Your new magazine Monsta is close to launching. What can you tell us about it?
Right now we’re close to closing. It’s an incredible issue. It’s like what it was when The Source was launched in ’88. It’s 20 years later and there’s been a lot of change. It’s a brand new generation out right now. Definitely I feel the new generation of magazines that are out right now are not really representing in the proper way. XXL is just a copycat of The Source and Vibe never really found their niche. Big up to the local magazines around the country doing their thing, but I think there hasn’t been nothing launched since The Source and I think Monsta is going to be a culmination of all of that.
You described Monsta to me as “The Source on steroids” once.
Yeah. It’s going to be a super-Source. It’s going to be the same size as Rolling Stone and ESPN. Monsta will be what ESPN did to Sports Illustrated. Sports Illustrated is still a reputable sports magazine, but at the same time, that’s like my father’s sports magazine. ESPN came out with a brand new format and that’s what Monsta is going to be. It’s going to have all the same views that The Source had, as far as being independent and being political. We’re not going to give coverage to certain artists because of advertising and we’re not going to say certain things for advertising. We’re not going to do none of that. We’re not selling out. Whoever is a Monsta in this industry up until now, we want to get in-depth. We want to send the writer out to where the artists are and get pictures and we want to get real in-depth.
We got some of the best writers in the world. We got Dasun Allah and Carlito Rodriguez, two former editors of The Source. We got some of the Hip-Hop Weekly staff and a style section. We got Cynthia Warner. We have great people. We’re all coming together. It’s really exciting because you have a group of people that have lived hip-hop and have covered for hip-hop for years all coming together for the same goal. It’s really exciting.
You’ve been away from the monthly game for awhile. Did you have to knock any of the rust off?
It’s like riding a bike – you never forget that. Running a magazine is like keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s going on. Me and Dave (Mays) never stopped that. People can say what they want. Everybody talks about ‘Zno rapping, but they forget that I had a Top 40 hit with “Rock the Party”. Not too many artists can say that.
We get real in-depth on the streets. I came up in Boston and I definitely understand the whole street aspect and the whole judicial aspect of the streets. Dave’s a Harvard graduate. We cover all the bases culturally and I think that our experience over the last 20 years has basically spoken for itself. The monthly game really is nonexistent right now.
The Source and XXL have both dropped in circulation. It seems as though print magazines are being phased out. Why start a print magazine now, especially when the internet is booming?
See, no matter what, paper goods will always be needed in our society and paper magazines will always be needed. A lot of times artists don’t want to get on the phone with writers from the internet. They don’t know what they look like and they do it because they want coverage. But in order to understand somebody and who they are, you have to go to where they come from and look them in the eye. That’s the only way you’re going to get in-depth in everyone’s life in any situation. Of course the internet is now and also the future, but I think print magazines will always have its place. Look at Hip-Hop Weekly. That format of magazine like Us and People is huge. If you look at TV, those are the biggest shows. People have a fixation on other people’s lives, especially celebrities and people that have money. Why that is, I don’t know, but it will probably be that way until the end of time. That being said, there’s always a place for a magazine. There’s a lot of people who don’t sit in front of their computer all day and they’re running around. Sometimes looking at that screen bugs your eyes out.
Who gets the first cover of Monsta?
Man, you know, right now, Game’s gonna grace our first cover. Game has proved that with all the things that he’s went through, as far as the way he came in the game and his buzz, I think he definitely represents a Monsta in the game. There’s a whole bunch of people who could have been on the front cover, but with Game coming out with a new album and with him being the face of a whole coast, I just thought it would be a great cover. Game’s been quiet, which means that he has a lot to say.
How much did the fact that both you and Game don’t like 50 Cent weigh into this situation?
Man, you know what, that whole 50 Cent thing has been blown out of proportion. Let me give you the real thing with me and 50. When I was with the Made Men, I was in a Sony studio on 54th Street. The Hit Factory was on the same street, right up the street. Those were the two studios that everybody went to. At that time I didn’t know Ja Rule and I didn’t know Murder Inc. We had just signed to a label and we were just recording. I was in the hip-hop room and one of the guys from the group, Jesus, came through and said there was somebody that wanted to meet me. I was playing Madden.
When 50 came in, I had already spoken to Tone and Poke from Trackmasters. He came in like, ‘Yo, what’s up? I just got this situation.’ He came in and showed me how he was cut from what happened with Ja and how something had happened. I don’t remember the story but he told me he had always had love and respect for me. I had called him a car because I think he had to go to the hospital. I had called him a car service. That was the first time we had actually met. I had helped 50 out and I didn’t even know it. Of course me and Ja’s relationship grew. But anybody could have came through there and I would have gave him some help.
Now when the whole Eminem situation had taken place, of course 50 was going to side with who was helping him. I understand that and me and Rule were close. As far as me and 50 Cent, there was never, never no beef. Shit, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a fan of 50 Cent’s music. Of course there are certain things that he handled that I think I might have handled a certain way, but to each his own. But as far as me not liking 50, I never had a reason to not like him. As far as the business side goes, Interscope pulled advertising from The Source and the relationship deteriorated on both sides.
