The Race Card's Joker 

The Source's race-baiting crusade against Eminem is laughably hypocritical.

There's nothing more ironic than a multiplatinum-selling, Oscar-winning superstar wigga who's more lyrical than most black rappers. Unless it's a wannabe MC of mixed parentage, widely considered the wackest rapper ever, who compares himself with a straight face to Huey Newton, Malcolm X, and Dr. King, and makes records with titles like Boottee.

Even more ironic is the beef between the two.

It all began a year ago, when the wannabe (who coincidentally had a new album coming out at the time) accused the wigga of destroying hip-hop culture, hurling these insults from the bully pulpit of an influential music industry publication long-rumored to be mo' crooked than a three-dollar bill. Next thing you know, dis records started to appear on the Internet. The wigga was called the "2003 Vanilla Ice." The wannabe was referred to as "an 83-year-old fake Pacino." Major media outlets dutifully reported on the situation. Lawyers and label heads got involved. Boycotts were threatened.

But eventually, cooler heads prevailed and the beef subsided, only to resurface now, with a vengeance.

If you haven't figured it out by now, the wigga is Eminem, the wannabe is Benzino, and the magazine is The Source, the one-time bible of hip-hop, now sadly reduced to little more than one long advertisement. (Full disclosure: Between 1997 and 2002, I was a freelance contributor for the magazine, although I've never met Benzino in person.) Apparently, Benzino, the magazine's co-owner, has decided that he is the savior of the black race, and has made it his personal and professional crusade to expose Eminem (whose face once graced The Source's cover) as an ungrateful racist.

This time, Benzino held a press conference on November 18 to announce he'd uncovered freestyle rap tapes from ten years ago that feature Eminem saying, "Never date a black girl, because they're dumb chicks."

That's all? That's it? For this, you cried wolf? Yo, that wouldn't even make the top 100 -- make that the top 1,000 -- most misogynist or racist statements in rap history. To make an issue out of this reeks of hypocrisy, especially when the accuser is the author of statements like "My Benz keeps the baddest bitches." (Even so, Marshall Mathers issued an apology for his comments, explaining them as the product of youth, ignorance, and anger over a failed relationship with an African-American woman.)

On the web, the Benzino-Eminem conflict set off a hailstorm of commentary, both pro- and anti-Em. One blogger on the Africana.com site called the situation "race-bait alchemy," pointing out that, unlike Trent Lott, Eminem didn't defend his comments, but admitted they were wrong. Another wondered if Em really had a black girlfriend in the first place. Still another recalled that Wesley Snipes made similar comments a while back, "so I don't understand why it should be so different for Slim Shady."

For his part, the moderator diplomatically suggested that "for everyone who has such a big problem with what Eminem said, pretend Tupac said it."

Yet few people not on Benzino's payroll jumped to take his side. "This is merely a stunt by Benzino because Em crushed him verbally in their so-called battle," one fan opined. "I co-sign to the fact that Benzino is indeed wack," another responded. Others called Benzino a "herb" or simply left him out of the debate altogether. Even MTV's Sway (who gave Eminem his first break on the radio by featuring him on the Wake-Up Show years ago) couldn't resist calling Benzino a "so-called" rapper.

Yet for those who remember when The Source was an authentic voice of hip-hop -- representing a viable alternative to slanted views of the culture furthered by the likes of Time and Newsweek -- this latest turn of events can only be seen as a further fall from grace for the once-respected publication.

Much of The Source's decline in editorial quality can be traced directly to Benzino, who reportedly hates journalists and has caused numerous well-regarded editors and writers to abandon ship. Over the years, Benzino has given himself much ink, including "Hip-Hop Quotables" celebrating his rhymes, highly favorable ratings for his own records, and even a fashion layout detailing his "bling." He also had the nerve to slap himself on the magazine's cover with a puffed-out Afro seemingly stolen from Dwayne of What's Happening!!

But, hey, what's a decade's worth of credibility down the drain, anyway?

Misogyny is wrong, no matter who voices it. Yet supporting commercial rap that caters to the worst racial stereotypes imaginable (as The Source does) while attempting to make an issue of race via Eminem is more dubious than Dubya's position on oil drilling. Still, it's not hard to see why Benzino played the race card: As the most influential white rapper of all time, Eminem is a lightning rod for such allegations, true or not. "We gonna treat this the same way you treat Mike Tyson, like you treat Kobe Bryant, like you treat R. Kelly, like you treat O.J. Simpson," Benzino said at the time.

But is it right to attack Eminem for some stupid remarks he made a decade ago, when Kelly is enjoying a career resurgence -- including penning the "comeback" single for newly accused pedophile Michael Jackson -- while awaiting trial for having sex with (and peeing on) underage girls?

In many ways, this topic is "bigger than hip-hop," to paraphrase dead prez. And while Dr. Benjamin Chavis proclaimed "hip-hop transcends race" after Russell Simmons publicly defended Eminem, the real issue here is that America, try as it may, just can't get beyond racism, at least not when there's money to be made from exploiting it. We're still no closer to solving Biggie Smalls' killing (which would be a much better use of The Source's resources than smearing Eminem), or, for that matter, ending the AIDS, crack, and murder epidemics that continue to devastate America's inner cities. If Benzino really wants to "raise consciousness" as he's claimed, he could start there, or at least repeal the "B-word" in rap -- and by that I mean either "bitch" or "Benzino."

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