He Ain't Guilty, He's My Partner
It seemed harmless enough at the time. Sitting with Source magazine head David Mays and Source Youth Foundation director Edward DeJesus earlier this summer, Kulchur noticed both men wearing the same distinctive medallion necklaces -- an M set inside a black shield. Was there a third Musketeer missing from our lunch?
"Most of our very close friends have the M," answered DeJesus. It meant they were part of the Made Men.
Excuse me, the Made Men?
"It's a secret-society organization," Mays deadpanned before breaking into a smile. Rolling his eyes at Kulchur's interest, Mays offhandedly explained that the Made Men were simply a rap outfit headed by his close friend and business partner Raymond Scott, who also happened to be DeJesus's nephew. Both Mays and DeJesus appeared bored as Kulchur continued to pepper them with questions about their unique jewelry. After all, with virtually every hip-hop star in America set to descend on South Beach for the Source Hip-Hop Music Awards, there were plenty of other things to talk about. Besides, allusions to mob crews are strictly de rigueur within hip-hop; no self-respecting rapper leaves home without his posse.
Russell Crowe somehow managed to accept his Oscar without dragging his agent, personal trainer, nutritionist, and a passel of boyhood friends onstage with him. But verbal gladiator Ja Rule, striding into the spotlights at the Jackie Gleason Theater on August 20 as he snagged the Source's Single of the Year, had no less than five pals in tow, including producer Irv Gotti. And as Ja Rule grabbed the microphone and bellowed out "It's murder!" (a nod to Gotti's production house, Murder Inc.), no one in the audience so much as flinched. This is hip-hop. Everybody's gotta have a shtick.
David Mays's intimate connection to the Made Men returned with a vengeance at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 21. The bulk of the Source Awards attendees were already at the airport heading home. Both the Miami Beach mayor's office and the police department were congratulating themselves on a relatively trouble-free weekend after two and a half months of "hip-hop invasion" jitters.
Meanwhile in a Beach parking lot off 86th Street, Raymond Scott and Ofcr. Robert Silvagni were rolling around on the ground next to Scott's Ferrari. Scott asserted he'd been attacked without provocation during an unwarranted traffic stop. Silvagni said he had it backward and added felony charges of battery and resisting arrest with violence to those Scott was already facing: reckless driving and driving with a suspended license.
Over the next few days, Mays and Beach police Chief Richard Barreto traded barbs in the media, with Barreto alleging that Mays demanded all charges against Scott be dropped or he'd play the race card and "tear up the city." Mays's response? Barreto was lying. Par for the course considering the pervasive racism Mays believed motivated not only Silvagni's actions but those of the entire Miami Beach Police Department.
By week's end Mays was formulating a federal civil-rights lawsuit on Scott's behalf and planning Beach protests. Needless to say he also declared that the Source Awards and its philanthropic arm, the Youth Foundation, would not be returning to Florida.
This jarring coda to the awards weekend may have left many Miamians scratching their heads, but throughout New York City's hip-hop music industry a collective groan could be heard: "Here we go again!" In a milieu where controversy is a stock-in-trade, few figures inspire as much teeth-gnashing as Raymond Scott, and few relationships have caused as much consternation as the one between Scott and Mays.
As any Hollywood studio executive will tell you, sex sells. With hip-hop that formula is often expressed just as simply this way: A whiff of violence sells. Roughneck authenticity (deserved or not) is a rap marketer's best friend.
In that sense there is no more authentic a rapper than Raymond Scott. Growing up in the hardscrabble Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, Scott and his cohorts in the Almighty RSO had already seen one group member and a bodyguard shot dead before even issuing their major-label debut. That release, 1992's "One in the Chamba," was perceived by the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association (BPPA) to be a call "for the assaulting of police officers" and thus illegal under Massachusetts law. Scott insisted the song was an outpouring of personal frustration over Boston police brutality -- not to mention free speech. Unmoved, BPPA attorney Frank McGee enlisted the help of Oliver North and Jack Thompson's Freedom Alliance in filing a criminal suit against Scott based solely on his lyrics. (Thompson is remembered in South Florida for his crusade against 2 Live Crew.)