Can Monsta take out XXL right now?
I think Right On! could take on XXL right now! You gotta understand, once you’re the carbon copy of something, you can never gain your own identity. “Hip-Hop On A Higher Level”? No. You’re a carbon-copier. XXL has no regards for the hip-hop community. It’s owned by two white guys who have no understanding of hip-hop. These guys don’t understand hip-hop. Of course we all want to make money, but hip-hop is a culture and you have to be serious about it.
Has XXL’s quality gone down recently?
See, once Interscope pulled the advertising in The Source, they had to start up with somebody. And immediately Elliott Wilson came over with his Interscope pom poms and said, “Hey, look, come over here and bring all that money over here. I’ll put you on every cover I got!” Business-wise, it might have made sense. But you’re only covering one part of hip-hop. With that, now everybody else in the public’s mind has become irrelevant.
It’s not just magazines. It’s radio too. Once you go hard with one situation, you make everybody else irrelevant because it’s hard for a lot of others to even try and get back in the game because their music has been stagnant for awhile, like it’s been held down.
Business-wise, they might have made a move by teaming up with Interscope, but at the end of the day, look at what it did to the magazine. People remember that. People remember coverage in magazines. You’ll see how relevant Elliott was. You gotta understand, a lot of people with these positions start getting big-headed like they really mean a whole bunch. These were the people that were just collecting a check and they had no control over what they were doing. Then you see how irrelevant they become in the game. There are a lot of the guys from The Source who have become irrelevant in the game. That’s just like XXL. There are a lot of people who are going to become irrelevant in the game.
I don’t understand. A lot of people sit back on the computer and hate. If I could offer anybody advice who’s on the internet, it’s to go out there and see the real world. You have a lot of people on the internet popping a lot of shit and they can just kind of be anybody they want to be. They can pretend to be anybody they want to be. A kid who has never seen a struggling situation in his life can talk like he’s a hardened thug. That’s why our magazines are always relevant. These are magazines for real people in the street and they see the real world. If you’re just sitting in front of your computer all day, that’s not good. You become detached from reality kind of like Neo in The Matrix.
Are a lot of writers trying too hard to be stars in their own right?
That’s been the problem. It’s funny because all the writers talk about Benzino rapping and being covered in his own magazine, but you can turn on VH1 and you’re seeing all these weirdos that are popping off. They just wanted to criticize and now they’re shining. There’s all these shows where they just clown artists and talk shit about artists. It really is funny. At the end of the day, I’m very secure about myself. There are a lot of people with insecurities about themselves. There are a lot of people who wanted to rap and wanted to be on TV and they didn’t get no love so they want to take out their frustrations. Me, I think it’s a lot of bullshit.
Does the hate you get from other writers bother you?
You know what? I pay attention to the love and hate. Hate really is just an emotion that a lot of people don’t understand. A lot of people want to jump on the hate bandwagon for whatever reason. A lot of times I would talk to people who would have this built up hate and they would be like, ‘Wow, man, you’re one of the realest people I’ve ever met.’ A lot of these people don’t even know how to put their own shoes on, more or less love and hate somebody. I watch it because I want to know what they’re saying and I gauge it. It’s a gauge on society and hip-hop and a generation and the culture. It motivates me. Trust me. You can use hate. Look at hate like ethanol. You can make corn into something that can power your car. I’m using the hate to motivate me to build my empire.
Going back to XXL, do you feel like if you never had a problem with Eminem and Interscope, XXL wouldn’t have taken off?
I mean, once The Source started getting into its troubles, XXL was right there. It was a copycat of The Source. I don’t think it really blew up. If you want to say it did for a year, year and a half, fine, but look at where it’s at now. I think it’s going to take a real hit now and I know when Monsta comes out, we’re going to definitely wipe them out. And I don’t know who’s the new person over there. I do know that Elliott was driving that train for a long time. I hope the new person knows how to drive the train because they’re going to have to definitely deal with us.
What do you think of Elliott Wilson being let go by XXL?
I think it was karma. I think when you start getting too arrogant and thinking you’re above hip-hop and that you’re better than other people, I think shit happens like that.
We lost The Source because of a financial decision that was made over 10 years ago that made us have to sell a piece of the company to the bank and the contracts enabled the people to take it over. We understand more about corporate takeovers. We understand that.
At the same time, you have to look at who took over The Source – Black Enterprise. What do they know about hip-hop? What do they know about the culture? These are a bunch of men who have issues even knowing who they are and where they stand within the Black community. To me, I think at first, I think they wanted to take the whole magazine over like, ‘Hey, this ain’t Dave and Ray’ not knowing that 90% of what came out of our plan came through us. As far as the ideas and the successes, of course we had a lot of help from the staff and from a lot of the people, but me and Dave made that machine work and now that we’re gone, it’s obvious that it’s not the same place.
