20y a pair of white Harvard-educated rap nerds in Boston in 1988, The Source magazine was the most widely read rag in hip-hop journalism by the early ’90s, each issue a conversation piece all its own. With its newsstand dominance came the idea for a natural brand extension—an award show.
In 1991, The Source began handing out trophies on a special episode of Yo! MTV Raps, and three years later came a full-fledged production, complete with a stage show at Madison Square Garden’s Paramount Theater. The next year, The Source returned to that very same theater, except the climate in hip-hop had changed dramatically. 2Pac had been shot and was sequestered in jail, Bad Boy was the hottest new label in music, and beneath it all an East Coast-West Coast rivalry was bubbling.
“Any artist out there that wanna be an artist, stay a star, and won’t have to worry about the executive producer trying to be all in the videos, all on the records, dancing—come to Death Row!”
Suge Knight’s famous remarks that night became the first real shots in a deadly battle. But there was more. Snoop Dogg’s rant (“The East Coast ain’t got love for Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg?”). Diddy throwing shots (“I live in the East, and I’m gonna die in the East”). OutKast getting booed and Andre 3000’s prophecy (“The South got something to say!”). And, too, there was an early sighting of Raymond “Benzino” Scott, then just an unknown rapper from Boston, presenting an award long before his behind-the-scenes involvement in The Source became the magazine’s Achilles’ heel.
The events of that night reverberated through hip-hop for years to come. The East Coast-West Coast beef ballooned into a true rivalry, culminating in the deaths of 2Pac and the Notorious B.I.G.; rap’s balance of power shifted south of the the Mason-Dixon Line, albeit temporarily; and The Source itself became an even bigger powerhouse, with even more award shows, and eventually more competition to do battle with.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Source Awards, we called up Dave Mays and Ray Benzino, the magazine’s controversial former co-owners, who parted ways with the company almost a decade ago, after years of warring with Eminem, XXL, and a myriad number of former staffers. While they’ve both moved on to greener pastures—a supermarket tabloid called Hip-Hop Weekly and Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta, respectively—neither has spoken publicly about The Source since then. Until now.