Your nickname, Aimstar, can I call you that?
How did that name come about?
Well, unfortunately growing up everyone had a nickname, and everyone kind of always made mine weird. You can’t really do much with Amy you know, it’s Mee-Mee or Aim or Aims, and I hated those. I think it was my teachers in Long Island that made me hate it. But as I got older, it was Amy Fisher from Long Island because Amy Fisher grew up in the town right next to us; then it was Aimster - which I couldn’t stand – and then one of my friends who was just as obsessed with reggae as I was said Aimstar was definitely it. I then ran it by this graffiti artist, Jose “ease” Parla, and he was like, “I think that’s kind of dope, I think you should run with it.”
How did you get your foot in the door with journalism?
Good question, I would say entertainment overall. Back in the day I was a model, like in high school, so I was always running to the city for fashion shows and doing a lot of the Canai fashion shows – it sounds like it’s been forever, so long ago. I was studying to be a designer and because I was always in the mix and because I was a fan of Hip-Hop, growing up in the ‘90s Hip-Hop was the shit, you couldn’t get around it. So for me it was just a natural evolution. Besides that I was a poet, or at least I thought I was a poet, so writing was just a personal passion of mine.
So when I went to Howard University and took my journalism class, that helped me increase my skills at writing in general and just trying to advance my poetry skills overall. From there I left school my first semester (being a year) because I ran out of money, so I came back to New York and was hustling, not selling drugs, (laughs) hustling as a stylist. I ended up at Trace Magazine which at the time was a UK based publication, and I just kind of ran with it from there and went to MTV and then came to The Source.
Can you take us back to your first interview?
Oh, my God, yeah, that wasn’t fair. My first interview was with Kobe Bryant, and this was when he was launching his clothing line and right after the situation with that girl.
Oh really? (laughs)
Yeah (laughs) and I was in a hotel room in Jersey with Kobe right before he was getting ready to launch his clothing line – I think it was the Adidas camp line. It was just a whole bunch of shit at the same time, and I was like, “Wow, this could really go down right now with Kobe.” And I really wanted it to go down (laughs). It was a little nuts, but he was really sweet. Actually it was a painless interview; he was very open with information (laughs).
What was the dynamic like going from a senior producer at MTV to general manager of The Source to now double duty as senior editor/general manager of The Source?
The dynamic was interesting. When I came to The Source, as I said before, I came in as general manager so a lot of my responsibilities were business related (pauses to repeatedly give directions to the incoherent cab driver taking her to her Bed-Stuy crib). So as I was saying, a lot of my functions were business related in terms of turning certain processes around, creating systems, and circulation, but my background has always been journalism.
And that’s interesting, my background is kind of (sighs), it’s kind of sort of an anomaly. When it comes to publishing you either take the editorial track where you’re going to be editor-n-chief one day or you take the business track where you become the publisher one day. I so happen to have one of those backgrounds that have a mixture of the two. I was probably one of the youngest publishers in New York at 26, and I had done everything on the editorial side. So when I came to The Source I was kind that balance between the business and the editorial. I was writing and working on the business side. I’m still in that role so I’m still in the general manager role, but I’ve been writing more and more.
So that’s where your new role of senior editor comes in.
So what do you do more of, Amy the senior editor or Amy the general manager?
It’s a mixture of the two. I would say depending on the moment, depending on the day, depending on the mood sometimes, but a lot of times I’m just shifting. Like there could be an editorial crisis and I have to put on my editorial hat, but then there’s a business crisis and I got to shift. Business becomes most important though because if the business is not running, there is no time for editorial; you know editorial can’t exist.
Tying into that, what are the daily responsibilities?
The daily grind is literally a mixture of everything. Checking in on our circulation, making sure that everything is moving up to speed. Checking on our advertising department, seeing that they have met their targets. Checking in with the editorial department, making sure that they have reached out to certain heads. Checking on the web department, making sure that we are moving forward into phase two [of TheSource.com]. Checking in with the creative department and making sure that photo shoots are on target. And I think the first thing I do every day is I have a conference call with the management team at The Source so that we are all on the same page about what our tasks are for the day and for the week. And then interviews. By six o’clock I’m usually switching to my editorial hat and I’m doing all my interviews until the wee hours of the morning and editing pieces and starting the day all over again.
Personally, where do you feel The Source is at right now in terms of it going through the bankruptcy mess and “rebirth” in the past few years?
