Right From "The Source"

The growth of The Source -- "The magazine of hip-hop music, culture & politics" -- is a pretty good metaphor for the growth of hip-hop itself. Just as the music has moved from impromptu Bronx block parties powered by electricity pirated from a nearby streetlight, to a billion-dollar corporate industry, so has The Source evolved. Begun in 1988 as a Xeroxed fanzine run out of publisher David Mays' Harvard dorm room, it is now a slick glossy with a national monthly circulation of nearly 300,000 -- outselling both Rolling Stone and Spin on the newsstand. That prominence is matched by the attention of advertising agencies, who are increasingly making The Source the venue of choice for reaching urban hipsters, or the kids who just want to dress like them. Even those impressive numbers hardly do justice to the magazine's influence, however. Just stand in the aisle of Coventry's Daily Planet News on the day the latest issue arrives. Teenagers literally lunge at it, hollering across the store, "It's here!" and then frantically debate the contents. Over in the world of rock and roll, it's hard to imagine young people anywhere lending that same intense scrutiny to the work of Rolling Stone or Spin music critics, whose writing only seems to be followed intently by other critics in the field. That same formula applies to the artists themselves: Top-selling rappers from LL Cool J to the late Notorious B.I.G. not only read The Source, they sing about it in their lyrics. In contrast, it's hard to imagine either Mick Jagger or the Wallflowers losing too much sleep over their press coverage, let alone penning a verse in response to a single bad review.All of which makes the release of The Source's special 100th issue a good time to check in with the magazine's editor, Selwyn Hinds.How has The Source changed since its early days?When both The Source and hip-hop started out, it was a localized phenomenon. Fifteen years later, it's no longer just a music per se. It's become a huge culture that's spun off a variety of industries, from fashion to film to advertising. An entire generation has sprung up only knowing hip-hop as their contemporary musical form ... if we're going to be the one magazine that kids from 16 to 22 actually read, we're going to make sure that we're presenting as multifaceted a view of the world as possible.In your introduction to this 100th issue, you say that "hip-hop is a way of looking at the world." Is it possible that it's become simply a new way of "marketing to the world?"That's entirely valid. ... What hip-hop has done for the advertising world is give them a new language to sell to youth. Hip-hop is now where rock and roll was a couple of decades ago. For me, as a writer and editor, it might seem philosophically problematic. But I'm also a realist, and I know that in the mercantile sense, hip-hop has given a lot of young people the opportunity to actually profit off of their own cultural enterprise. That doesn't just mean rappers. It includes designers and people like myself.Elsewhere in the 100th issue, hip-hop pioneer Kool Herc is quoted as saying, "More white kids in Europe know who I am than black kids in the states." He's featured on the Chemical Brothers' latest album, yet he's ignored within today's hip-hop community. Do you see any irony in that? Most of the people who are really proficient in the creative forces that produced hip-hop never ascribe it as emerging purely from African-American culture. ... There was a distinct Latino presence and there was a distinct white presence there in the early years. Part of what hip-hop marketing has done is carve out specific cultural segments and put them on the commercial stage and say, "This is what hip-hop is and this is what you should buy." That has written out a lot of people as being part of that original creative urge.Can you give me some examples of that Latino and white presence?Latinos practically invented breakdancing ... the Rock Steady Crew, all the graffiti writers. The white presence can't be ascribed in terms of actual authorship, but early on, when Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambatta were going downtown and taking part in the punk rock scene, that was a very visible cultural exchange of information. If you look back at some of the visual images and the way a lot of the hip-hoppers in the late '70s and early '80s dressed, a lot of it stemmed from punk.What artist and trends most excite you for 1998?A young man by the name of Canibus. [The New Jersey rapper will have a CD out in January on Universal.] Canibus is the first real battle MC to come around in quite a while, the first person in the last couple of years that isn't concerned with the more trendy items -- the clothing and collecting merchandise. É This is a guy more into art for art's sake, lyricism, and complicated structures and weaves. ... Dance-rap is still going to be at the top of the charts, but there is a building groundswell for music that's a little slower and more serious and introspective.This new issue has significant coverage of the international hip-hop scene, from Cuba to Japan. What is the thinking behind this expanded horizon?One of the problems that our readership has -- specifically those that are in the inner city -- is that they subscribe to what we call "block syndrome": The sense that my world is defined by this project that I live in and the four blocks that surround it. I think The Source allows them -- even if it's only a momentary glimpse -- a look at the much greater world and the much greater power and significance that they're connected to.


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