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 partners seem to have let bygones be bygones: Eminem is regularly featured in Hip Hop Weekly. “Anything he’s doing gets covered in the magazine,” Mr. Mays said, while admitting, “We haven’t done any interviews with him.”

Mr. Scott’s duties at The Source were always a little fuzzy. At Hip Hop Weekly, the 46-year-old is listed as co-founder/chief brand executive while Mr. Mays, 42, is co-founder/publisher. Asked what he does, he told The Observer, “That’s always been part of the mystique of ’Zino,” adding, “Honestly, I’m pretty much involved with everything that goes on up there. I let Dave handle a lot of the business side and I’m picking the staff, the stories. Do I read every single story that comes up? I’m not a copy editor or anything, but I get the issue plan together and pretty much pick all the covers.”

Mr. Mays agreed. “Every idea, every concept, creatively 99.9 percent of everything is his ideas,” he said. “At The Source people didn’t really understand or appreciate [his] contributions. For a long time, it was not known what his role was, and we kept it that way. And of course, it’s Dave Mays, Harvard graduate, and people automatically associate me as the smart one. Little do they know that he’s the real genius of the partnership.”

Mr. Mays also blamed that dynamic for feeding the scuttlebutt that Mr. Scott was strong-arming him and using The Source as a cash register for his recording career. “[It’s] like, ‘Dave is being taken advantage of, or he’s threatening him,’” Mr. Mays said. “That’s the stereotype one would think: the Harvard guy and the street guy, and that’s the only way they can be getting along. And it’s a believable story because of those stereotypes.”

Mr. Rodriguez called them “the tightest, best of friends. Brothers.”

Still, The Source had a spending problem and observers naturally began to wonder where the money was going. “People were like, ‘You’re spending the money on Ray’s career and that’s what it is,’” Mr. Mays said. “No, schmuck. I just spent $10 million on Source.com, dickface. That’s where I fucked up the money. Did I fuck up money? Yeah. Was it on that? No.”

“Everybody at The Source had an assistant who had an assistant,” Mr. Miller said. He also said there were several people on the payroll who weren’t working at the company. He dubbed them “phantom employees.” “I used to joke that if we made $5 million in profit, Dave would spend $6 or $7 million. But I think he has learned a hell of a lot. There is no way he could put out Hip Hop Weekly and have it succeed if he didn’t go through what he went through at The Source.”

I rarely interacted with Mr. Scott at The Source until November 2004, when I wrote a cover story on his friend, the rapper Ja Rule. I thought I’d written a fair piece, despite the fact that Ja Rule, like The Source, was feuding with 50 Cent. I was wrong. On the Monday morning after publication, Ms. Osorio told me that Mr. Scott was furious about the story and I was going be fired. Mr. Mays and Mr. Scott met with the editorial staff that afternoon in Mr. Mays’s office.

The meeting quickly turned into an inquisition on the cover story, and Mr. Scott asked if I was a fan of Ja Rule’s music. I rambled about objectivity and journalistic integrity. He then asked if I preferred 50 Cent’s music. It was a yes-or-no question. I told him I did.

Throughout the meeting, Mr. Scott picked at his cornrows. After an hour or so, half of his mane was an unruly mess while the rest remained braided. His hair looked wild. A colleague said that it was an intimidation tactic he often used during long meetings.

In the end, somehow, I was spared. But a few years later, I learned that sometime before that meeting, Mr. Scott allegedly told Ms. Osorio that he’d “cut [my] pinkie finger off.” It was also recounted in her 2008 memoir, Straight From the Source. I asked Mr. Scott about the story. “Picture that,” he said. “Again, that’s one of these urban legends. Cut off his pinkie finger? That sounds like a movie to me. Honestly, it does.”

Such turmoil was common. “I’ll never forget writing a Ludacris cover story and being told at the 11th hour it might be pulled because he was performing at Monday Night Football instead of at the Source Awards,” said former music editor Jerry L. Barrow. “That was just the regular unpredictable nature of working at The Source. You had to be able to bob and weave.”

Hip Hop Weekly employees have seen significantly less turbulence. “I knew what people in the industry had to say,” editor-at-large Cynthia Horner noted. “But I have not seen any of the problems that you used to read about.”

Mr. Scott said that he’s mellowed in recent years. “Getting older gives you a different perspective on life, but I’m still a passionate person,” he said. “I’m just focusing on raising my kids, getting this magazine off the ground, doing music and just enjoying life.”

Both he and Mr. Mays said they miss The Source because it offered them a platform to tackle social and political issues, but they’re confident that Hip Hop Weekly’s format is a better bet in today’s marketplace. They recently beefed up the ad team and are developing a television show—think Entertainment Tonight meets Rap City. They’ve also published successful one-offs, such as a Michael Jackson tribute, a 3-D swimsuit calendar, and Skyboxx, a sports lifestyle publication.

Meanwhile, Mr. Scott is considering writing his memoirs. “I don’t think people understand what my true motives are,” he said. “There have been people riding with me since day one. The ones that haven’t because they’ve been misinformed are the ones I want to get to.” And the others? “The ones that hate my guts, I really don’t care about them anyway.”

editorial@observer.com

 

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