By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Eminem responded with an apology and an explanation: He said he wrote the lyrics because he was pissed off over a breakup with a black girl. The confession turned the controversy into old news, but not to Benzino. A drawing of him holding Eminem's severed head showed up in the February 2003 issue, and he rapped about him in several tracks of his own. "You the rap David Duke, you the rap Hitler, the culture stealer," he spat out on his single "Die Another Day."
The endless Eminem vitriol also proved costlymusic ads from Def Jam and Interscope disappeared. "Mays made some bad decisions. The mission of the magazine has been warped and perverted to fit Benzino's obsessions," says self-described grizzled hip-hop veteran Bill Adler. "The attacks on Eminem are transparent and pathetic nobody in hip-hop cares."
Last April, when the full texts of Kim Osorio's and Michelle Joyce's EEOC harassment complaints were posted on sohh.com , fans got an eyeful of an editorial office resembling something out of a Pam Grier movie. Judging from the allegations, the Chelsea offices sorely needed a Foxy Brown character to kick in the door and beat the hell out of the misogynist idiots described in the documents.
It's not that anyone was really surprised that a workplace usually described as a men's locker room complete with Vaselined- girl-bending-over posters on the walls and rappers-cum-execs slap-boxing in the halls could be sexist. The former executives' complaints detail more than how they say women are treated. They describe a magazine where writers were forced to write untruthful articles about the publication's perceived enemies.
Michelle Joyce (left, with glasses) and Kimberly Osario (right, in pink) are filing suit against The Source.
photo: Brian Kennedy
Says former associate music editor Miranda Jane: "Writers have to take their sides of any beefs. If you don't know the game, or if you can't keep track of who they were or weren't doing business with that day, you could have serious problems, the least of which was getting fired. For a man that could mean being put in a state of fear. For a womangoing to work each day being called a whore."
In the complaint, Osorio accuses Mays of allowing a male writer to "degrade her as a woman" and threatening to "knock her upside the head" in response to her asking about an article he hadn't turned in. Both Mays and Benzino, she charges, frequently "berated and humiliated" women employees, while menmany of them Benzino's old friendswere given a free pass. Osorio says she was fired in March after refusing to rescind a discrimination complaint she says she e-mailed to the company's human resources department.
Former vice president of marketing Michelle Joyce was there just over a year to Osorio's five, and says the men she was charged with supervising harassed her with impunity. One felt comfortable telling her he'd "give her something to suck on." Mays would "yell, curse at [her], and often ask whether [she] was 'fucking stupid' or 'some sort of asshole.' " According to her complaint, the climate was so toxic several female execs would "often hide in their offices and avoid walking through the corridors out of fear of being sexually harassed." She also claims that she was fired after complaining about the way women were treated.
Many female former Source employees agree that the office is exhaustingly sexist, but not all women in the hip-hop world are willing to let Osorio completely off the hook. She was the editor in chief when the magazine, many observers have noted, grew exponentially more shallow and sexist. It was Osorio who played the infamous Eminem tapes to reporters two years ago, and she who backed up many of Benzino's dubious claims. "While I believe the [EEOC] allegations, my feeling is that Kim was basically bitten by the dog she fed," writes Essence magazine writer E. Assata Wright in an e-mail.
"They used to address meaningful issues, gang truces, police targeting black and brown kids," recalls former Source writer Rachel Raimist, before coming to depend on "just one story all the time. Pimp and stripper culture-porn is the norm."
In answer to critics, Osorio (who recently started work as an executive editor at bet.com) says that decisions on content were often made on the business side. Besides, churning out sexist product does not exempt a business from following harassment and discrimination statutes, nor does the law care who someone might be sleeping with. Those concepts are lost on Mays and Scott. Soon after the complaint was made public they faxed a statement to reporters that said: "We find it peculiar that [Osorio] would make these allegations because during her tenure at The Source she had numerous sexual relations with artists. We have proof of this and we find it unacceptable . . . "
Co-owners Mays and Scott don't view themselves as oppressors of women or anyone elsethey've long positioned themselves as defenders of the little guy against the hip-hop industry "machine."
Says Mays: "For the past few years, The Source has been the sole voice willing to speak out against the corruption, bribery, deceits and greed in the corporate Rap music industry that is destroying the greatness of Hip-Hop culture."