How Dave Mays and Benzino Got Back in the Game with Hip Hop Weekly

Step One: Take a page from the Bonnie Fuller playbook.

The Source’s origin story is now hip hop lore. In 1986, Dave Mays, a Harvard student from an affluent part of Washington, D.C., met another white Jewish hip hop fan, Jonathan Shecter, and together they began hosting a radio show. Mr. Mays created a newsletter to promote it, and soon The Source was born. While at Harvard, Mr. Mays also befriended Ray Scott, a rapper from hard-knuckle Roxbury, who went by the name Benzino.

Following graduation, Mr. Mays and Mr. Shecter moved to New York City, and the magazine flourished. The partners had spotted a market that had been neglected by the publishing industry, and The Source grew as rapidly as the genre it covered.

There was no shortage of turmoil. In 1994, the founding editors left in protest after Mr. Mays surreptitiously inserted a feature on Benzino’s rap group, the Almighty RSO, into the magazine. Following the upheaval, Mr. Scott became co-owner of the magazine, though his exact role was vague, an industry guessing game. Still, the magazine continued to grow.

By 2001, it was selling approximately 360,000 copies on newsstands and reportedly earning  annual profits of around $10 million, an extraordinary figure for an independent publisher.

In April 2002, Mr. Mays sold 18 percent of the company to the private equity firm Black Enterprise Greenwich Street Fund for $12 million. Months later, Black Enterprise helped the company obtain a $18 million dollar loan from Textron Financial. Mr. Mays said the cash infusion was to cover an existing loan and offset losses incurred by The Source’s website. It eventually cost him the company. “The biggest reason The Source went down and we lost it was my mistake in betting the farm on the Internet,” he said. “I made a stupid deal with the private equity people. I was naïve. I was believing my hype too much.”

“The ideas that the Source.com staff [had] were bigger than what the Internet bandwidth at the time allowed,” said Carlito Rodriguez, who served as editor-in-chief of The Source from late 1999 until spring 2002.  “It seemed like they were doing O.K., but then the Internet bubble burst.”

Further problems arose for The Source later in 2002, when Benzino exchanged a flurry of diss records with Eminem, whom he branded “the rap David Duke, the rap Hitler, the culture stealer.” Naturally, the magazine chose sides—one issue featured a fold-out poster of Benzino holding Eminem’s severed head—but while Benzino claimed the beef was a selfless attempt to defend hip hop from corporate influences, it didn’t resonate with readers.

Worse, it made enemies out of not only Eminem but out of Dr. Dre, 50 Cent and Interscope Records as well.

“When Ray went after Eminem, that’s when we started to see newsstand sales decline,” said Jeremy Miller, The Source’s COO at the time. “Within a year, newsstand sales went from 380,000 to 300,000 to 270,000. That was huge.”

How Dave Mays and Benzino Got Back in the Game with Hip Hop Weekly