Because of our contract, we couldn’t do nothing for a year. So, you know, we’re back now and it’s exciting. I don’t even want to talk about it. I definitely want to just say that it’s probably going to be one of the biggest issues of a magazine that’s ever come out that is relevant to hip-hop and to Monstas of the game.
Looking at the other major hip-hop mag, is The Source dead today?
Yeah, I believe The Source is dead. Definitely. The Source magazine is going to be remembered for its earlier issues from 1988-2007. No matter what, they can’t take those issues from us. We were there for 196, almost 200, issues. The Source is something else. The Source is going over to Monsta now.
How are you going to make sure that Monsta doesn’t suffer the same fate as other hip-hop monthlies?
First of all, we have a whole new way of making magazines run officially. The old days of the 40 people staff and the big budgets aren’t here. Me and Dave know how to run a hip-hop magazine. We know. This is our thing. We have been doing it for over 20 years. This is our thing. We know how to run magazines. We made a big investment into the internet over 10 years ago and it just didn’t work out for us. That’s why ultimately me and Dave are not at The Source anymore. But things are different now and we learned from our mistakes. We understand our accomplishments and we move forward and we’re ready to go to war again.
This time to have a hip-hop entertainment magazine in Hip-Hop Weekly, this is a magazine that a lot of women like. The amount of women buying this magazine is incredible. Monsta magazine is a men’s magazine and they will both complement each other. It took us years to get things going at The Source and Hip-Hop Weekly is already turning a profit and Monsta will just make the process move faster. I say within 3-5 years, we should be right where we were at when we were at our peak at The Source.
And as far as our website, HipHopGlobalMobile, we’re going to be heavily into the tech game moving forward also. It’s just that we feel we want to master it and make sure that we print a great product and from there we’ll be all right. You have to understand also that all the people in the prison systems and ‘hoods love our magazine. We’ve been serving hip-hop since 1988. Everybody from Elliott to Mimi Valdes to a lot of the different people you see on BET’s Behind the Scenes and MTV’s Behind the Scenes, they all came through The Source magazine, all of them. A lot of them went on to go and do great things whether they want to credit us or not. I don’t say that as bragging either. I’m proud of them.
What does it mean to you to have former Source editors Carlito Rodriguez and Dasun Allah back working with you again?
These are real niggas. Those are two of the realest niggas that were up at The Source. These are real niggas that understand the struggle and they understand hip-hop. Carlito is an amazing writer and he’s an amazing mind. He understands television. He was locked up for a long period of time and that’s why I gave him the top job at The Source. I really respected how he came out of the prison system and changed himself. The prison system is fucking a lot of people up. Guys can’t get jobs with records. I really, really respect him.
And as far as hip-hop and Dasun goes, he’s really into hip-hop and he’s passionate about what he writes and he’s not a play-around guy. Dasun is from Brooklyn and Carlito is from the Bronx. They understand the culture and they understand the struggle and them working together with Monsta as well as their work with Don Diva, these are guys that went out there in the streets. That whole American Gangster came from magazines like Don Diva and F.E.D.S. They went out and actually covered these street legends where a lot of these major market magazines would never do that. They’re the ones that are really responsible for the American Gangster magazine blowing up and Paid in Full. They really covered the whole genre. I think, who is more better to write about something than someone who lived it?
Also I don’t want to forget my man Blue and 2Timez. Blue was the former music editor up in The Source too. Blue is incredible with his insight. He listens to all music, not just one type of music. We have a lot of relationships with a lot of artists and a lot of major people in the game. Cynthia Warner has been doing this type of stuff. Even though she does a lot of stuff for Hip-Hop Weekly, she’s been doing this stuff for years. She knows her stuff. We have Star and Wendy Williams doing their columns in Hip-Hop Weekly and we have Evan Gregory, who’s a monster in the hip-hop internet world. He’s going to be doing stuff with Monsta. We have a real incredible staff.
You definitely don’t take the traditional route when it comes to hiring writers.
That’s a great point. 50% of our staff was college graduates up at The Source and a lot of our guys are college graduates now. Carlito also went to college. I just felt that in the culture, we needed somebody to represent. You want to get people from all walks of life.
I have a great deal of respect for anybody that goes to college. What I don’t like about some college-educated people is that they forget where they come from and they kind of separate themselves from people who didn’t go to college and the people who do that, I think that’s kind of counterproductive. I think the people who don’t do that do better. I didn’t go to college. I only graduated from high school, but I’ve been thinking about taking some courses online for my Associate’s Degree. I’m serious about that. College is something that I suggest that everybody go to. Unfortunately we have a whole generation of men who haven’t gone to college, but they still have creative minds and great instincts. Unfortunately they just got held down. We’re giving them a chance.
Hip-Hop Weekly has been around for over a year at this point. Are you happy with its progress?