Wow, great question. I think The Source is in a great position to take over again. I think we’ve always been the “bible of Hip-Hop,” Russell Simmons said it best. I think regardless of what has happened over the past few years there is a certain respect and a certain credibility that The Source carries. There’s a certain history that can’t be erased regardless of what has happened since or in the past couple of years. Twenty years of content, twenty years of straight Hip-Hop. Whether it’s southern Hip-Hop, New York Hip-Hop, conscious Hip-Hop, backpack rap, whatever you want to call it hipster. We have all of that kind of content. No one can say that. No one, only The Source can say that. So I think that we’re in a powerful position right now to step up and take over the game. Our team is really dedicated to that.
There is a lot of clean up to do and there’s a lot of kind of re-educating our consumers on what the brand is about, what the new era of The Source is and what does that mean in the landscape. It’s nothing that we can’t tackle, and I think people are slowly starting to see it because heads have been hitting us up lately like, “okay now we get where you guys are going, this is hot, what can we do to help?” We are a testament to where Hip-Hop is. Hip-Hop is balance, Hip-Hop is soulful, Hip-Hop is street, Hip-Hop is educated, Hip-Hop is inspiring, and Hip-Hop is everything. Some of us learn our vocabulary from Hip-Hop. Some of us learn about religion through Hip-Hop. Some of us learned about sexuality through Hip-Hop. That’s what The Source is to me; to me The Source is supposed to be that book, that testament to teach you the ins and outs about everything, about the lifestyle and the culture of Hip-Hop. Whether it’s about politics, about business, about travel, the new kicks you’re trying to get or the artist you’re trying to cop. It’s all of that. It’s not just about the artist, it’s not just about the sneakers, it’s not just about the girls, it’s a mixture of all of that. It’s your guide book.
What role did you play in the “rebirth” of The Source?
Well, I was part of the management team that Londell McMillan (the new executive publisher/owner of The Source) brought in. There were about four or five of us who came in to kind of turn it around. As I said, as general manager I’m just here to help execute some of the tasks that we have plans and ideas going towards. And I’m telling you, I squatted dangerously (laughs), you guys are gonna start seeing some new things coming out. The website we’re really excited about, a year ago we didn’t have a website but now we have the multi-tiered blog.
Yeah, for awhile I would always see the coming soon page and I kept on thinking, “When is The Source gonna get up on their internet game?”
Yeah (laughs) and in a second people are going to be asking, “How do we catch up with The Source’s internet game?” I’m serious; it’s going to be crazy!
When you explained that you were a part of the management team during the reconstruction of The Source, what were some of the fears that you guys ran into when in the process of rebuilding?
I wouldn’t say there were fears, but general concerns. A lot of people were saying that The Source was dead, that it was a forgotten book and that it couldn’t be resuscitated. And I completely disagree with that so I was inspired to come here and work on it. I definitely wasn’t fearful but a concern of mine was, how do we speak to everyone in Hip-Hop? That’s never been done before. When The Source first came out back in ’88 there was that group of Hip-Hop heads who are now in their 40’s. Now we have Hip-Hop heads growing up now who are what 16, 17, and 18. How do we speak to the 18 year old and how do we speak to the 40 year old and keep them all interested in the same culture?
That, to me, was mind blowing. How do you make that happen? Although it was a challenge for us I feel like the way we run about it is speaking from the heart of Hip-Hop. You know, making sure that we talk about the business, the entertainment, the education, talk about things that are relevant to both groups, but making it light enough yet intelligent enough, so that both can understand and both are attracted to the photography or the cover lines. There’s something for everybody in every book [The Source]. You can’t pick up a Source [magazine] right now and not find something for you. It may not be every single page but there’s stuff for you in there. And here’s the thing about us too, it’s not like in five years from now you’re gonna put it down because it’ll still speak to you. And I think the most complicated tasks we faced was, how do you retain the people who still love the book and how do you bring back the followers that left, and get new people to follow at the same time. That was kind of scary.
What segment do you feel has made the most progress so far?
I would definitely say the editorial has stepped up 100%. I got to give to The Mind Squad. The Mind Squad is back, for a second people were saying, “Is The Mind Squad credible?” And I feel like we’re bringing that shit back. We’re saying, “nah, we are credible!” We’re taking our time to really flesh out our stories; we’re taking our time to really pay attention to what people want to talk about and what people want to read about. And at the same time we’re not giving you the same shit that everybody else is doing. That’s not what we’re about; we’re not trying to reiterate what you already know, at all. I think we’ve come light years from where we’ve been recently with the book in terms of that.
