Reginald C. Dennis: Death Of A Dynasty Pt 1
Part 1: The Greatest Story Never Told [click to read]
Part 2: Benzinos Hostile Takeover [click to read]
Part 3: Mays, Benzino, and a Gun [click to read]
Everything you are about to read is something that Ive seen, heard, or know. Its all opinion, of course, but as youll see, my positions are highly informed. You can hate it or love it. Reginald C. Dennis
In 1988, Reginald discovered a record store called Varsity Records, owned and operated by a man named Bill Moss. It was there he discovered a whole new side of Hip Hop. I began uncovering hundreds of rap records that I had never heard of. Too Short, N.W.A., The Geto Boys, 2 Live Crew I didnt know who these people were, but once I started listening I couldnt get enough. One day Bill handed him a magazine that he had received in the mail, and asked him to read it over to see if it was worth stocking. That magazine was The Source, and according to Reginald, I am not exaggerating when I say that in that moment the course of my life was forever altered. This was the first time that a magazine ever spoke to me in a meaningful way. I had read a lot of good writing on Hip Hop I was always looking through the Village Voice and Spin and sometimes even Word Up and Fresh but The Source was the only place where the music and culture were being discussed in the proper context and with the proper enthusiasm. And it just got better. I started with the third issue and never missed a beat. The Too Short/N.W.A. cover, the Malcolm X issue, the 'Decade of Rap' it was as if Id been spending my entire life waiting to read something like this, and somewhere in the back of my mind I began to wonder how I might become a part of it.
HipHopDX: Any albums you regret not giving the coveted five mic rating?
Reginal Dennis: In 1992, we gave Dr. Dres The Chronic four-and-a-half mics. Had I the opportunity to press reset, I would have given it a five. Heres the story:
We got the advance of the album in October of 1992 and it immediately became an office favorite. And our version was a little better than the one everyone else got to hear because we had the joint that was sequenced differently, had different song arrangements and in some instances, different lyrics. It was all good. In fact it was too good and I didnt want to let the album out of my sight, so I decided that it would be reviewed totally in-house, meaning that a fellow Source editor would handle the task.
So my man Matty C, fellow editor and the king of "Unsigned Hype," did the do, and he gave it four-and-a-half he thought "Lil' Ghetto Boy" was the weak link in the chain and that was that. I was firm on my no fives rule and that was also that. If you check the actual review, youll see that the byline is attributed to TMS (The Mind Squad) which, for those that dont know, was how we handled things that were done by group effort or committee. I cant remember why we didnt use Matts name, but it couldnt have been because of anything too serious.
Anyway, no one could have predicted the seismic shift that this album would produce. And it wasnt like there was anyone on staff jumping up and demanding that this record be a five. We sent the review off to the printer around the time "Nuthin' But A G Thang" started to catch fire and we could all tell that the landscape was about to change. By the time the magazine went on sale the streets had declared that this album an album that many folks had still yet to hear (remember: one of the reasons why folks read The Source was because were getting the music first and regularly reviewing important albums two months before they hit the racks) was going to be a classic. And to tell you the truth, we all knew it as well.
I remember going to the video shoot for Naughty By Natures "Hip Hop Hooray." It was being filmed in a studio just off Astor Place in Manhattans Greenwich Village. I had the advance of The Chronic in my pocket the whole day. I didnt let that tape out of my sight for a second. I watched Treach and Spike Lee do their thing for most of the afternoon, and if youll remember the video, much of it included footage of huge crowd scenes, which were being filmed that afternoon. So there were a lot of people around, maybe a couple of thousand all total; both inside the venue where the video was being shot and outside milling in the street and blocking traffic. Youll also recall that that the video featured many Hip Hop guest stars, like Eazy-E and Run-DMC, who were also hanging out for their cameos. And because Naughty was so popular and because Spike was a celebrity director the video set became a news event and word began to spread that this was the place to be. It wasnt long before The Source van arrived on the scene. And when I spotted it I came down stairs kicked it with my peeps. Well, since I had the Dre tape on me, and since the van had a ridiculous sound system, and since we had a huge crowd to play to I put the tape in the deck and turned shit up full blast to get everyones attention and drown out the endless loop of Naughtys constant "heeeeey, hooooo" chant.
