Conscience Rap

In the wake of the Source trial, hip-hop staffers ponder their contribution to the culture

"I once worked with a group that referred to their music as 'cocaine rap,' " recalls Marcus Logan, a former marketer for Virgin Records. "They were incredible lyricists and much more, but that was their niche, and it was my job to market this to the world. I absolutely felt at times like I was a drug pusher. You know? I absolutely, 100 percent felt that."

When Virgin downsized in 2002, Logan had a year to consider his six-year rise from Columbia Records intern to Bad Boy exec to the Virgin post—a résumé that boasted projects like Mase's Harlem World and the Lox's Money, Power & Respect. He toyed with the idea of leaving the music industry altogether. "The conflict comes when you can't personally relate to it," he says. "I'm 35 years old. I don't do things that I did at 25. There are times that I love being of the artist's world, and other times I just don't."

Women working in hip-hop often have an even tougher time reconciling that divide. Getting a paycheck for marketing products and artists that often instigate violence and portray women as only good for sex can leave staffers at all levels feeling played. That was—and is—the case at The Source magazine, according to former editor in chief and current plaintiff Kim Osorio, who found herself explaining how her former bosses sexually harassed her from a witness box in courtroom 14B at the Southern District of New York.

Michelle Joyce (left) and Kim Osorio filed suit against The Source last year.
photo: Amy Pierce
Michelle Joyce (left) and Kim Osorio filed suit against The Source last year.

Details

Editor's note: The online version of this article was updated on 10.24.06 to reflect the outcome of the Source trial. The print version closed before the verdict came in.

See also:
Are Hip-Hop Staffers Complicit?
An open thread in Power Plays

In 2002, Osorio became the first female EIC of the long-maligned publication that christened and continues to sell itself as the "Hip-Hop Bible." But in an affidavit she and fellow employee Michelle Joyce filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2005—shortly after she was fired for poor performance, The Source contends—Osorio claims she was subjected to discrimination and harassment from male bosses and underlings alike, implicating then-co-owners Raymond "Benzino" Scott and David Mays specifically.

Osorio, currently executive editor at BET Interactive, declined to discuss any specifics of her lawsuit or the trial, which concluded Tuesday, October 24 with a $15.5 million settlement in her favor. But her EEOC deposition, published on hip-hop news website sohh.com, joins her recent court testimony in detailing multiple instances of disrespect and intimidation: "The sexual harassment was so severe and pervasive that women at The Source, including several female executives, would quite often hide in their offices and avoid walking through the corridors out of fear of being sexually harassed," the affidavit contends.

Citing the ongoing trial, The Source also declined to discuss the situation. However, in the first interview she's given since Osorio filed suit, Tracii McGregor, who rose from freelancer to VP of content and communication at The Source from 1994 to October 2004, says she never experienced harassment in her days at the publication. "I don't put up with the bullshit," she says. "So if there was anything unsavory going on, trust I would certainly be one—or anybody, really—to speak up." Of the staff, McGregor asserts, "The guys were like my brothers."

But even in less allegedly hostile work environments, many women in the hip-hop industry don't feel as comfortable speaking up—whether it's out of fear or guilt. Fiona, once an ad sales rep at another bestselling hip-hop publication, who spoke on condition of anonymity—she did not want to burn bridges in the small hip-hop industry, where pretty much everyone knows everyone—admits, "I would find myself hiding the fact that I was with that publication, but using it to my advantage where it could be used to my advantage. There were perks to being in my position. You know, parties . . . trips . . . There was a certain prestige in the hip-hop community, just being at one of the two main hip-hop publications."

But the angel on her shoulder got in her ear. "People would ask my opinion on how they portray women and just the blatant usage of the N-word—among other expletives," she remembers. "I would be like, 'Oh, you know, well, it is what it is. This is the culture now.' Deep down in my heart I knew that it wasn't right. . . . I felt a lot of internal conflict."

Though many hip-hop critics and fans take issue with the culture's taste for "swimsuit issues" and other excuses to parade half-naked women that blur the line between fashion photography and softcore porn, that aspect didn't irk Fiona much. "I'm not brand-new when it comes to nudity or semi-nudity," she says. "My issue was the fact that from the front to the back of the book, the N-word was just explosive. Not to say that if this was a publication done by us [Fiona is black], for us, I would feel any differently about the situation, but the fact that this publication was owned and operated by people who don't look like us, and sold en masse to people, again, who don't look like us, I found issue with that." Caught in a crisis of conscience, Fiona concedes she wasn't giving 100 percent at the job anymore when she got the ax in January 2005.

Tracii McGregor says that she too was less concerned about all the skin shown in The Source's annual Swimsuit Issue than with the fact that the majority of the scantily clad beauties featured were light-skinned. "I was always rallying for more women with more skin color up in there," she says. "I like to show the diversity of who we are. . . . Sure, I would've liked to see more clothes on women, but you know, women took their clothes off for those pictures."

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