'98's Best: Friction Between Musicians And Media Sparks Debate

Alleged attacks on journalists by rock and rap artists dates back decades.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at

1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Tuesday, Dec. 8.]

Pop-music artists and journalists historically have had a volatile relationship, sometimes

leading to violent altercations. A few claim the clashes are just part of the music scene.

Still others argue it's time rock and rap stars got used to the idea that the media is not

working for them.

"It happens all the time, but no one wants to talk about it," said Jesse Washington, the

editor of Blaze magazine. Washington allegedly was threatened by a high-profile

rapper and then allegedly was attacked a few months later by a lesser-known hip-hop

artist. Each artist was unhappy with an editorial decision Washington made.

The hip-hop community had mixed reactions to news that Washington was -- for the

second time in five months -- the alleged victim of a hip-hop artist's wrath. Some

observers said it was a hip-hop-related problem, while others put the blame directly on

the editor's efforts to stir up publicity for Blaze.

But before the dust had settled on that controversy, the executive editor of the rock magazine

Spin, Craig Marks, came forward with claims he was threatened by shock-rocker

Marilyn Manson and choked by the singer's bodyguards Nov. 23 -- exactly one week

after the attack on Washington.

The juxtaposition of the two incidents seemed to resolve one question: The problem of

artists threatening and attacking journalists isn't confined to one genre of music, much

less to a single magazine.

And although there have been a rash of incidents in recent months, clashes between

musicians and the press have been going on for years. From Frank Sinatra's reputation

for punching out journalists during his heyday to punk legends the Sex Pistols' infamous

beating of British journalist Nick Kent, music history is far from devoid of documented

cases.

In perhaps the most notorious incident of this decade, former N.W.A rapper Dr. Dre

pleaded no contest to attacking a Fox-TV personality in 1991. More recently, Courtney

Love, leader of the rock band Hole, currently is being sued for allegedly attacking

journalist Belissa Cohen at a fashion show in the spring. In 1993, Lynn Hirschberg of

Vanity Fair accused Love and her late husband, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, of making

threatening phone calls to her after Hirschberg wrote that Love used heroin during

pregnancy.

"It's not rock or it's not hip-hop if there's not some element of danger to it," said Allen

Gordon of the Los Angeles-based hip-hop magazine Rap Pages. "People react

how they react. People who aren't really in touch with how to settle an argument or come

to some logical conclusion to a beef resort to physical violence. That's something man

has done from the beginning of time. Even though we call ourselves more civilized,

we're not really."

But the spate of recent threats and attacks have drawn renewed attention to the complex

relationship between artists and the press -- and to some of the long-simmering issues

that have given rise to the current friction.

In the Blaze incident, Washington claimed he was beaten Nov. 16 by Puff Daddy

producer Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie and three men over a photo published in the

magazine's December/January issue that revealed Angelettie to be the Mad Rapper

(whose name also has been spelled "Madd"). The Mad Rapper, whose identity had been

concealed from the public until then, has appeared on several Bad Boy Records albums,

including the recent Bad Boy Greatest Hits, Volume 1, on such tracks as

href="http://media.addict.com/atn-bin/get-music/Mad_Rapper/mono-excerpt-

Mad_Rapper_Intro-28.ram">"Mad Rapper Intro" (RealAudio excerpt).

Three days after the alleged incident, Angelettie and a business associate, Anthony

Hubbard, turned themselves in on the assault charges and pleaded not guilty; police

have not released any information on an additional two men alleged to have been

involved in the beating.

Washington said that, in approving the photo, he had no idea that it would anger

Angelettie, claiming that his rap alter ego was well known in the industry.

The attack came just three months after Washington went public with claims that hip-hop

artist and Fugees member Wyclef Jean pulled a gun on him because Wyclef was angry

over an LP review slated to run in Blaze's premiere issue.

Meanwhile, the alleged Spin incident involved what Marks contended was a

planned assault backstage at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. Marks alleged

that Manson said, "I can kill you, your family and everyone you know," before two of the

singer's bodyguards pushed the editor against the wall and lifted him off the ground by

his neck.

Marks attributed the attack to Manson's frustration at not being featured as the sole artist

on the upcoming January Spin cover. He went on to claim that the larger problem

of artists threatening journalists is in part a result of artists seeing journalism as "nothing

but the arms of a publicity machine."

Some say such incidents may even be about an artist trying to boost his notoriety, with

Spin editor in chief Michael Hirschorn suggesting the alleged assault on Marks

may have been a publicity stunt by Manson.

"There's a sense that it's either acceptable or even cool to resort to violence if you have

an issue with a journalist," Hirschorn said.

The consensus among journalists seems to be that artists, by putting their work out there,

need to accept that they're going to receive criticism, as well as possible unwanted

exposure.

"The artists have to understand -- we're just doing our jobs," Washington said. "We're not

out to get you. We're doing our jobs the same way that they're doing their jobs. If you put

yourself into the public arena, and you're going to make your living as a public figure,

then you've got to be ready for what comes with that."

But some artists say that rule shouldn't be absolute.

Pioneering rapper Ice-T (born Tracy Morrow) said the causes for the most recent alleged

attacks -- a revealing photo in Blaze and revised cover plans for Spin --

didn't justify the violence; however, he contended that certain lines need to be drawn.

In the past, Ice-T said, he has felt certain published articles have been a personal attack

against him rather than a critique of his work. A few times, he's been angry enough to want to rough

up a journalist, he added.

"Here you go: I do believe some of these writers should get their ass kicked," the

39-year-old Ice-T said. "I just think that sometimes writers can say anything about you,

and they shouldn't. There's a point where we can take criticism and there's a point where

there's a blatant attack.

"Everybody has to know that what you say, you will be held accountable for," he

continued. "If you walk up to me and I know you're the guy that wrote that I shouldn't be

on tour, I should be through, I'm whack and I'm done, I'm washed up -- my attitude is you

don't want my kids to eat, you don't want my friends to have jobs. I'm taking this a lot

differently than an artistic criticism. No telling how I'm gonna react."

Ice-T added that the press needs to be more responsible, especially in hip-hop, because

the genre is a "poor-kid's music, and this is his life."

Though representatives of Blaze and Spin -- through the magazines'

parent company, Vibe/Spin Ventures -- have said they plan to deal with the alleged

attacks in court, others are concerned about how to prevent violence from erupting out of

any further conflicts between artists and journalists.

Some say punishment by boycotting an artist's products may send the strongest

message that such incidents won't be tolerated. Hirschorn has said that Spin isn't

eager to cover Manson at this time as a result of the incident, while some of

Washington's peers have said they would support him in whatever way he deems

appropriate.

"I'm going to wait to see what Jesse wants, and I'll support him with whatever he wants to

do," said Sheena Lester, editor in chief of XXL.

Though Washington said that he doesn't plan to enlist the help of his peers in a boycott,

he said banning an artist from coverage is a necessary and meaningful response.

"First thing, all the magazines need to refuse to cover all the people who act this way,

period," Washington said. "Because a threat against me is a threat against all journalists,

and if they get away with a threat against me, then that means the next magazine that

comes out with something they don't like, they can threaten them, too."

"We're the only people saying, 'Yo, you can't do this; this is not cool, and what's more,

we're not going to let it influence what we're doing over here.' "