And again, going back to the website, we didn’t have a website until September of this year so we went from 0 to 60 in a couple of months. I would also say the overall feeling of what The Source is and what it could be and where it fits in dynamic to other publications. I think people are opening their eyes again and that’s one of the biggest shifts. Because last summer people were saying to me, “Really? You’re going to The Source, really?” Now they’re like, “Yo, son, y’all doin’ it okay. Y’all starting to remind me of what I used to like about The Source.” I think that’s a good thing.
How do you control the content to not overbear readers with too much? So many print magazines now try to cram their readers because they are only published once a month.
I know this is going to seem weird because we just were talking about this broad ass audience where there are mad different age groups. But you can’t appeal to everyone; you can’t try to make everyone love you. It’s like a rapper. If a rapper comes out and he’s trying to make sure that everyone out there likes him and he’s trying to spit lyrics that other people like you’re not gonna be feeling him. You’re gonna feel like he’s fake, you’re not gonna want to cop his shit, and you’ll be like whatever. Right?
But if you get a sincere artist who is authentic and comes with some raw shit, how he feels, what he’s going through, that’s the one that’s going to attract you. So that’s what The Source is trying to do, we’re trying to remain authentic to who we are and what we say we are. We’re not trying to be nobody else and we’re just trying to walk our path. You don’t like us then you’re not gonna like us, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to like us (laughs).
What has been your favorite subject matter to cover since starting at The Source?
Oh my God, we had Barrack Obama on the November cover, which was huge! You’re talking about for years magazines were celebrity-centric, you know what I mean? You couldn’t get anybody else on the cover unless they were a rap artist, a model, or an actress. Barrack Obama was on the friggin’ cover for November and what was crazy about it is that the issue was – yeah we talked about artist and their thoughts on the election – but the overall feature was about politics, the war on Iraq, prisoners, the armed forces and music making. We talked about the reentry process of brothers coming out of prison from the crack era and what are they doing now in the hood in the middle of a recession. That’s the kind of stuff that is affecting people, our families, and how we live. So why not talk about those things versus, “I heard about that new dance, you wanna know how it go?”
Do the stanky leg, Amy. (laughs)
(laughs) Exactly and no offense to them, that’s cool, but there’s a time and place for everything. And we cover that too in the “Ear to the Street” section. It’s entertainment as well but we want to educate people too. It’s been too long where Hip-Hop has just been about the entertainment factor. There has to be some sense of empowerment because that’s where Hip-Hop started, it started as a social movement, and we can’t let that die because if that dies, then Hip-Hop dies and we’re all out a job.
What made The Source’s documentation of Barrack Obama different from all the other urban/hip-hop publications?
Well, the day of the election we were live blogging from four different posts. Even before that we were going out to some of the battle ground states like Pennsylvania and the campuses there. We were encouraging the students to get out voting, and we had the “Get out the Vote” party with all these celebrities to help them encourage other students and people to get out the vote. We had a massive campaign from right after the 20th anniversary issue in September, and we are still talking today about the election and the inauguration and all those things because the election was amazing. The idea of this new administration was so impactful for what it has done to get people to open their eyes to politics. So I would have to say yeah for sure we definitely did our thing with that and in the Hip-Hop realm, yeah for sure.
Through all of this we cannot forget that XXL staked their claim as the #1 selling Hip-Hop magazine. There’s no way getting around that, but do you feel that The Source’s quality was still superior to that of XXL even though they were pulling in more readers?
I guess what I would say is that you mentioned a few minutes ago that some of the negative things that impacted The Source over the years had overshadowed anything worthy of talking about at The Source, unfortunately. It sucks that there was that period of time where people did not care about what was in The Source. They wanted to talk about more of what was surrounding The Source and all the negativity. So with that respect, of course people were saying, “XXL, XXL, XXL!” that’s not to take away from some of the great things they’ve done but I don’t know if would compare the two in that way. To me XXL and The Source are two different books. Yes, they’re both in the same Hip-Hop lane, but are Rolling Stone and Fader the same publication because they both cover rock? No. Is Fader and Complex the same book? No. Is Fader and The Source the same book because we both cover Hip-Hop? No.
But in a respect The Source and XXL have been compared so closely over the years. So really, do you think The Source was putting out a better quality magazine than XXL even in that time?
