The Road to Popularity
They used to like him.
In March of 1998, when Eminem was first getting a little buzz, the Source magazine (the hall monitor gave him props in its much-celebrated “Unsigned Hype” section. After he was signed by Interscope Records, the magazine nominated him for multiple Source awards and championed him as the first white hip-hop artist of significance.
People who hadn’t given hip-hop music a second thought bought the Detroit rapper’s CD by the multimillions.
They loved the rapper’s sound, his flow and his story.
He became an MTV staple and every record he put out shot to the top of the charts.
That’s when the folks behind the Source magazine, which for 15 years has been regarded as one-stop shopping for everything hip-hop, got mad. They felt that Eminem’s sales were hurting black artists, something they saw as especially hurtful in a culture created by blacks. Thus began a feud – though the magazine doesn’t call it that – that continues, and perhaps is escalating, to this day.
The magazine’s February issue came out Monday, and David Mays, the Source’s CEO, promises hip-hop fans will be shocked at the information they’ve dug up on the Eminem. Included in the edition is a CD that contains snippets of raps Eminem made – before he was a star – that include derogatory comments about black women. Exactly when they were made is disputed, though they caused a stir when the Source played them at a November news conference and posted them on its Web site.
The article talks about the rapper’s early career, and Mays says they’ve collected a lot of evidence that suggests that he may not be sensitive to the black community and issues of race.
The piece is part of a buildup of verbal attacks that have included racial accusations, record deal breakups and questions of street credibility.
Raymond Scott, who raps under the moniker Benzino, is best friends with Mays and is closely affiliated with the Source. Through underground mixtapes and his own CD, he has traded barbs with the Detroit rapper and his label, Shady Records, for most of 2003.
Scott called Eminem a “rap David Duke, a rap Hitler, a culture-stealer,” and was pictured in the Source holding Em’s head.
Eminem fired back, calling Benzino the “softest, fakest wanna-be gangster in New York.”
Interscope Records, the label Eminem and Dr. Dre record for, pulled its ads from the magazine and refuses to talk to reporters there.
The Backstabbing Classmates
It wasn’t long after that, according to Mays, that three “white kids from Detroit” came to the Source offices with the tapes that the magazine is now releasing.
Lawyers for Eminem tried to block the release of the recordings, saying that distributing the CD violated copyright laws. But last month, a federal judge ruled that the Source could make available up to 20 seconds of the two previously unreleased works.
Eminem has said he made the recording “out of anger, stupidity and frustration” after breaking up with a girlfriend who was black.
The Source’s investigation and report, Mays says, are in an effort to save hip-hop from suburban America.
“The Source has always been on the front lines to defend hip-hop from its attackers,” says Mays, who is white. “We’re the only ones that understood hip-hop … and we’re able to report on it and understand its point of view. We’re trying to save the greatness of hip-hop culture.”
It really isn’t just about Eminem, Mays says. It’s hip-hop’s integrity that they’re really concerned about.
He points out that black innovators were not credited for their part in creating rock ‘n’ roll, and says he would hate to see that happen to hip-hop.
“Eminem is the major force being used to help redefine for mainstream America what hip-hop is,” Mays says. “And as long as they continue to think hip-hop is what he represents and what he projects, they will no longer be supportive of what real hip-hop is.”
Eminem has apologized in statements, saying that his lyrics were young and foolish.
“Dave Mays and Benzino are spitting in the face of what hip-hop and rap music have done to promote racial unity,” Eminem said in a statement. “Their attempt to use this old, foolish recording to damage me and, in turn, the positivity that hip-hop promotes is really nothing more than blatant self-promotion for a failing magazine and one man’s lifeless music career. They’re scared of what can happen if the hip-hop community shows it can live without them.”
New York entertainment attorney Michael Friedman says that the judge made the “appropriate” decision when ruling to let the magazine distribute partial recordings of the songs.
However, the intensity behind the investigative report is what stands out for Friedman, an entertainment partner with the New York City office of the national law firm Jenkens & Gilchrist Parker Chapin.
Friedman, an expert in entertainment law, has worked with several independent record companies on MP3.com and Napster litigations, in addition to being an expert on licensing.
“It is unusual the degree to which they are forcing the issue and putting this out there into the public. As a music industry and cultural publication, they certainly have the right to do it,” Friedman says. “Whether the public is interested in this is yet to be determined. But they certainly are within their rights and the domain of their market to develop this story. It’s all very interesting and it balances a lot of competing interests.”
The Writing on the Bathroom Wall
Mays says he’s hoping to educate the masses about the current poster child of hip-hop through the magazine piece.
“We’re battling for the future of hip-hop. If we don’t continue, hip-hop will be lost. It will go the way of rock ‘n’ roll,” Mays says. “It will no longer be an African-American and Latino art form. One of the great things about hip-hop is its ability to unite the races and to destroy racism.”
But is he convinced that Eminem is a racist?
“At the time he made the songs, I do believe he had very strong racist views,” Mays says. “It is conceivable through the greatness of hip-hop that he changed these ignorant perspectives. Maybe he’s learned that those views are wrong and ignorant. But I don’t know that. He’s not talking. He’s hiding behind prepared statements from his people. He doesn’t have the courtesy for the community to even speak out about it.”
Then again, he might. Later this month, Eminem will be on the cover of XXL magazine – the Source’s direct competition – addressing the songs and the things Mays and Benzino have been accusing him of.
Eminem’s publicist declined comment on the Source’s story.