August 14 '98
Last week Wyclef Jean of The Fugees found himself embroiled in some major controversy. Jessie Washington the editor and chief of Vibe Magazine's spin off hip hop publication-Blaze, had accussed Wyclef of pulling a gun on him. Apparently a drunken Wyclef was upset with a negative review that Canibus [who he manages] had received from the publication. He tried to force a change in the magazines editorial outcome and pulled a gun..
I personally spoke to Wyclef Sunday night during the Smoking Grooves Concert when it was here in the Bay Area.. Both privately as well as on air.. Wyclef emphatically insisted that this did not happen. 'I am not a gangsta pull pens and guitars and not guns', he said. Privately, Wyclef said he would never put himself in such a stupid position and that all this drama was a cheap attempt by Blaze to get some publicity at his expense.
Later that night Wyclef went on stage and ripped it.. His set was off the hook. In the middle of his routine, Wyclef did a song improvised guitar based song in which he spoke about his current situation. 'My momma asked Wyclef did you pull a gun?/ No mom I pull guitars and pens..', he sung to a cheering crowd. Again he repeated the words he had passed along to me-that he was innocent and all this was a publicity stunt...
Yesterday afternoon I called Jessie Washington of Blaze Magazine and asked him what's up? He laid it down by telling me he would not lie.. He explained that he has worked for some of the finest publications in the world and there had never been a problem with him making things up. 'I am not a liar...Why would I who has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime take such a risk and do something like this for my first editorial?', he asked.. He said the whole thing was ludicrous..In addition he noted that there were several other people present who witnessed the whole incident. I asked Jessie whether or not he had called the police and if he would either press charges or sue Wyclef.. He responded by noting that his father had taught him to never involve the police when there is a problem between two Black men.. 'They tend to come in and cause more problems', he said. He went on to add that this is something he and Wyclef will have to work out privately and that he's trying to let this whole thing blow over. He did say that what will not be seen in the magazine is any coverage of Canibus.. and that he and his editorial staff had sent out a powerful message that strong armed tactics do not work.
Washington concluded by talking about the innovative policy he had developed for Blaze magazine. He noted that artists will be given a chance to rebutt any sort of negative reviews. He explained that Funkmaster Flex and Professor Griff in addition to Canibus had been given negative album reviews.. but readers would have the opportunity to hear directly from the artists. This would allow for a good dialogue and a more balanced perspective..FYI.. I passed along this interview to Sway of the King Tech Wake Up Show.. They will play it sometime this week.. so check for it..
So did Wyclef pull a gun? He says 'NO!' and Jessie Washington says 'Yes!'. I know Wyclef and to be honest he seemed very sincere.. However, Jessie makes some strong points.. 'Why would he risk so much-his personal reputation as well as a brand new magazine's creditibility'? Since Jessie hasn't gone to the police we may never know for sure what really happened. It will be his word against Wyclefs..
This whole phenomenon about rappers attacking writers is nothing new. It has become par for the course.. I know for myself, I have on several occasions been threatened by disgruntled artists and in my case it wasn't me who directly wrote the article.. It was just the fact that I was in the same publication that issued some negative reviews. There have been several writers and editors who've had their lives threatened if they did not write about certain artists in their publications.
Here on the West Coast the situation is such that a lot of the artists are being put out on independent labels. A lot of times the people backing these labels are street kids who are accustomed to street tactics. In other words, a negative review is taken personal because it has to potential to mess with people's 'paper route' [money]. What is understood by many of these artists is that people are gullable and will believe what they read. If you're a writer who has some creditability and access to some mainstream or well read publications, your negative write ups can really go a long ways in tarnishing a reputation. Hence talking bad about an artist has to be understood that it's like going out and the streets and telling folks there's a new dope spot. If you pull some drama like that expect the folks who are running the old spot to come for you.. That mentality has infused itself with the rap scene.
Now that is in a more street level.. When you're dealing with major labels they too issue penalties depending on who you are.. Some labels will no longer grant you interviews or advanced releases. They will play politics and give exclusive interviews to rival publications. On the upside they will try and wine you and dine you.. Even fly you away to some paradise type spot like Hawaii, all in an attempt to get a good write up.
The main issue here is control.. the artist and labels and whomever else is involved ideally will use what ever tools they have at their disposal to control the type of information that gets disseminated to the public. Major labels will use their economic and political clout.. Street kids may use threats and intimidation..The bottom line is that they don't want little Johnny reading about how much the Canibus album sucks and not spending his last 5 bucks.