I would say that it was a down time for The Source; it was definitely a down time. Can I honestly compare the editorial features from that time? Hell, no. I would say there were more things that I wanted to see from The Source at that time for sure. But I don’t make it my business to sit there comparing magazines. One, because it’s like the minute you start saying who is better than whom, like it’s good to say your shit is the shit, but the minute you start comparing or start saying, “We outdid them” or, “They outdid us,” it’s saying that there is not enough space for both of us to exist. I’m not trying to knock anybody out of their money or out of their hustle. Just do you! If y’all doing some hot shit, do your hot shit, but I know what we’re doing. There’s been a history, unfortunately, when it comes to urban music, media, and fashion; there’s this fallacy that there’s only got to be the top one.
Did you ever feel that way, especially earlier in your journalism career?
I was an athlete before I was a journalist, so it was definitely competitive. In the same way fashion can have five different top fashion magazines in that sphere, I think urban publications can also have that but we have to remember to a certain extent that we can’t sit here and try to knock each other out, that can’t be our priority.
I think that’s a misconception that these magazines are all at each other’s throats to make their magazine number one. It almost gives the readers a kind of band wagon feeling to kind of, for example: jump on the train with XXL on their road to the top of the Hip-Hop media world.
Yeah! And it’s incestuous too because the people who work for us [freelance writers] work for XXL and Vibe. I agree with you, but to a certain extent that edge of competition is real which is unfortunate, it shouldn’t be like that at all. But then again going back to my previous point, I think a lot of the whole pinning magazine against magazine to a certain extent is based on advertising revenue. There is a limited pool for advertising dollars when it comes to our market. We are fighting for that one advertiser regardless if we are an R&B magazine or a pop magazine or a Hip-Hop magazine. We are all fighting for that one advertiser, and if I get it, that means I’m better than you. That kind of train of thought is fueled and fueled until it gets to the streets. It’s not necessarily a day to day basis where I’m always thinking like, “What are they doing?”
To tie into competition, something that seems to come up a lot that people don’t realize is that magazines will scratch articles or features and will regret it immensely when another magazine publishes something similar and it’s a success. I’m sure you can’t even tell me the number of times this has happened, but is there any big instance of this recently?
I think that’s why it’s important to follow your gut. When you have instincts to do something, go with it, push for it because just because an idea comes to you doesn’t mean it isn’t coming to someone else. To answer the question, we just did our fashion issue, the one with Carmelo Anthony on the cover. And there were a couple other publications that had style or fashion features that were very similar to ours. We were like, “Damnit, we should have just done it that way!” Stuff like that. When that happens it’s bothersome, but at the same time we understand that it’s that time of the year. It’s fashion week. You know that February people are going to be covering fashion to a certain extent so you just got to kind of think about the fact that you have to have a contingency plan and think of other ways to execute. That’s something we’re working on now. How do we better execute? How do we think about things quicker or sooner and how do we out smart ourselves essentially? So that we’re not sitting there next month like, “damn, they got our cover too!” (laughs)
The print magazine competition is intense but they are nothing compared to the real competition, the internet. Is it hard to compete with a publication that can put things out minute by minute when you put things out month by month?
Um, I think it’s about perspective. Yes, to answer your question, sometimes I’m like, “damn, that internet thing is really gonna kill a lot of people,” (laughs) because it’s just literally helping to collapse the publishing industry overall. So many jobs are being lost over it. It’s nuts, it’s mayhem to a certain extent but at the same time it’s still exciting because here is an opportunity to work on a new medium, which I take back, is not completely new but is tangible now in a way that it wasn’t in the first boom in the start of the millennium because it was still kind of fresh to us. That is inspiring, it’s definitely thought provoking.
What’s interesting though is that it’s changing your perspective of how print should be and what print should be because I think people still want something tangible. When you’re sitting at a doctor’s office, yeah, you have your cell phone and you may go on Twitter for a couple of minutes (which I did the other day) but you still want something tangible and you may want to look at a story and start reading it while you’re right there. You don’t want to necessarily read a story on your phone or pull out your laptop. You’ll do that at home when you have free time or at work when you’re not supposed to be doing that (laughs), but when you’re living your life you want something in your hand. You want something that is tangible and that you can read on the train or on the bus.
So I think that digital era is a great thing because I think it will help people get creative, and it’s not only that but it will help people get off their asses on how they feed content in general because to a certain extent we [the print magazine industry] were all getting stale with our copies. We weren’t really thinking outside of the box anymore. Now because the consumer dollars are in the kids, you really have to come with some heat for someone to pick you up. I think its forcing people to really work harder and work smarter. So, I don’t know, I’m excited, by it and I don’t think it’s going to hurt us.