Well, we won an award for one of the 15 hottest titles. It was a reputable company that gave us the award. We went to the dinner and all that. We don’t take nothing for granted. You have to understand, I got indicted by the feds, we went through the Eminem situation, we went through the Kim Osorio situation and we went through losing The Source. And my mother had a stroke. I went through a lot. I just believed in the people that believed in the people that believed in me and I kept my faith in God. I’m not no coward and I’m not no quitter. I’ve always been a leader and I’ve always been able to dig myself out of the situation. I’m not just going to sit down and let what people say hold me back. I’m going to use it to motivate. Me and Dave put out a good product and people are accepting it. I think a lot of people accept our stamp. There’s a lot of people who got the Eminem situation twisted. There’s a lot of people who respect and understand the stance we took and there’s a lot of people who think it’s only about rap and hip-hop and about Benzino and Eminem.
Why has Hip-Hop Weekly succeeded?
There’s no other magazine like that out there. You have to understand, you take Giant magazine. There was over $15 million invested in Giant and it sold for $300,000. They’re not selling no copies. And a lot of money was pumped into Vibe. You can stay on the shelf even if you’re not making no money because it was a big investment. With Hip-Hop Weekly, we had to do it the old-fashioned way. We started at the ground up and came up. I want to thank everybody who supported us from day one.
Is it harder to get advertisers today because of the rise of the internet and record companies’ shrinking promotional budgets?
Not at all. The print magazine rates aren't the same, of course, but there are more companies out there that are dealing with hip-hop than there ever was. It’s about your advertising person and your relationships. It’s all about having a good product. The advertisers just want to know where your product is and where’s it’s selling and how many people are buying. If you do your numbers, believe me, the advertisers will come.
Do you not buy it when editors say the internet is killing their advertising?
That’s probably a cop-out because they’re just not putting out a proper product. They’re trying to deal with a culture and a music that they probably…You have to understand, it’s hard. Not just hip-hop magazines, but magazines are hard. Magazines before the internet failed. It’s hard to make money with magazines. You have to be able to have your finger on the generation and you have to know all the facets of hip-hop – the struggle, the music, the streets, the people, the different cultures that accept hip-hop, the radio, the artists’ standpoint, the politics of it, everything.
Where do you think Monsta magazine can be after one year?
I think it’s going to be probably the No. 1. It will be the No. 1 hip-hop brand as far as vehicles. We’re about to launch Hip-Hop Weekly TV. That’s going to be an urban series. We’re about to launch that. We want to start getting into the music compilation game and we want to start getting into the internet game and we want to start getting into the product game. With The Source, we were right there. We want to definitely bring Monsta and Hip-Hop Weekly to the international forefront. Plus we’re going to be doing some big award shows. We’re going to be doing the Hip-Hop Weekly Awards and the Monsta Awards. Everybody who’s been to one of The Source Awards knows there was nothing like it. Whatever award shows come out, there will never be anything like what me and Dave do.
How do you see independent magazines like Elemental and O-Zone making it?
There’s always going to be a place for independent magazines. O-Zone is based out of Orlando. She does a lot of local artists from Orlando and different artists from the South. There’s a place locally for stuff like that. But I think that as far as being on an international level, I think that right there takes years of experience to garner the relationships so that people will understand.
Look at how long it took them to take Bob Barker off The Price is Right! (laughs) People weren’t used to the show when they brought Drew Carey on it. But Drew Carey will be on it for awhile and eventually people will get used to him and he’ll be the next Bob Barker. People were used to Bob Barker for awhile and I don’t think people wanted that to change. It’s the same way with magazines.
How will you use the internet to maximize the exposure of Monsta?
See, the theory of the internet back in the days was that since The Source was doing so good and the internet was first coming around, we said, “Hey, we can do the same thing on the internet.” We had the ideas of the Allhiphop’s 10 years ago, it’s just that we were ahead of our time. We spent a lot of money on it and we took the brunt of it. The internet now can just enhance the print. There’s so many ways to interact on the computer. It’s a whole different world. We want to be right there. We don’t want to just come out and be a regular website and a regular chatroom. Even with The Source, we never really got the real website. I don’t want to do nothing unless it’s going to be the best ever.
If you look at Allhiphop, they used to have a certain format. Now when you look at the format, they changed it to something else. I think what people don’t understand about the internet is that the perception of the internet and the perception of a certain website is always going to be bigger than what it is. You have to understand, The Source was selling over 400,000 copies. We had millions and millions of readers a month and it’s not like that online. You don’t have millions of people going on websites. There might be that number in hits, but as far as people going through the whole website like they go through the magazine, it’s just not going to happen. I’m looking at what people like about websites and what they don’t like about certain websites and making the best of it. It’s going to supplement Monsta.
You quietly dropped your last solo album The Antidote in 2007. Are you happy with how the album did?
You know what? We’re in a time where digital sales are taking over. That’s why you’re looking at a lot of the labels and it’s not the same anymore. Soundscan, they know how to detect how many CD’s get sold, but we’re moving into a whole new era now where you can’t sell 100 million albums but you can sell a ton of singles for 99 cents. That’s where the whole mixtape game and giving out your music for free comes in. I want to get my whole catalogue together and get it on iTunes and make sure that that’s available because that’s going to go forever and I have more control over the sales of my music. I have it coming straight to me.