On the other side of the coin you have a lot of writers who aren't whole heartedly responsible. The media and the power to influence can become addictive and must be used responsibly. When dealing with hip hop, we as writers must bear in mind that it is already misunderstood and villainize by the mainstream press. Hence there is a lot of weight on the few of us who do have access to the mainstream media. As writers our words if were not careful can be used to undermine not just hip hop but an artist as well.. I know for me, I have writings that were used to help get acts signed to labels.. I've also had writings and quotes that were misconstrued to cause major drama..
For example, two years ago I was quoted in a newspaper article about the tensions that existed between two rival neighborhoods in Vallejo.. which is 30 miles east of San Francisco. To illustrate my point I pointed out how E-40 and his cousin Mac Mall lived in these rival neighborhoods..yet the two can not perform together in their hometown because of the drama between their respective neighborhoods'.. I had no idea the fire storm this passing remark would set off... It was well known throughout the Bay Area the intense rivalry between Mac Mall's and E-40's neighborhood, but to have someone of my stature being quoted about it in a major newspaper was a whole other story..
An upset E-40 called me the morning the article appeared and while he understood I personally met no harm, he explained that my quotes were gonna be used in such a way to get things twisted. People were gonna some how start associating E-40 with all this negative drama.. and he had nothing to do with it. I recall his mother calling me..and she was extremely angry.. She explained that it was these type of remarks that often get held up as examples as to discredit her son.. I thought it was far fetched until I witnessed it happening.
My quotes were all of a sudden being used as fuel to a fan a fire.. People in different 'political' sectors were pointing to my quotes and remarking 'See Davey D says there's drama in Vallejo and he's a rap expert-and he just said E-40 and Mac Mall are the two 'gangsta rappers' who are causing the ruckus-hence if we can eliminate their involvement we can solve many of our problems.' In short these two artists were gonna be the scapegoats for a much bigger problem..My quotes in some instances were gonna be the example of why Vallejo rappers couldn't do things in their own city..I was the inadvertent spark plug.
I recall getting everything from threats to calls of concern at the radio station.. I recall the heads of neighborhood associations calling up who also explained that my passing remarks enhanced a negative reputation they were trying to shed. Eventually things passed over, but it made me understand that as a journalist who comes from a community that's under attack I have to be careful about what I write or say.
One thing that helped my situation out was that I'm out and about enough for people to know what I'm about and hence my good reputation and continued community involvement especially in Vallejo helped smooth things out.. But what about those writers who take serious potshots and hide behind the pen? What about those writers who sit and remark how this group sucks and that act stinks... while having their articles appear in major publications? If they are one of the few who have media access their word will carry a lot of weight.
The Source Magazine with their obviously biased reviews were really the first to feel the wrath of disgruntled artists.. For a long time they used a NY or East Coast standard to review albums.. So you had kids from other parts of the country who were blowing up and getting dissed in The Source..On the other hand East Coast artists who were getting no play out west were being rewarded 4 and 5 mics and being held as the standard bearers for hip hop. I know these sorts of write ups caused a lot of ill will.. and there were more then a few artists who were just waiting to run into a Source writer so they could administer a critical beat down.. 'They're messing up our record sales', 'They're disrespecting our fans base and us as artists'. Of course the most hurtful thing would come when an artist went to go try and get signed to a major label or obtain a distribution deal, A negative Source Magazine review would be perceived as the thing preventing that from happening..
Writers misusing their power to influence have been cited as helping set off the huge fight that broke out during the New Music Seminar in New York back in '91 between Ice Cube's Lynch Mob and Above The Law. Spin Magazine which was one of the few mainstream publications to cover hip hop published inflammatory remarks from the Ice Cube and Above The Law. The two camps never spoke to each other.. They just read about stuff and never realized if what was being said was being taken out of context.. The result was a big brawl in the lobby of the Marriot Hotel which led to rap music being removed from the Seminar..
