered it. But it was all a big fat lie. I had very good friends at Tommy Boy and they told me a different story.
RSO was signed to Tommy Boy mostly as a favor to Dave Mays (The “machine” at work once again!). Dave financed the magazine’s move from Boston to New York by selling advance advertising to various record labels. Tommy Boy wrote the largest check and for many years held exclusive advertising rights to the back cover of The Source. When Dave needed help with The RSO, the label was only too happy to comply. But Ray quickly became such a headache that no one wanted to deal with him. Soon he was up to his old tricks, threatening staffers and doing his best to be as disagreeable as possible. After a while they decided enough was enough and the label gave him the axe. The “Cop Killer” thing was used as a convenient excuse, but he knew the truth. And so did we.
But that’s really all I can tell you about the feud. If Eminem makes a song that is derogatory towards Black women, then that is something he must deal with. But for me, it’s kind of hard to see Dave Mays on that podium pointing the finger when I can’t even count the times that I’ve heard him use the word “nigger.” And I really can’t understand Ray’s deep-rooted need to be a crusader. This whole thing is very confusing to me.
DX: You talked about the Power 30 and how so many of them were involved in the mass cover up, can you give any names and what their involvement was?
RD: Without putting too fine a point on things, Dave needs various incarnations of the Power 30 in order to stay in business. Here is something you can do on a rainy day: make a compilation of any iteration of the 30 from any given year and list all of the businesses that they are involved in. Then take a stack of Source magazines from the corresponding years and after considering such factors as editorial coverage, sponsorship deals and added value advertising support, see what kinds of conclusions you can draw. I’m not saying anyone was right or wrong or making a value judgment or saying that they were involved in a conspiracy of any kind, but reality is reality. It’s the nature of the business.
DX: Since leaving The Source, have you had any involvement in Hip Hop (aside from XXL)?
RD: Being the founding editor and creator of XXL magazine, I have a small legacy of meaningful post-Source involvement. But there were other things I needed to do with my life, and as I hit my 30s I really couldn’t see myself doing a Hip Hop magazine for the rest of my days. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but you really can’t recreate the glory days of the past, so it’s best to do a lot of different things and always keep moving forward. And that’s what I did. I knew that XXL would one day replace The Source (which is why I did it in the first place) so my spirit and contributions are being felt on a daily basis — whether people know its me or not. And I’ve scattered a few ticking time bombs here and there, so things will always be interesting. But on the positive side, I’ve been able to mentor, inspire and provide employment opportunities for many people over the years and they pay me back by being very successful in their endeavors and providing those same opportunities to others.(And sometimes even me!).
I’ve been able to use whatever status or notoriety I’ve retained to put myself in positions where I can be useful to others — but I’m not for sale, and I won’t take money or associate myself with just anyone. I’ve worked on a lot of interesting projects and helped more than a few people get their own things started. But because an open association with me can sometimes cause unwanted attention from various “machines,” I’ve needed to keep a low profile with my Hip Hop dealings. But I don’t really mind. I’m still connected and my phone rings everyday. I’ve pretty much retired my byline, but if something interesting comes along I might come back for a minute or three — and I have in the past — but since I’ve already gotten to do so much in my “Hip Hop career,” It’s easy for me to step back and let someone else get a shot. Or better yet, I can pull some strings and help them get that shot.
DX: What do you think about the current landscape of Hip Hop?
RD: For all of the weeping and hair pulling of late regarding the death of Hip Hop, I’d have to say that the landscape remains the same as it ever was. It’s what you do with the land that matters. Hip Hop is alive and well, but just like a meal that has an overabundance of seasoning; the essence has been overpowered by unnecessary elements. Things are out of balance, but if there were a way to scale back the influence of the music industry, then the other elements of Hip Hop might have an opportunity to make more noticeable contributions.
Outside of America, Hip Hop continues to be a social force to be reckoned with. Brazil, Japan, The UK, The Arab World – Hip Hop is the staging ground for all manner of debate and discourse. MTV Africa has just launched and there is an enormous Hip Hop movement throughout the motherland. Anyplace where people are oppressed and the standard of living is low and people have an axe to grind, that’s where Hip Hop thrives. Hip Hop is all about overcoming personal and institutional struggle; our problem here in America is what to do once you’ve managed to meet your goals?
The current Hip Hop generation has so much more to work with than I did and if they can’t seem to find the handle, then it’s really on them, isn’t it? Everyone has a 24-hour rap station available. There is saturation coverage on television. You can walk by a newsstand and see a dozen glossy magazines speaking to whatever Hip Hop experience you may be a part of. The fact that Hip Hop is a legitimate lifestyle is an undisputed fact; everyone wants a piece of it and everyone wants to go along for the ride. But if you don’t like the way things are unfolding, then all you have to do to correct things is get back to the essence. HipHop is all about bending the world to your will. So change this stuff into something that you want it to be.
Things won’t get better if the best idea that someone can come up with is to try to turn the clock back to 1983 or call the late 80s – early 90s - the “golden age.” It’s 2005, and you should be doing your best to make sure that 2005 is considered the best year ever.
From my vantage point I see too many Hip Hop intellectuals out here missing the point. I see too many Hip Hop elitists who fear change and feel their status as experts will diminish if things move into new and exciting directions. Worst of all, I see too many people wearing the uniform, but who can’t even be bothered to learn anything significant about the culture they claim to love so much. The information is out there, so there is no excuse for ignorance. If you aspire to be a Hip Hop journalist, you might want to have a working history of Hip Hop journalism. You might want to own a record collection. You might want to have an understanding of the things that are going on in the world today, let alone yesterday. This stuff is important and if you can’t be bothered to accurately document the life and times of your generation and your individual life, then believe me, no one else will. So don’t take any of this stuff for granted and don’t expect someone else to do it for you. Hip Hop is something that is to be lived, so turn off the radio and the video show and get out there and be about it.