The Antidote is the situation where I had everything taking me away from what I was doing. I was making music and I don’t believe in making mixtapes and just giving away my music. I have a big fanbase. There are a lot of people out there that love Benzino’s music. I put it out there for them.
I’m very happy with how The Antidote did. People can go to the stores and if they see a new Benzino CD, they get themselves a copy. What I’m working on now is exposing these new groups. I’ve been working with LO and Hardy and on the 1st 48. We’re actually about to start shopping that label with Jimmy Henchman. We’re working together. I’m actually finishing mixing the 1st 48 stuff now. I’m very, very excited about that.
And The Antidote is a great piece of work. I’ve also been working on keeping LO and Hardy happy. With the 1st 48, trust me. I also have a couple of other artists coming. I never got the chance to sit back and be a real record executive and be like a Suge Knight or an Irv Gotti or even a 50 Cent. He gave a lot of people the opportunity to sell records. I’ve done the magazine thing and the artist thing and now I want to see if I can do the record executive thing.
Do you think it’ll be a smooth transition to the executive role for you?
Oh, of course. Hell yeah. I understand the ins and outs of promotions and marketing. Everything you do in hip-hop is relevant, whether you DJ, do graffiti, whether you breakdance or rap or whatever it is that you’re doing, you want to get the best out of yourself and you want to make the most out of your skills.
That’s why I can’t really understand why a lot of writers and rappers say, “Why is Benzino rapping and a part of the magazine?” Why not? It makes sense. That’s what every writer wants to do. How come ‘Zno couldn’t do it? And I’ve accomplished a lot on the rap side. “Rock the Party” is on video games and in movies. It was a Top 40 record. That was a huge record and I’ve had a couple of underground records out there with the Made Men and RSO that made some noise. A lot of people give me criticism on how I rhyme and it motivates me and it makes me even better. It’s funny because people talk about how old I am. I’m 41 years-old and I look younger than the 27 year-old rappers. I take care of my body and as long as the females like me, it’s all good. Trust me.
What kind of coverage will you be giving yourself in Monsta?
I think the world knows ‘Zno is a Monsta already, so I don’t really have to cover me in Monsta. It’s just like Hip-Hop Weekly. You don’t see me in Hip-Hop Weekly. There was an FYE ad in there about the album. I think people understand who I am and I want my skills in the magazines to be understood. But I’m never going to stop producing and rapping. I’m rapping better now than I ever have been so why would I stop that now? I do it for the love. Me and hip-hop have had a relationship for a long time and I’m not letting that go.
Is it unfair for people to criticize you covering yourself if you’re doing it in an unbiased way?
I think it’s unfair, of course. That’s everybody’s own opinion. I can respect everybody’s own opinion, but I don’t see what sense it makes. If they had their own magazine and they could produce their own music, I think they would cover themselves. And I think 99% of the people out there who own a magazine or are a part of a magazine rap. Don’t think that those guys up at XXL don’t rap. When I was up at The Source, there were a lot of guys who wanted to rap and they did a lot of it behind closed doors.
Come on, look at it. The people who put out car magazines drive. The people that put out hunting magazines hunt. The people that put out home and garden magazines are interior decorators. If it’s a hip-hop magazine, to me, it’s only natural that a person that’s a part of it, that somebody, is involved in the music side of it. I’m sure if Dave could rap he would! (laughs)
Have you ever gotten Dave in the studio?
His guy from back in the days at Harvard was trying to rap. Dave’s never gotten behind the mic. He’s never done none of that. I think I saw him trying to do a scratch back in the days but that never really worked out.
You never tried to get Dave on t he “Rock the Party” remix?
Nah. I don’t know. Dave’s a smooth guy, but Dave’s behind the scenes.
Why are you and Dave able to succeed together?
Because we believe in each other and we definitely love each other. We definitely have a great love for each other. We definitely understand each other’s talents. That’s the biggest thing. I know where mine lays and he knows where mine lays and I know where his lays. Where a lot of people might not understand me, I think Dave understands me and he knows how to utilize my talent.
A lot of people don’t know that I produce and I make a lot of my own decisions and I’m very intelligent. Sometimes I’ll just say something that might not make it seem like I’m the most intelligent guy, but you have to say things that shock sometimes. Perception is everything and I’ve learned how to play into that. I have fun with it. Sometimes I read what people say about me and I want to start cursing everyone out, but when it comes time to get this money and when it comes to making a difference, I believe that I’m a very revolutionary type of person and I’m a very political type of person. I speak my mind and I want to do things right. I believe there’s no gray area. There’s only right and wrong. That’s the type of person I am and a lot of people don’t know that about me.
Do you have any regrets over any decisions you made in the past?
You know what? As a man, you don’t want to regret nothing, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t regret anything. There’s some things I probably regret from back in the day. A lot of times, you have to shock people to really get their understanding because a lot of people float in society and just accept the status quo. Sometimes you have to be shocking to wake them up. We’re at a time where a lot of people are afraid to say things. They want to say the right thing and a lot of people can influence others if they said the right thing. They understand the difference they can make but they choose not to. They want to just sit to the side and they don’t really give a fuck about nothing else.