Is there ever an intimidation though that they can make themselves relevant by the minute and when the print industry puts something out certain aspects can become irrelevant a lot quicker, and this is because of the internet.
No not at all. It depends what you’re looking for. Like there are sites that are aggregated sites that pull in all this information. But wait, let me ask you this: Is CNN less relevant than the Associated Press?
No, not really.
See CNN gets a lot of its content from the Associated Press and runs it a little bit later. It’s all about your brand equity and your brand value, and I think that’s what we’re focused on right now. We’re saying that we’re rebuilding The Source; we know it’s not going to be easy and we know it’s going to take some time but we’re building our name, we’re rebuilding the legacy of twenty years and we’re trying to do it quickly. At the same time we’re trying to catch up on all the things we missed out on, like the digital side of things and things of that nature. So I don’t think that someone who is fairly new can necessarily compete with us in that respect. I’ll give them props for being able to put up their content quickly but that doesn’t mean they’re discrediting our position at all.
A few times you hinted at a new version of TheSource.com, what can you tell us about that?
The bells and whistles on this joint are insane! I mean obviously I can’t talk about too much, but you will be able to do and find everything you need to know on TheSource.com
Everything. Pretty bold! (laughs)
(laughs) Well, not everything. I exaggerated. You can’t go thrift shopping on TheSource.com (laughs). We’re looking to launch that though by this Summer for sure.
Now, I’ve got to ask the question. Will The Source Awards ever return?
Of course! Gotta come back with The Source Awards, gotta come back!
I’m guessing there are no details on that.
Let’s just say this. It’s not as far away as people may think.
What about The Source Hits?
Yes, that as well! I’m glad you remembered that (laughs). And with that: probably sooner rather than later.
The Source is gonna have to start cutting some big checks! (laughs)
How do you do it all in the recession that we’re in right now?
You know what. We surprise ourselves. It goes back to what we were talking about before about our brand and value. When people hear the story of The Source and what it stood for and what it really means to the history of Hip-Hop, it’s a legacy brand. It’s the like the grandfather of Hip-Hop, the grandfather of urban magazines at that. When you think about any publication that is in that market, they had to look to The Source on how to do things, period. The Source was a standard for many years, you can’t negate that and I think people see that. When we talk about some of the things that we’re trying to do and trying to build and seek partnerships, that resonates with people and they’re saying, ‘how can we be down?’
And I can’t believe I just said “how can we be down” because that just brought me back to ’94 (laughs). But seriously that’s what people are feeling and that’s what draws them to us. They’re like, “Wow, we can create this but for now, for this generation, how do we do that?” We’re creating a creative think tank so to speak that’s virtual because not everyone is working with The Source directly, but people still want to see that despite what’s happened over the years. I don’t know, I just feel confident that it’s going to happen, and the people feel confident that it’s going to happen.
Aimstar, I can’t let you go without getting your opinion on music. Do you think there is an emcee out there right now that can snag a 5 mic rating in The Source in the next three years?
That’s not fair because well…uh, it’s fair, I guess. (laughs) This dude is ill right now. I’m really feeling Drake right now. Like I really think that some of the stuff he’s saying these days I’m like, “this kid…Ah!” That So Far Gone joint, it’s just bananas. Come on, we don’t even get albums that good these days, and it was a mixtape! To keep it real like in next three years he might cop one. I think that alone will inspire other people to work hard because he’s raising the bar and now you got to be as good as this cat. I think we might see a couple of those in the next few years, and I like what the game is doing right now. This transitioning that’s happening is dope, and it’s bringing fresh blood into the game and bringing creativity, I like Wale and what’s he’s doing, and I definitely like Kid Cudi too. There are a couple cats out there that are doing it but Drake, I think he’s getting 5 mics for sure, without a doubt. I’m not saying he definitely will, I’m just going to wait for the outcome.
Well, now we know who won’t be reviewing his debut album (laughs).
(laughs) Yeah, definitely not me because I am bias!
To finish everything off, what should the Hip-Hop world look forward to with The Source in the near future?
I think people should look forward to the April Green Issue. It’s an entire issue dedicated to everything green, literally from the marijuana debate to the economic stimulus package. The cover is sick! Then after April, we have the “Power 30” which is back this year. We didn’t do it last year but its back and it’s going to be strong. So I think people should definitely be looking forward to that as well as the re launch of TheSource.com.