He Ain't Guilty, He's My Partner

Hip-hop mogul David Mays talks about Raymond Scott, journalistic ethics, and Miami Beach cops

"Shopping while black" and racial profiling was all Scott claimed he was guilty of in the mall case. That dustup was simply the latest salvo in what he saw as an ongoing war between the Made Men and the "Boston Triangle" -- a conspiracy of police, politicians, and press seeking to slander and imprison an outspoken black artist. "I'm not going to stand here and pretend that myself or the [Made Men] grew up as angels," he said after one court appearance, "but the wreckage of our past should not be used to judge the path of our future."

David Mays has often spoken of hip-hop's power to make connections across cultural divides. In a conversation with Kulchur last week, he invoked his own life as a student attending Harvard University in the late Eighties. While hosting a rap show on the school's radio station, he sought out Scott: "He had the hottest local rap group in Boston. Hip-hop is what brought us together, and it's what's kept us together." The two became roommates, close friends, and eventually business partners. As the Source evolved from a photocopied newsletter into a full-fledged magazine, Scott was at Mays's side.

Get at me dog: Ray "Benzino" Scott and producer Teddy Riley hold court at the Source Hip-Hop Awards
Get at me dog: Ray "Benzino" Scott and producer Teddy Riley hold court at the Source Hip-Hop Awards

If this unlikely alliance between middle-class Jew and inner-city black man raised a few eyebrows, it also provided benefits. Racial tension was a leitmotif during the Source's early days, and having someone like Scott at his side certainly didn't hurt Mays when it came to answering critics who questioned why a magazine dedicated to a black art form had an Anglo at the helm.

"I've been conscious of race forever," Mays says. "Some people still try and use it against me as a business tactic. But the magazine speaks for itself. At the end of the day, it's very hard for someone to say, 'Dave's a bad guy because he's white.' Look at the magazine he puts out -- its track record speaks for itself. My track record speaks for itself. I've created a lot of opportunities for people, and at the end of the day, it's not about skin color. It's about character."

Character, however, is precisely what prompted a crisis within the Source in October 1994. Mays's championing of Scott's Almighty RSO -- a group in which he had a financial stake -- represented a serious violation of journalistic ethics in the minds of many magazine staffers. The more Mays pushed for coverage, the more the staff resisted. James Bernard, who was co-owner and co-editor in chief at the time, claims that Scott threatened to "put niggers in body bags" if RSO's new album didn't receive a glowing review. Scott says he was joking, but several employees have attested to a general climate of fear and intimidation between opposing factions at the publication.

As the November 1994 issue of the Source rolled off the presses, editorial staffers were shocked to discover that three pages marked as advertising during layout actually contained an Almighty RSO piece written and surreptitiously inserted by Mays. Outraged at what they considered an ethical breach, Bernard, fellow co-owner and co-editor-in-chief Jon Shecter, music editor Reginald Dennis, and five other staff members resigned in protest.

"They sought to usurp control of the magazine by concocting a media story," Mays says of the staff walkout. And while he chalks up the fissure to a difference in aesthetic direction, he still defends his decision to run the RSO story. "The Almighty RSO -- whether they were my partner or not -- merited some kind of coverage in the magazine, the way any other group that had an album on a major label that was making some kind of noise deserved coverage. Because of their problems with me, [the staffers who quit] refused to cover the group in any way. It was my position as the person in charge of everything that there should be something written on the group. So I made sure there was. That, to me, was fair."

"The magazine's done in my mind," declared Bernard at the time. "You can't rebuild credibility." Actually Mays was just getting started. The Source has since grown to a monthly circulation of 450,000, and along with its multimedia spinoffs grosses some $25 million annually. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter currently is fielding buyout offers from a host of suitors, reportedly including Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner, Vibe and Spin parent Miller Communications, and AOL-Time Warner.

As for Scott, although his musical career has yet to take off, Mays now acknowledges that the rapper has been a co-owner of the magazine for a number of years. Several other figures with Made Men affiliations also have moved in and out of staff positions.

"A lot of times in hip-hop it helps to have street shit covered," explains one person close to the magazine. "When you're running a rap magazine, there's always people pissed off at you. There's always issues, someone with a beef or someone who wants you to do a story on them. You need a layer of people to deal with that -- people like the Made Men."

To Mays's detractors this continuing association only highlights the controversy surrounding 1994's staff fracture. "Nobody cares about Ray Scott's music except David Mays," insists one former staffer. "You open up the magazine and there's article after article, free ad after free ad, all about every project connected to this guy. And the only reason he gets the attention is because of his relationship with Mays. This is Scott's sixth label deal. It's been failure after failure. Yet he keeps getting signed to new deals. How do you think that happens?"

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