Nothing really comes to mind, but of course, if I really thought about certain shit, maybe I could have said this this way instead of that way, but a lot of things that I’ve said had to be done because they’re still going to provoke thought. This Eminem thing provoked major thought and I know that I wasn’t the only guy who had issues with the whole situation and the whole double standards that him and his company represented and the vehicle that was supposed to be helping us and representing us. Somebody had to say it and somebody had to do it. As far as with this Eminem thing, I’m going to be connected to him for life. If you Google his name, you’re going to see my name and if you Google my name, you’re going to see his, which is good.
As far as race in America, we still have a long way to go. Hip-hop has been a great way for everyone to understand each other. As long as that’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing, that’s fine. But as long as there’s a white kid sitting by his computer and he’s sticking up for Eminem because he’s white and not understanding the whole argument and the whole debate, then that’s good that he’ll keep talking about it until somebody explains it to him. That’s fine. As long as he’s talking about it, that means that he wants to learn about it.
I look at when the thing with Eminem first started, everything was pro-Eminem. Now I got a group of people that stick up for me and they’re on my side and there’s nothing wrong with a real debate as long as it doesn’t turn violent and disrespectful. As long as it’s being talked about and as long as it’s being heard on both ends, I think it’s going to be good for the future of our society.
Do you think people will ever see you for who you are and not look at you as the guy that dissed Eminem?
I mean, the internet makes it hard and with technology and the way things are going, it makes it hard. It makes it hard for people to see who you are. I think that’s why Monsta is important. I want to get across who these people are. It’s been misconceived, and that’s for a lot of people and I want to straighten that out. A lot of these interviews can help people understand who I am, but it’s hard. They’re reading on a computer and even sometimes an interview can help paint the picture of what the person is doing.
I’m the type of person where I wish I can meet the world. I give everybody my ear and I give everybody my attention because I really give a fuck about people of all colors.
I am of Cape Verdian and Puerto Rican descent. That’s a coast off of West Africa. They’re African and Portuguese people. And I am Puerto Rican. So I am mixed up of all cultures. Where I grew up, I grew up as black. My mother married a man from down South and I have two older sisters and I grew up under them. My older sisters were into the Bob Marley’s and I grew up in the projects with predominantly Black people. Of course I have Latino descent in me too and a Portuguese side. At the end of the day, I represent all cultures. I have to keep saying this – it’s not about racism. It’s about people understanding each other to make things better for my kids and my kids’ kids. If nobody ever makes anything better nothing will ever change.
How much will you focus on social issues in Monsta?
That’s going to be one of the biggest things, are you kidding me? That’s going to be probably the biggest thing in Monsta. We need a magazine that deals with social issues in these ‘hoods across America. There’s over 4,000 people that have died in the Iraq war and that’s a bad thing, but there’s over 5,000 kids killed by guns in the United States every year and nobody’s talking about that and nobody’s giving a fuck about where these kids go after school. Nobody gives a fuck when these guys get out of jail and how they get jobs and how they get back in society. Nobody gives a fuck about stuff like that. These are issues that haven’t been dealt with at a presidential level and we have to deal with that in The Source.
You mean Monsta, right?
Yeah. Shoot, I was with The Source for 20 years. It’s almost like being with a girl for 20 years. She’s going to be a part of your life no matter what. Monsta magazine is going to be a super-Source. Me and Dave ran The Source for 20 years. This is going to take us through the next 20 years.
Even though you don’t get along with Black Enterprise, does it ever hurt you to see where The Source is today?
Of course. Of course it does. Of course it does. But that’s the history. That’s going to be history now. That’s going to be always history. And now it’s good that we have Monsta to pick right up where The Source left off. Even going through the Eminem stuff, those were great issues. Look at the issue with “Hip-Hop Behind Bars”. We were tackling issues that nobody else wanted to cover. Come on, man, shit. I mean, it is what it is. I’m frustrated with Black Enterprise because why would you be called “Black Enterprise” when you basically destroyed one of the biggest Black enterprises out there, which was The Source magazine?
Have you spoken to Black Enterprise at all since you left The Source?
Nah. At this point, communication with them, there’s no reason to have communication with them. Before they came in the picture, they weren’t communicating with the hip-hop world anyway. They were running around with their suits and their khaki pants on and they were running around thinking they were better than the hip-hop world. Black Enterprise wants to just make money off of the hip-hop world. They don’t understand hip-hop. The son of the guy at Black Enterprise grew up affluent and played rugby in college. What was his contribution to the ‘hood and guys that went to jail? These guys are afraid of that. They keep themselves away from that. These are Black men that think they’re better than the ‘hood because they have a certain amount of affluence. These are the guys that took over The Source.
