Every month across America, more than 400,000 people go to newsstands or their mailboxes for copies of a magazine called The Source. What they find in its pages is a lively update on the fast-moving, often combative culture of hip-hop. And lately they are finding something else: Along with the expected rapper profiles, topical essays and album reviews comes coverage of a feud -- the one The Source has engaged in with some of the biggest names in the multibillion-dollar rap trade.
So as players and hangers-on gathered in Miami this week for the Source Hip-Hop Music Awards, the ceremony found itself competing with subplots for the attention of hip-hop consumers.
Launched by The Source in 1998, the awards show takes place on Monday at Miami Arena and will be taped for broadcast next month on BET. Whether the candidates for, say, album of the year generate as much buzz as the magazine's de facto enemies list -- the latter led by rap star Eminem -- is anybody's guess.
"From where we sit, it is clear that our culture is being destroyed, and The Source is the only media outlet that will step up and try to save it," says a letter to readers in the latest issue. It's written by Source Enterprises CEO David Mays and his second-in-command, Raymond Scott -- also known as rapper Benzino. "We aren't afraid to speak the truth, and expose the fake, plotting, scheming, selfish people in the industry."
But some observers wonder whether the magazine is not engaged in some diversionary scheming of its own. The baiting of Eminem, a past winner of Source Awards and former recipient of favorable coverage, started shortly before the release of a new album by Scott under his rap alias of Benzino. Scott mocked Eminem as "the rap Hitler, the culture-stealer" in a song called "Die Another Day," while his magazine weighed in with stories questioning Eminem's legitimacy in a genre with roots in urban black poverty. Scott and The Source have argued that Eminem's success and critical acclaim -- no rapper has sold more records in the past decade -- are due to his skin color.
Critics fear that Benzino is using his position as a journalist to further his rap ambitions -- picking a fight in The Source's pages to generate interest for his album and in the process endangering the magazine's reputation as a fair, trustworthy voice on hip-hop. Benzino's "Redemption" reached stores in January and has garnered a Source Award nomination: single of the year by a male solo artist for "Rock the Party."
Eminem, a male solo artist, received no nominations despite critical raves and box-office success for "8 Mile," the soundtrack and movie that starred the rapper and spawned the hit single "Lose Yourself."
The Source flatly denies that its impartiality has been skewed by the magazine's relationship with Scott. "Benzino and The Source are not interchangeable," wrote Source.com editor Gotti Bonanno in an online editorial. "The Source has always made it a point to keep Benzino's music career and the magazine business from interfering with each other."
The Source declined a request to make Mays, Scott or any editorial staffer available for a discussion of these issues. But some observers say the magazine's behavior over the years contradicts its claim of editorial separation.
In 1994, Mays wrote an article about Scott's rap band at the time, The Almighty RSO, and ran it over the objections of his colleagues. Eight staffers resigned in protest.
The magazine more than survived that scrape. Its circulation only grew as the parent company expanded into Web publishing, compilation albums, a youth foundation and the awards show.