Conscience Rap

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

Sonya, another former Source staffer—who did not want her real name printed because the publication she currently works for did not want to be mentioned in connection with this article—wouldn't talk about the lawsuit specifically, but attested to the fact that models willingly undressed even when they weren't asked to. "We were sitting in an editorial meeting," she recalls. "They bring in, what's her name? Big-titty girl from the Petey Pablo video, 'cause she's gonna do one of the spreads in the Swimsuit Issue. And she literally damn near takes off her clothes!" Sonya says she was paralyzed with shock as she watched the model start to disrobe; to his credit, one of the male editors in the room stopped her.

Ryan Ford, current executive editor of The Source, wasn't the male editor that stopped the girl from undressing, but after working at the publication for five years remembers many such past incidents that could have made female staffers uncomfortable. "Sure," he admits, "we've had our issues with half-naked women in our magazine in a million different ways, just like there's been a million different ways in music videos. But I challenge you to find another publication that has the audience that we have that also talks about some of the negative aspects of those issues." Ford insists that things are different now for female editors at the publication. "We respect their comments greatly with issues like this."

Former staffer Tracii McGregor says she never encountered harassment in her days at the magazine.
photo: Amy Pierce
Sonya knows the average male Source reader would've loved to fill her chair at the table that day. "Even though I'm a hip-hop journalist, I read all these shits. I know, they are not geared toward us," she says. "If they were, they'd have actual fashion for girls." Less concerned about the sexism, though, she beefs with the idea—sometimes prevalent at the mag, she says—that hip-hop's audience is dumb. "We were getting ready for our International Issue and I wanted to write something like, 'Look forward to next month—we'll be hitting you with the diaspora,' " Sonya recounts. "These muhfuckaz was like, 'Niggaz don't know what diaspora means so we gotta take that out.' I was like, 'You don't think muhfuckaz would wanna look it up?' "
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.


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

"We go through that all the time," Ford says. "Like, 'Is this too heavy? Do we break this down so the motherfucker that doesn't have a master's degree can understand what the hell we're talking about?' Because still, hip-hop culture is a culture that serves working-class blacks and Latinos—point-blank." He says communicating with this demographic is not about, " 'If you can't understand what this word is, go pick up a dictionary.' That's not the attitude we like to come with."

Of the magazine's penchant for publishing pics of skimpily dressed women, Ford says it's not fair to single The Source out. "Maxim has half-naked women in it. Rolling Stone has naked women in it. Time magazine from time to time as half-naked women in it. Not that it's right." But, "Even in our darkest time we always had a strong political context that looked at things like misogyny in hip-hop, that really analyzed things like violence in hip-hop. And we continue to do that."

The Time connection is a stretch, but there's no shortage of hip-hop artists, journalists, filmmakers, and loyalists ready to defend the culture's seedier aspects as an unfortunate but necessary reflection of reality. "The bottom line is people are trying to get their money and people are trying to get their product out there," says Evan, a music video director and hip-hop documentarian who admits he's shot his fair share of "guy up against his car, a girl shaking her ass for no apparent reason" music videos to keep the lights on. Evan didn't want to be identified since he works for a major hip-hop artist's label and feared recrimination. "By any means necessary," he continued. "The market's overly saturated and, you know, there's things you need to do to sort of—some people gotta do what they gotta do. You know? It's the society that dictates it. It's not the rappers that dictate it."

G-Unit president Michael "Sha Money" Clervoix concurs, citing longtime friend and business partner 50 Cent—and his famously dark backstory—as a prime example. "He's not running around trying to shoot no one anymore," he says. "It was a life that he lived. You live a movie, you gonna get a movie. Did you see the movie Gladiator? That's basically what 50 is. He didn't have to win the kings and the queens, the presidents and the execs. He won the crowd."

Tresa Sanders—publicist to David Banner, Dead Prez, and G-Unit's Lloyd Banks—also agrees, to a point, that hip-hop's just reflecting harsh reality. "I grew up in Flint, Michigan, and we lived on the better side of town, but my brother . . . was just strictly a gangsta and was killed at 21, so I've seen that," she says. She's quick to add, "I've also seen the other side, where we were, like, valley girls. I find that, as a community, we're not doing more to create other stories."

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