In the modern age of fast paced information oozing out of your device is all too common. We all take for granted the fact that not so long ago the super spread of information was not as prolific. Now you can just pop open your device or computer installed to what ever part of your body, please choose carefully. Any item that is deemed news worthy, unfortunately in this case it could be that your favorite tween artists flashed her not too proportionate body part, will flash instantly in your face. We are a generation of news sadists who are overloaded with this junk. However, music has been far easier to get at and obtain new sounds due to the overload. Hip Hop music is part of this model, yet as I wrote above not too long ago hip hop was very hard to communicate with the greater world. Newsworthy items and other hip hop matters were very localized from its inception up until the later part of the 1980’s. Hip Hop, or mostly rap music, was spread through word of mouth, through shows, through spreading mix tapes around and other methods wet the appetites of the listeners. However, it was hard to find and you had to know where to look.
There was a need by the late 1980’s for a sheet, or more properly a fanzine, such as the ones created for the punk movement like Punk magazine and Sniffin’ Glue from England. This came from two Harvard students, who’s sheer love of hip hop and belief of its strength in numbers fueled the need for a connection. They wanted to create a fanzine that would be able to show what their favorite hip hop track were. In a way they were creating the glue that would bind all these disparate communities of fans into one not so imagined community of hip hop heads.
Jon Shecter had tried his talents as a perfumer in the rap game, which ended in disaster. However, being a true fan of the art didn’t discourage him from expanding on his dreams. After the disappointment he strolled into a friend’s place apartment and quickly caught the gaze of a copy of a rap magazine. The scheme, concocted by his friend’s roommate, was a rap magazine to promote their local college radio rap show. After he met the man who concocted the magazine, by the name of Dave Mays, he realized that they were on the same page, literally. Hence, The Source was born. They both influenced each other’s tastes in music, but the common bond was that in the words of Dan Charnas they were “two white, Jewish guys at Harvard who loved Black music.” Naming it The Source gave it, and still gives it to this very day, a sense of true authenticity in Hip Hop culture. It will forever be solidified in our minds as “the” hip hop magazine that is the official bottom line, as it branded itself just that from day one. Like MTV is, or at least was, to the true authentic music channel The Source will be the end all that is the truth in the game.
Both plunged deep into black music from the start. They crawled out of their mother’s wombs and onto the living room floor ready to plug in the head phones and kick out the jams! Shecter like most Hip Hop fans in the 1980’s, who lived outside of the urban centers of Hip Hop, was frustrated at the sheer lack of Hip Hop journalism and stories on his favorite artists. The big blow hard magazine like Rolling Stone and the great liberal rag the New York Times ignored hip hop music. Spin magazine catered to the alternative white crowd with the occasional hip hop story. They were the first to use a hip hop group in the guise of the Beastie Boys, which caused some backlash from African American critics. (Just read an early post on my blog on the Beastie Boys). The Village Voice occasionally ran op-ed’s, but they did run the “Hip-Hop Nation” article series. Harry Allen’s writings were on the topic, including articles by John Leland at Spin and certain articles by Nelson George. However, at that point this was scarce, so Shecter and Mays acted on this wide vacant chasm. Shecter would take up the article content while Mays would tackle the distribution and advertisement details. Between them and their highly motivated and skilled team, they would push the Source to great popularity. Dan Charnas adds from his book that “The Source quickly gained a readership outside of the local area. Retailers and record companies began to see The Source as a promotional vehicle even more potent than Mays and Shecter’s (previously run at Harvard) radio show.”
One thing that they prided themselves in was the integrity of the music and its artists. When the craze hit hard and artists like MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice became the pop sensations they were The Source was pushed to include them in their pages. Big companies promised piles of money for name recognition giving them the hip hop stamp of approval. Instead of eating from the trough of greed and mundane music, they decided to take the opposite rout. They eschewed all the alcohol and cigarette brands who pushed for advertising space, who offered them a shit load of money (This is the SpaceBalls version of a lot of money!). They did this on principle as they knew all too well how alcohol and tobacco are heavily marketed to young black teens in urban settings, and still are. Instead they rejected them, and their dirty money, in order to invest in the up and coming crop of young talented hip hop artists.
Their stellar reporting and relevance remained until the mid to late 1990’s when it all came crashing down. Thanks to the Almighty RSO and Benzino’s tactics at making Dave Mays alienate his colleagues would be the final blow. This issue is too much to report on for details but the team that consisted of some of the best talents including but not limited to Reginald C. Dennis, James Bernard, Ed Young, Derrick Hawes, Matteo “Matty C” Capoluongo, Rob “Reef” Tewlow, Chris Wilder, and Phil Pabon, was no more.
After recently glancing at a recent issue, as they are rolling out the festivities of The Source‘s 25th anniversary there remains a bittersweet taste. The issue contained some of the older articles written from days past when the analysis was fresh. However, it seems far more full of fluff and artists who I can’t even identify let alone enjoy. It’s a fuzz but the Source remains poignant, along the many other trades, blogs, and magazines who took the model of the original one and only Source. Calling itself the “Hip Hop Bible” the issue boasted that “You can’t google this, MTV won’t show you this, and suburbia can’t explain it to you like we can. We culture.” I guess that in a way they are culture, or more specifically they were the first indicator in print of the potential of a musical genre that came out of the the streets of the Bronx. Thanks to these two white Jewish boys at Harvard.
Shecter and Mays in the early days of The Source
Peace, Shavua Tov and happy new week!