The whole East West coast saga between 2Pac and Biggie was seen as being inflamed by write ups in publications.. most notably Vibe Magazine. I remember talking with former Vibe writer Kevin Powell and he explained that he did try and be responsible by not printing all the things that were said during is interviews with 2Pac.. he noted that what came out in print was relatively tame compared to what was originally said.. Nevertheless it was the Vibe articles that let everyone in on the controversy that was being discussed behind closed doors.. Ultimately it's the artist fault for spouting off their mouth.. But do we as hip hop writers have a responsibility to keep a lid on things.? After all, we are in the media and we do understand how things work? Do we have the responsibility to tell an artist how to be more media savvy or do we go for the sensational headline making controversy?
I know for myself, I will personally tell artists what's up... and I have and will sit on many stories. Some people call it censorship.. I call it being an advocate and using good judgement and ultimately being responsible. Should I as a writer talk about all the behind the scenes dirt that I know? If so why? And what's the end result? There's all sorts of stuff I could write about.. I know artists who have dealt drugs and do drugs yet say positive things like don't do drugs.. I know artists who have some big fights with one another yet will get on tv and yell 'keep the peace'.. I know artists who will rap about 'getting their groove on with the opposite sex but in reality are really gay. I also know about artists who've had brushes with the law.. I chose not to say anything until the news either came to light or the problem was resolved.. Part my edge as a writer has been personally knowing a lot of acts. At the same time when I'm around them I can't always wear my journalist hat and tell everything I know. It's a thin line but we must be careful not to cross it.
I know for fact that working for the media and having written for magazines and newspapers that these sort of things are done all the time.. I've watched seasoned respected journalist sit on some information, omit certain things or put completely biased slants on stories.. All this is done in the name of professional courtesy or political maneuvering. That's how the media is to be honest as far as I can tell it's always been that way. So why should hip hop be any different? Why should hip hop spill all it's beans? Everyone knows that it's a just a few folks who control most of the media that most people go to get their information. It's a powerful tool and those of us within hip hop have extra responsibilities.
So how does this whole thing tie into Wyclef and him supposedly pulling a gun? It indicates a few things. First, that there are a lot of artist who are frustrated. They aren't being heard and the platforms for them to be acknowledged are severely limited. They're continuously being attacked by the mainstream and then they take it personal when they're attacked by their own within hip hop. A lot of artists have not been schooled on how to handle themselves in front of the media. And even sadder is the fact that many artists have not been encouraged to go out and own their own outlets.
One thing that wasn't often spoken about with Suge Knight was the steps he was taking to own his media. There was at one point talks about Death Row either investing or starting up their own hip hop publication. A lot of these artists don't realize that they are responsible for selling these magazines..especially when they grace the covers of some of these publications..I think Suge understood this and realized it was important to control the flow of information.. Heck that's what everyone else in America is doing.. He understood that since he and his artist were creating a scene they should ideally be positioned to define it. If a Wyclef and other artists owned their own magazines or even their own radio stations.. a negative review in Vibe, The Source or any other medium wouldn't phase them.
You got media moguls like Rupert Murdock who owns both tv stations and newspapers.. he controls the flow of information.. here in the Bay Area my employer Chancellor Media owns KMEL as well as it rival stations Wild 94.9 and Kiss FM.. In NY Hot 97 and 98.7 Kiss are owned by the same folks.. Look at all the mediums that are owned by companies like Disney, General Electric and Time Warner. We must be aware as to who controls the flow of information. Who controls the flow of information within hip hop? I always suggest to artist that they start directing their audience to mediums that are fair to their cause.. I always tell them to not put all their weight behind one radio station or one publication. Expand your options.. The Source should not be the only magazine.. Hot 97 should not be the only radio station.. You flip the balance of power when you create competition.. Being in the media I can tell you from our perspective it's in our interest to keep all things sewn up.. I want all artists to come to my station or my magazine.. That puts me in a position of power. I get to control the flow of information.. But when rap stars are out there endorsing a variety of mediums it forces me off my media pedestals. When rap stars start owning some of these outlets that'll force the hand even more..
I tell writers not get caught up in their power to influence. Use it wisely and help educate the people we write about. Let them now the media is a big business and that stars are short lived.. They will grace the covers not because publications love them.. but because they sell units.. If you must criticize..make sure it's constructive. And be careful not to get caught up as the hip hop expert that kills a movement or the career of a group because he misuses his/her power. We all need each other in this hip hop game.. I will give Jessie Washington and Blaze props for being innovative in providing artists with a forum to respond to negative reviews.. Yes, it's not traditional.. but it responds to the need for a community of people to be heard, have their story told and not feel like they been stepped upon.
Let me know what you think: email@example.com
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