When The Source magazine first wrote about Eminem six years ago, it published a glowing endorsement heralding the then-unknown rapper as the Next Big Thing.
“One can’t help but recognize this rapper of Caucasian persuasion has skills,” the magazine gushed in its “Unsigned Hype” column. “This Motor City kid is a one-of-a-kind talent, and he’s about to blow past the competition, leaving many melted microphones in the dust.”
The Source is still hyping Eminem — but now he’s the enemy.
For more than a year, Source co-owners David Mays and Ray “Benzino” Scott have been waging war against their one-time poster boy, attempting to “expose” rap’s mainstream face and sales king as a racist interloper corrupting a black art form for the benefit of corporate America.
Late last year, The Source appeared to have its smoking gun — old tapes in which Eminem uses the n-word and derides black women. (In an apology, the rapper said the tapes were made in anger when he was 16 and dumped by a black girl; The Source claims he was in his early 20s when they were made.)
“I believe he was a racist when he made those tapes 10 years ago,” Mays said in an interview. “I don’t know whether he’s changed, because I don’t know him, but there’s a lot of evidence.”
The Source, which touts itself as “the bible of hip-hop,” hasn’t garnered many converts in its bid to dethrone Eminem. Although it has couched its crusade against Eminem as a bid to save hip-hop, the magazine’s critics call it a thinly veiled feud based on the jealousies of Scott, a little-known rapper, and the magazine’s attempt to boost its own sales.
“(This is) a whole vendetta against one man, when you put him on the cover before and blew him up, and now I guess it’s a bad taste in your mouth, so you want to go back and try and trash the man’s career,” said rapper Big Boi, one-half of the Grammy-nominated duo OutKast.
Falling out of favor
Eminem indeed was previously a favorite of The Source: He was the subject of glowing cover stories, and even won a Source Award, the magazine’s version of the Grammys.
Yet all of that changed in late 2002, when Scott released the song “Pull Your Skirt Up,” criticizing Eminem as a Vanilla Ice (the top-selling early ’90s white rapper who was found to have lied about his “ghetto” upbringing) — perhaps the ultimate rap dis. Eminem responded with his own underground dis record, and a feud was born.
Scott would not be interviewed for this article, but Mays says Scott was simply detailing his view that the mainstream media had anointed a white rapper at the expense of black rappers.
“Basically, Benzino, my partner, was the first to really see this process clearly and how serious it was in terms of its evolution, like rock ’n’ roll and other kinds of African-American music and culture that were co-opted by corporations with a racial bias and basically stolen from those who created it,” Mays says.
And what about their early backing of Eminem? Mays says that was misguided and came at a time when the magazine — like others in hip-hop today, he charges — was more worried about making money than preserving the culture.
“(Benzino) kind of woke me up after he woke up and saw a lot of this stuff more clearly, like, 'Hey, we’re a little off-track here. We’ve got to remember where we came from. We’ve got to remember the history and the struggle and the culture,”’ he says.
Mays may seem to be an unlikely person to talk about the struggle and history of blacks: He’s a white graduate of Harvard University, although he talks hip-hop slang and looks the part.
Mays contends other whites are trying to take over the culture — among his targets are MTV, Interscope Records chief Jimmy Iovine and white-owned radio — but says he’s respectful of the culture and trying to preserve it for its black creators.
“I think white people in hip-hop have an even greater responsibility to be sensitive to the community and the culture and these issues, and I feel that’s something that I’ve demonstrated,” he says, adding: “I don’t have a tape of racist songs in my closet, and if I did and somebody found it, I would certainly be out there addressing it.”
Eminem has addressed it — first, with a statement and, more recently, in an exclusive interview with the magazine XXL, The Source’s main competitor. Eminem again apologized for the raps, blaming them on the ignorance of his teenage years, and said jealousy was at the root of The Source’s campaign against him.
But The Source — which won a court battle against Eminem to include snippets of the tapes in a CD in its latest issue — claims Eminem was actually in his early 20s when he made the songs. The issue also contains interviews with former associates who claim the rapper made dozens of even more racially derogatory tapes as part of an all-white rap clique.
Hip hop community rallies around EminemStill, Eminem hasn’t lost much support within the hip-hop community. He still works with his superstar black producer Dr. Dre and his superstar black protege, 50 Cent. He hasn’t been publicly rebuked by any major rappers, and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons even defended Eminem, telling The Associated Press that the rapper has helped unite different races through music.
Mays believes negative articles questioning The Source’s motives are “plants” made by hip-hop conglomerates, that fans who accept Eminem’s apology are “complacent,” and that rap stars are afraid to speak out against a system that pays their bills.
But Elliott Wilson, editor-in-chief of XXL and a former Source editor, says there’s a lack of support for the Source’s crusade because most people distrust the magazine’s motives.
“Kids at home see that this guy (Benzino) owns the magazine,” Wilson says. “He made a record dissing Eminem first, and he’s also a co-owner of the magazine, and those things are related.
Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of The Roots, a nontraditional rap act that has never been on the cover of The Source, says if the magazine were serious about protecting the culture, it would promote more positive images throughout its pages and leave Eminem and 50 Cent off the cover entirely.
“At the end of the day, The Source is in business not to enlighten us, to save us from the evil of mankind,” he said. “The Source is in business to sell magazines.”
David Mays remains undeterred, fashioning himself and Benzino as the Woodward and Bernstein of hip-hop journalism, taking on people like Eminem instead of Richard Nixon.
“For many, many months, the Washington Post was criticized, made to look like fools — people said they lost all their credibility,” Mays says. “And in the end, the truth came out, and they were vindicated, and their credibility skyrocketed. That’s an inspirational story to me, because I believe that’s the same path that we’re on.”