We came from nothing. Dave’s Jewish. We know what Jewish people went through. I come from the projects. Everything that we got we had to hustle and struggle for. Black Enterprise, these are guys that were always outside looking in when it came to hip-hop. They were fans of The Source at one time. They probably had dreams just of owning something to make them look kind of cool, I guess when they go to clubs and stuff. These are real nerdy, weirdo-type guys.
Looking at the hip-hop industry in general, how many of those “weirdo-type guys” are there out there?
That’s what’s fucked up. Unfortunately a lot of people that go on to college and write, they have a whole different diddy bop about them. I’ve noticed a lot of writers who write and criticize are very insecure. These are people who were never accepted when they were younger. I think some people need professional help and they just need to talk to somebody because they’re trying to fit in. I think it affects them because when they get older they take it out on other people. Now when you can do it from behind the computer where you can never be held accountable for it, oh, man, it gets real good.
Look at this guy Illseed. He gets to talk about whoever he wants and nobody will ever know who he is. When I was in federal court, I had done an old interview with Allhiphop and this girl Clover Leaf, who I never knew who she was, when she walked into the court to take the stand against me and actually played a copy of the interview, that was crazy. This chick looked like, oh my, only God can judge when it comes to beauty, but my God, she looked crazy. So you have a girl who probably doesn’t get a lot of looks in the real world so she sits behind the computer and can create a whole bunch of confusion. She probably didn’t even want to go to court but whatever happened, she was there and she ended up testifying against me and played the recording. So anybody out there who does interviews for Allhiphop, you better sign a waiver. If anything happens in court, you don’t want that shit to be used against you because that’s how that shit goes down over here.
And those two dicks that own that, Steve and Grouchy Greg, look at these fucking idiots, like, what fucking rock did fucking assholes crawl out from under? If you look at these motherfuckers, they look like they fucking came from Planet Asshole or something, for real. These guys are weirdos. They remind me of the Elliott Wilson’s and the Eric Parker’s of the world. These are like the weirdos over there at Vibe. These are real weirdos, you know what I’m saying? They represent a whole weirdo culture.
People can say what they want to about Julia, but at least Julia (Julia Beverly of O-Zone magazine) is out there with these people, in their faces, with them. At least I can give her props for that. These other motherfuckers, boy, they’re going to something that’s a champagne, wine-tasting, Hennessey thing where they can put on their tightest shirt and tightest jeans. The funny thing is that they will listen to the music and they’ll listen to the artists that do the music but then they’ll separate themselves from the ‘hoods that the artists come from. It really is weird.
I’m guessing you don’t see eye-to-eye with many journalists.
I see eye-to-eye for people who are accountable for what they do. You can have your opinion about anything, but answer to it and be accountable to it. Don’t hide from it and don’t run from it. That goes for anybody in life, from businessmen to journalists. Don’t hide from anything in life. I think that shit is wack.
How do you choose who you mess with?
I fuck with everybody. I give everybody the benefit of the doubt. That’s just how I’m built because a lot of times people make decisions based on something else. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt because everybody makes mistakes in life. If you’re just an asshole and you keep driving into the same potholes, at some point, I’m going to be like, ‘I can’t fuck with you.’ At the same time, growing up in the ‘hood and growing up where we do, you make decisions based on false notions and a lot of people don’t understand that.
Arrogance, I believe there is no place for arrogance. If there’s anything I despise, it’s arrogance and people who think they’re better than somebody else because of what they accomplished. There’s no place in our society for that but it’s worse in the ‘hood. I think it affects people way worse in the ‘hood. And that goes for rappers too because there’s a lot of arrogant, piece of shit rappers out there too.
Have you spoken to Elliott Wilson since he left XXL?
Nah. The last time I saw Elliott Wilson I almost poked his eye out of his head for writing some shit about me and my son in his magazine. That’s the last time I actually got to see him. When he was at The Source, Elliott was cool. He was the assistant music editor. I know when he went over to XXL, he took the blueprint of what we was doing. So when he started with his funny editorials I had to pay him a visit.
One thing I didn’t know about XXL was that their offices were in the same spot where they run the hunting magazines and all that. All of their offices are in the same building. Vibe is a weird place to be too because you see these hip-hop weirdos and you see these other types, the hunting magazine guys and it’s just one big place that’s filled with different fucking people and it’s really crazy. It was never a hip-hop atmosphere up there and it never was. That was the only time I went up to that office was when I went to go and check him.
And that doesn’t give me any stripes for checking him. I’m just letting you know how it happened. He’s not nobody to talk to about doing something to. I look at Elliott like a seal, like a walrus. Seals can’t harm no one. He’s a seal. (laughs)
It must make it hard for you as an artist when you know you’re not going to be getting any love from certain publications.
Yeah, well, I learned at The Source that my views on somebody personally doesn’t necessarily have to do with the magazine. I had to separate that and that’s about being a man and being a smart businessman.
