Sunday Morning: A Thanksgiving Prayer For The Rap World

Street-cred rivalry between hip-hop magazines may be forcing some journalists into dangerous situations.

If I were Jesse Washington, I would have spent the Thanksgiving holiday shopping for a winter flak jacket.

If you're going to take his word for it, that's exactly what he needs.

I refer specifically to the two highly publicized confrontations Washington alleges to have had with rap artists since he took the job as editor of the new hip-hop magazine Blaze in the summer.

The most recent took place, police say, when four men beat the daylights out of Washington in Blaze's offices Nov. 16. Prior to that, the now-famous editor went public in August with claims that Fugees rapper Wyclef Jean pulled a gun on him during a meeting.

But what's more disturbing are Washington's reasons for why these alleged incidents happened.

He claimed Wyclef was angry over an unflattering review of the Wyclef-produced Canibus' album, Can-I-Bus. In the more recent incident, the editor told Associated Press that Puff Daddy producer and rapper Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie helped beat him with a chair because Angelettie was miffed about a photo published in the current issue of Blaze. The photo revealed the producer as the mysterious Mad Rapper, whose identity had remained hidden from the public.

If the reasons are truly that simple, then there's a great deal to be concerned about for anyone interested in free speech. After all, Washington was just doing his job as a journalist.

But there's more to consider here.

In reporting stories related to both incidents, several hip-hop editors have commented that Washington threw himself into a highly competitive world by helping to launch Blaze. They are right. Hip-hop journalism is still a relatively new and volatile field.

Just 10 years ago, the granddaddy of them all, The Source, began as a two-page underground newsletter, which grew slowly in size until launching with a color cover June 1989. Since then, several other publications devoted to the rap genre -- Blaze, Rap Pages, XXL, and others -- have sprouted.

During the past decade, many in the industry have blamed the rap press for being at the root of hip-hop's biggest beefs; some even have gone as far as to claim that one magazine, The Source, essentially spawned the so-called "East Coast/West Coast war" between rappers with a simple headline. Others have gone on to link that fabled war to the subsequent murders of rappers Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls.

Whether that's true, many agree that some of these magazines have begun engaging in wars against each other, battles that are more over street credibility than the traditional journalistic pursuit of getting the story.

"It's just a shame that there's a real competitive sprit in hip-hop magazines right now," Sheena Lester, editor in chief of rap magazine XXL told me Wednesday.

For such incidences as those that allegedly happened to Washington to stop, Lester added, it's going to take the hip-hop press putting aside their differences, uniting together and taking a stand.

Certainly, Washington hasn't helped matters. Considering the competition he was up against, it was in his best interest to make some noise as he broke into the industry. With his background as a reporter for the Associated Press, the guy is regarded as a journalist who plays by the rules.

But there's evidence in Blaze that he also plays with his tongue in his cheek.

In going public with the accusations against Wyclef via an editorial, Washington called Canibus' album Can-I-Bust? instead of its correct title, Can-I-Bus. It seems to me that Washington's calling the album by that name may have been his way of working the alleged gun threat for all it was worth.

In turn, Washington's peers were quick to accuse him of exploiting the alleged incident. But Washington claimed he only went public with the allegation to explain why the Canibus review did not appear in that issue.

"With the Wyclef thing, a lot of people rushed out and got Blaze because people were like, 'Ah, I gotta check this out! I gotta see this magazine that's causing Wyclef to be so upset,' " Tawala Sharp of L.A. radio station BEAT-FM said.

"It was like Blaze was saying, 'We're the real word on the street. The Source was the hip-hop bible, now we are. Look, we keep it real, I got Wyclef pulling guns on me,' " Sharp said. "That makes the average person who's not aware of this industry say, 'Yo, I gotta check this magazine out! This magazine is dope! My man goes through trauma over here!' What does that do to the hip-hop community for him to just spread all kinds of scandal? What does that do?"

Though it's no doubt had repercussions for the entire hip-hop industry, the alleged Wyclef incident put Blaze on the map. Maybe Washington thought that running a photo of Angelettie revealing him to be the Mad Rapper would continue to bring attention to his publication.

Even so, it would take a lot to convince me that, as some of Washington's peers have alleged, he published the photo knowing he'd be fending off a chair somewhere down the line.

I'm pretty certain Washington didn't want that kind of noise.

Lester and Rap Pages editor Allen Gordon said that they would support Washington if he asked them to participate in a boycott or take some kind of stand against Angelettie or, more generally, the issue of artists threatening journalists.

But first, maybe it's time to put the street-cred rivalry in the press aside.

Competition is good for motivation, but Kevlar isn't all that comfortable.