Well, the whole block literally stopped whatever they were doing and converged on the van in order to get a better listen. People were astonished by what they were hearing and began to pepper us with endless questions about the album. It was quite a moment. And when Nate Dogg came in with the "You picked the wrong mutha-fuckin dayeeeee" part, I thought I was going to see peoples heads explode. Fab 5 Freddy actually climbed in the van and damn near put his head on the speakers. It was unreal. So yeah we knew early on that this was going to be the shit. The streets had spoken.
[click here to read more about The Chronic and what the four-and-a-half rating established]
DX: Any albums you regret giving five mics?
RD: I only gave one five under my watch and it went to Nas Illmatic. It was the only time I ever broke the no five rule. Jon Shecter [click to read] had gotten his hands on the album like eight months before it was scheduled to drop. And just like I was with The Chronic a few months earlier, Jon didnt let the tape out of his sight. Not only that, but he constantly raved about it. Every day. He played it in the office about a million times and very early on began to lobby for this record to receive five mics. Now I was cool with Nas and had been a fan since [Main Source's] "Live At The BBQ," but I wasnt really stressing his album. It wasnt coming out for at least half a year and I had other shit to do. But Jon couldnt wait. And he began to micromanage everything concerning Nas coverage in The Source. Hed be like, "So who are you thinking about getting to review this album? This is going to be an important release and we cant give it to just anybody, and I think I should be in on that decision." I told Jon that wed work all of that stuff out when it was time to review the album. But every day, Jon was like, "Yo, this album is five mics seriously, Reg, five mics."
[click here to read more why the no five rule was broken for Nas]
DX: Going back 10 plus years, is there any album that blew you away like no other?
RD: Back then there were so many good albums that its really hard to narrow it down to just one. But I will say that Jay-Zs Reasonable Doubt will always have a special place in my heart. Id known of Jay from his appearances with Jaz-O, but it wasnt until I heard the single, "Dead Presidents," that I felt that this artist was going to make a huge major impact. And when the album dropped in 96, I was about as far out of Hip Hop as I had ever been in my entire life, and I really credit Reasonable Doubt as the event that really motivated me to get back into the game.
[click to read more about Jay-Z's as an underdog]
DX: So would it be fair to say Jay is largely responsible for XXL existing?
RD: Well, Im sure Harris Publications would have eventually put out a magazine called XXL no matter who the editor happened to be, but had Jay-Z not been able to articulate the things he did, I certainly wouldnt have been inspired to go that extra mile and create the magazine that I did. I mean, Reasonable Doubt and the original twelve-inch version of "Dead Presidents" was Hip Hop for grown-ups; Grown man stuff, responsibility, living with regrets and facing the consequences of your actions. It was about depth, subtlety and layers, and I knew that my next magazine would have to embody those qualities.
[click here to read about Jay and Bigs impact on the creation of XXL]
DX: In 1994 you left the most sought after position in Hip Hop journalism. Why?
RD: By 94 wed been on the grind for a minute, and after many years of struggle things were finally beginning to pay off. The Hip Hop industry was in a mode of constant expansion. There were all sorts of new and exciting business opportunities popping up every day and The Source was institutionally positioned to take advantage of them all. There were struggles to overcome, to be sure, but most of us felt we were in a good place. Unfortunately, because 90% of our attention and energy was focused on growing the business, we neglected to confront and solve a problem that had taken root within our little enterprise and was now beginning to expand at an alarming rate. The problem Im referring to is Dave Mays troubling association with Boston criminal Raymond Scott a.k.a. Ray Dogg the Jackal a.k.a. Ray Benzino. The conflict started small and for a long time was successfully contained by Mays but by the time things reached their inevitable climax, everything would be forced into the light and our once tight knit family would be fractured beyond repair. When the smoke cleared, Source Owners Jon Shecter and James Bernard; Assistant Art Director Carlos Vega; Editors Shawnee Smith, Sonya Magett, Julia Chance, Robert Marriott, Carter Harris and myself would be forced to leave everything we had struggled to build. The Source the institution that we had been privileged to serve had become irrevocably corrupted by a creeping plague and we simply couldnt stay.