"They call Aerosmith the bad boys of Boston, but we're the real bad boys," Scott said at the time. "Nothing against 'em, but the worst Aerosmith probably did was wipe their butts with a million-dollar bill."
On the point of badness at least, law enforcement might agree. Subsequent years would find Scott shuttling between Boston-area court dates, facing charges of reckless driving, driving with a suspended license, disorderly conduct, and assault on police officers.
The Almighty RSO soon morphed into the Made Men, and Scott traded in his Raydog nickname for Benzino, but the song remained the same. Made Men members were implicated in a backstage brawl involving several stabbings at a Ruff Ryders/Cash Money concert. A near-fatal stabbing of Celtic basketball player Paul Pierce inside a nightclub currently has three members of the Made Men entourage on trial for attempted murder. A heated conversation inside a mall with two police officers who suspected Scott of using a stolen credit card would end in a knock-down scuffle.
"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.
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?"
It does seem a bit suspect that an artist who has yet to produce a hit album could keep landing on his feet (this time at Motown) and continually attract a bevy of hip-hop's biggest names to lay down cameos on his songs. Indeed to most hip-hop fans these accusations are much more damning than any tangles with police. And the recent Source awards aren't going to soothe suspicions: There was Scott credited as an executive producer right under Mays, as well as performing a song from his forthcoming Benzino solo album for nationwide UPN-TV broadcast.
"You want to talk about conflict of interest, go look at AOL-Time Warner's magazines, not mine," Mays bristles. "People can dredge up whatever they want. We have the credibility of millions of readers around the world, and that's the most important thing to me."
Which brings us back to the August 21 incident with the speeding Ferrari. Given Scott's past criminal history and his controversial role with the Source, it would be easy to dismiss his accusations of unprovoked police brutality. A thorough review of Ofcr. Robert Silvagni's personnel and internal affairs files reveals no obvious pattern of abuse, though there is the accidental firing of his weapon during a 1994 traffic stop of a suspected stolen car. (According to Chief Barreto, that is one of only two such occurrences in the past seven years.)
Yet Silvagni's own police report of the incident, as well as onsite testimony from several eyewitnesses, raises troubling questions. Silvagni states that after pulling over Scott and passenger Curtis Williams, an angry conversation immediately ensued. As Silvagni stood at the Ferrari's driver's side window, Scott was reportedly uncooperative and began cursing him and issuing threats.
In that situation -- a lone officer facing a hostile driver and his passenger -- logic would suggest caution: Call for backup and wait before making any moves. Instead an outnumbered Silvagni says he opened the car door, grabbed Scott by the wrist and shoulder, and attempted to physically drag him from the car. It was only while the two were subsequently wrestling on the ground that he called for backup. If as Silvagni feared during this struggle he believed Scott or Williams may have been armed, this move wasn't just foolhardy, it was practically suicidal. Witnesses confirm that both Scott and Williams were resisting arrest, though that doesn't excuse Silvagni's initial rash behavior. Those witnesses also verified Williams's dramatic cell-phone call recorded on David Mays's voice mail, and were able to repeat much of its content.
During an extensive interview with Chief Barreto, Kulchur asked if hauling hostile suspects out of their automobiles was standard operating procedure during solo traffic stops. Barreto said it was each officer's judgment call. In Silvagni's case it was a call the chief stood by, though he added he had yet to discuss the incident with the officer.
At this point only Silvagni, Scott, and Williams know what really happened in that parking lot. So if Scott's past is going to be used to prove his guilt prior to a hearing, then perhaps it's worth recalling Silvagni's history as well. "Silvagni has one problem area that interferes with his ability to perform," states an October 1987 evaluation from his police-academy instructor. "Silvagni cannot accept criticism without becoming defensive. He invariably justifies his actions in lieu of accepting constructive criticism."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.