N.O.R.E. told me that he’s been trying to get you and Dave Mays to play ball with him…
(interrupts) Ahhh! We’ll probably have to do that this weekend. I was with N.O.R.E. last night. For a motherfucking big nigga, he’s got some game. But Dave’s nice. I can get out there. I definitely smoke a lot of weed and smoke a lot of blunts. I’ll get out there and hit a couple of threes and play some man-up defense and then I’ll have to get on the bench and get my wind back. Dave will be out there shooting his lefty jumper.
So you haven’t been ducking him?
No! Hell no! You know N.O.’s going to talk shit until the day he dies! (laughs)
What’s it like hanging out with N.O.R.E. for a night?
N.O.R.E.’s one of the realest and humblest niggas out there. He’s definitely one of the funniest niggas. One thing I noticed about N.O.R.E. is that he’s like me. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and I might wear mine a little more, but N.O.R.E.’s a good dude. One thing people don’t understand is that in this rap shit, you go through a lot. When you think about it, it’s all to please the public. Pleasing the public, you pay a high price, especially coming out the ‘hood. N.O.R.E.’s handling it well and he’s had a lot of successes. Him and Capone are back together. Big up to N.O.
How do you feel about writers criticizing other writers for having relationships and friendships with artists?
That’s a bunch of bullshit! 99% of them want to hang out with these guys. That’s their dream. But they have to keep their gameface on.
But what journalists have to understand is that you’re a journalist. You cover other people’s lives. Your life has nothing to do with it. It’s up to the journalist to get across in a great perspective to the reader who the artist is. That’s where he comes in. Now if you do that and stop worrying about meeting the artist and you give your objective opinion…If you don’t come in with an objective opinion, then how can you write anything? Monsta magazine is not going to be criticizing anything. We’re going to be covering artists and what they did right and what they might have done wrong. This is going to be a magazine that’s going to help a generation. A lot of these young men out here need some help and they need some guidance and they need to read about some shit that can maybe change their lives.
What artists do you have good relationships with?
Of course me and Ja Rule are real close. Me and N.O.R.E. are real close. I could go down the list. There are so many guys. Me and Scarface are real cool, man. There’s a lot of guys in the Bay Area. I’m cool with everybody. There might be a few artists who in their arrogant ways don’t fuck with me because they think they’re better than everybody, but there are few artists that I don’t kick it with. Me and Baby are cool. And if I’m not cool with somebody, Dave is. Dave will have a great relationship with them. I see Slim Thug and it’s always love. With Petey Pablo it’s always all love. It’s all love with Daz and Kurupt. I have relationships with a lot of artists and it’s a lot of love. You have to understand, The Source magazine helped a lot of artists back in the days. It gave artists a lot of coverage and people loved being on the cover of The Source. Even Mobb Deep, Big Noyd and Ty Nitty…Me and Fabolous are cool. I’m cool with Mario Winans and Scott Storch and Teddy Riley. I can go on and on. Me and Master P are cool. Then I could go onto the political side. Congresswoman Maxine Waters and I have a good relationship. Me and Jesse Jackson are cool. Me and Minister Farrakhan are cool. Me and Al Sharpton are cool. I have real good relationships with athletes like A.I. and football players like Willie McGinest and Lawyer Milloy. Me and Atari Bigby from Green Bay, I’m cool with all these guys. I got love for a lot of people and a lot of people have love for ‘Zno.
Would you ever tell us who you can’t stand?
I’d rather not because I want to go into Monsta with a whole new...When I say "dickhead rappers”, that’s probably a strong word. I think a lot of rappers don’t understand the fame and a lot of artists out there act with arrogance and can help hip-hop a lot more. That’s just my opinion. I don’t want to say something because when I do, the word travels. I want to start Monsta and give everybody a chance and start out fresh with everybody. That goes for everybody. I have no beef with nobody and I just want to move forward.
What’s the next move for Benzino right now?
The main focus is to get Monsta out and get these licensing deals and to get these award shows going. We’re working on getting these international magazines and the 1st 48 album and the Untouchables album. I’m working with LO and Hardy and I’m basically looking to keep building my empire. I’m looking forward to being a record executive. I’m always going to be a producer and I’m definitely not going to be leaving the microphone alone. My skills are starting to rise. It’s not like playing sports where your body starts breaking down. When you see more, you have more to say and you have more to teach.
One thing I can say about the young generation is that they’re real nice with the metaphors and what they’re saying but there’s not a lot of content in their music. I think a lot of people can respect the perspective of an O.G. When I was growing up, I had O.G.’s like my father teaching me. Now these kids are looking to the rappers and the movies. I definitely think that I have something to say.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Man, if I could say anything, it’s just that artists have to get their lawyers up on their digital sales. They need to be aware of how their music is being sold over the internet. To the consumers, the artists are giving their own life to you and a lot of times they’re spending their own money to make their music. You really want to try to support these artists because they’re giving you something and that’s the only way that they can survive. Stop downloading. I definitely want to put that “Stop Downloading” message out there. That’s really it. The Antidote is out now. You can get it in a lot of stores and websites. The 1st 48 is coming and H and L – The Block Untouchables are coming. And ‘Zno’s here. I’m still here.