DX: There are plenty of Suge-esque stories about Benzinos acquisition of half The Source, the most infamous being Ray coming into Mays office with his Boston gangstas complete with guns and ultimatums. Should people believe that?
RD: People are going to believe what they want, but all I can do is tell you everything that happened while I was there and let you make the call for yourself
Our receptionist during those days was a woman named Stephanie Jackson, and when she would go out for lunch or take a break, if the phone rang you picked it up. We all took turns doing it. One afternoon, I pick up the phone and its Ray. He asks to speak to Dave, so I put him on hold and ring Daves office. Dave tells me he is busy right now and to tell Ray that hell call him back in a minute. I tell Ray, and hes like, "No, tell Dave, I really need to talk to him." I do so and Dave once again says that he will call him back later. I tell Ray and this motherfucker erupts like Mt. Vesuvius. What! You tell that motherfucker hed better talk to me or else Im going to come down there and fuck him up! Im like, whoa dude sounds serious. Dave had better talk to this man.
I relay the message and Dave takes the call. A few minutes later he comes out to the front and sheepishly tells me that Ray was just joking and for me not to be concerned. I dont really buy what he is telling me, but far be it from me to make any value judgments about a dispute between two friends.
By 1993, Dave had managed to get [Almighty RSO] a deal with Latifahs Flavor Unit Records. They put out a single or two, but nothing happened and they were quickly dropped from the label. Now shit was beginning to get thick. Ray was spending a lot of time in New York City and the office talk was that he was staying in Daves cramped Jersey City apartment and threatening to not leave until Dave got him another deal.
One evening James Bernard went with Dave up to his apartment. James said that they could hear all kinds of laughter coming from Daves place as they walked down the hall, but as soon as he stuck his key in the door and walked in, the whole atmosphere changed. Something was about to go down. And it did. Ray started yelling at Dave about all of the things that he wasnt doing for the group. James said it was tense and that the other members of the crew were ice-grilling Dave and invading his personal space. At one point Ray became so angry towards Dave that he paused to search for the worst thing he could possibly say to him. According to James Bernard, he called Dave a Hitler. Dave is Jewish and you would think that even among friends that such a statement would be crossing a line that didnt need to be crossed. That was just a taste of what Daves life was beginning to become. But like I said, he did his best to keep what was going on under wraps for as long as he could.
1994 was the year everything came out into the open. The magazine had been undergoing a lot of change. Ray would come up to the office and be taken aback by all of the new faces. The Source was about to make the big jump and again Ray felt he was being left behind. Plus, he felt that the new staffers most of them not knowing anything of the Boston days didnt respect him and he started to pick these really childish kinds of fights in order to test hearts and boundaries.
Rob Marriott reviewed the first OutKast album. He gave it four-and-a-half mics. I agreed with his opinion and the rating stood. When Ray found out about this, he hit the roof. He walked into Robs office and struck up a very loud conversation. I was next door hanging out in James Bernards office and we heard all of this yelling and screaming. It sounded like a fight was about to jump off. I walk into Robs office just as Ray is leaving and catch the last volley of fuck you's. Ray continues down the hall to Daves office. I ask Rob what is going on, and he tells me that Ray started bugging out over the OutKast review, calling the group bullshit, and making threats about what he would do if the next RSO album doesnt receive similarly high marks.
Im like, "Really?" And walk down to Daves office in search of Ray. I get there and see Ray sitting on Daves sofa, so I walk over and stand right over him. I start yelling at him and he pops up off the couch like he wants to do something. Now Ray is only five feet tall in Timbs and two pairs of socks, so the whole thing looks ridiculous. Dave is looking nervous and by now other people have made it back to Daves office to see where this will all end up. Ray and I square off for about 10 very tense seconds and then sensing that hes not ready to throw a punch, I give him a few more fuck you, niggas" and then start walking out of Daves office. On the way out I can hear Ray screaming my name, calling me all kinds of bitches and motherfuckers, but hes only saying this shit as Im walking away, so Ive got his number.
Understanding that shit is about to get really out of control, we try to once again to appeal to Dave to do something about his friends. Ray has upped the ante by stating that if his next album doesnt get four mics, he will start puttin niggas in bodybags.
Click here to read more about Benzinos rise to power, his relationship with Mays and some good ol fashioned RSO beat downs [click to read].