‘Urban’ Legend

The Elusive Crispus Attucks Gives Hip-Hop Sites Some Tough Love

Crispus Attucks knows that most media companies—especially those geared toward the hot, ambiguously named "urban" market—would rather not have their dirty laundry aired before the world, but he doesn't care. Since June, Attucks has been running Urban Exposé, a renegade site whose mission is to relentlessly lampoon the marketers and execs callously cashing in on hip-hop's recent explosion into mainstream culture. Now Attucks is negotiating for a partnership that would allow Urban Exposé to expand into print and television.

With all the attention www.urbanexpose.com has received, Attucks—who hides his real identity behind the name of the first man to die in the American Revolution, a slave—maintains that he and Urban Exposé aren't trying to inflict harm. "We don't want to survive these sites," he says. "We want to see these do good."

Victims of Attucks's catty commentary might disagree. "Things over at Honey got a little sticky," he wrote this fall. "Asondra Hunter was brought in to helm the magazine. Her penchant for getting her weave put in during editorial meetings didn't help morale."

illustration by Lisa Dipietro

This willingness to dish the T—the truth—has won Urban Exposé a loyal audience among professionals who've grown up in the arms of hip-hop culture, especially those black and Latino media types toiling in the "urban space"—that long-underrepresented arena where wannabe playaz are building concepts with virtually no business plans and mountains of blown funds. For the writers, editors, and Web architects who've played Internet shuffleboard in the predominantly white digital world, the site has proven an invaluable place to vent.

"Things over at Honey got a little sticky," Attucks wrote this fall. "Asondra Hunter was brought in to helm the magazine. Her penchant for getting her weave put in during editorial meetings didn't help morale."

But mention the site's name to one of its targets, David Watkins, marketing director of ill-fated and cash-burning Urban Box Office Network, and you'll get a quick statement: "Absolutely no comment."

Throughout the summer that Urban Exposé came into being, Attucks and company made relentless jabs at UBO execs' inability to focus resources. When UBO hosted a massive launch party on Ellis Island, the site posted an article asking its audience, "What is UBO? We still don't know." UBO heads went so far as to have access to the site blocked from their network, after they learned employees were posting complaints about the company's management. After news of the outfit's closing, Urban Exposé posted a 23-page list of people UBO owed money, including names like Serena and Venus Williams.

Although Urban Exposé is operated by a team of writers—all black and young, most from Fort Greene, Brooklyn, none connected to the companies they criticize—the face of the site has remained the faceless Attucks. The self-described "adventurer by trade"—who slyly mentions that he once worked for a cable network and now writes scripts—edits and compiles the site's wrenching commentary. And yes, Attucks's nom de net is a direct reference to black revolution. "It's a way to intrinsically let people know that I'm black and I'm coming from hip-hop," he says. "I'm about the Web revolution. I believe the next generation of conscious sites are coming."

The revolutionary connections don't stop with Attucks; letters to the editor go to harriet.tubman. "I love that he attached his name and Harriet Tubman's name to the Internet," says Miranda Jane, West Coast editor of Stress magazine and former contributor to Trace. "He linked it to a slave revolt. A lot of media professionals joining some companies and corporations have made themselves slaves."

Many African American and Latino creatives took on these shackles when they signed contracts with sites billed as "urban," an amorphous say-all-and-be-all term that's often little more than a euphemism for "black." On the Russell Simmons/BET-produced 360hiphop.com, rap stars like Sisqo and Wyclef Jean flash on the screen, while a tab at the top labeled "buy sh*t" beckons those inclined to flex some plastic. Though it has some strong stories, a site like 360 seems to reflect, and even to feed, the chic for black hip-hop stars who are in essence parodies of street life. "There are mad kids who are not 'urban,' " says Miranda Jane, a frequent poster to Urban Exposé. "Those are the kids buying clothes on 360. They've never been to Queensbridge, and may be remiss to deal with 'urban' in its reality. But they have the credit cards."

What's more, most sites suffer problems both on and behind the screen. While 360hiphop and Hookt host Flash-intensive graphics that would seem to permafreeze the terminals of "urban" youth without a T1 line, content can be relatively sparse and at times in need of an update. 360hiphop's Jonzy's World gossip column leaves off telling viewers, "Til next week!"—but the same column has been online for more than a month.

Urban Exposé's commentary and that of its posters, who ruminate on everything from the state of urban media, to finger-pointing and name calling, to the previous week's Jill Scott show, have caught the attention of outsiders. Whether on the site or at parties, people constantly speculate about the enigma of Attucks—as if he were a real-life Kaiser Soze. After covering the site's progression over the summer, the editors of Inside.com arranged an interview with Attucks, who actually came to their offices disguised in an afro wig. The media magazine then wrote an article naming journalist McLean Greaves as the man behind Attucks, but they guessed wrong.

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