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Gary Younge

Catty comic: the controversial poster in the February issue of the hip-hop magazine, The Source
War of words rocks world of hip-hop

America's two biggest hip-hop magazines, the Source and XXL, are engaged in a tit-for-tat confrontation that has resulted in ads being withdrawn, strategic delays in publication and a feud over the racial dynamics of Eminem's success.

In the February issue of the Source a cartoon shows the editor of XXL, Elliott Wilson, being beaten up by a huge monster in a Source t-shirt above the words: "Respect the architect or get broken."

Now Mr Wilson has delayed the production of the coming issue of XXL so that he can take a swipe at the Source's co-owner, Raymond Scott, with the words: "You're way outta your league, mama."

In December Mr Wilson placed an ad in Billboard magazine encouraging advertisers to dump the Source and take XXL instead.

Eminem has waded in against the Source on his track, Nail in the Coffin, branding Mr Scott, who is also a minor figure in the rap scene, as "the softest, fakest wannabe gangster in New York".

Mr Scott is a white Harvard graduate and has attacked Eminem for stealing black music. In one of his songs, Die Another Day, he brands Eminem "the rap Hitler, the culture-stealer".

On the back of the poster attacking XXL, the Source carried a picture of Mr Scott holding Eminem's decapitated head. In retaliation, Interscope records have pulled advertising from the Source for Eminem's label as well as his mentor, Dr Dre.

In a more conventional editorial blow, XXL's next cover will feature both Eminem and Dr Dre. Mr Wilson predicts that the edition will sell "like crack in the eighties".

He admits that he started the row. "I've been going after them since day one, every month," he said.

Mr Wilson used to work for the Source, which started 15 years ago as a one-page newsletter by David Mays and now has a circulation of about 476,000 and its own televised annual awards.

XXL started five years ago and sells half as many copies.

In one of the few magazines where editorials can be penned in rhyme the Source taunted: "Wishin' they could be us so all they do is hate/ But the truth is they don't even come close to our rate base".

Mr Wilson maintains the row is within the "battling" tradition of the industry.

"Hip-hop is based on competitions, on the battle," he told the New York Times.

There is something in this. Rap is adversarial in its nature, as illustrated in Eminem's recent film 8 Mile, where his character, Rabbit, goes toe-to-toe with several challengers.

But what starts with lyrics all too often gets settled with bullets. This is what happened in the conflict between East and West coasts of the hip-hop scene, which claimed the lives of two of the music's most promising artists: Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. In October last year, Jam Master Jay, the DJ for Run DMC, was shot in the head in a recording studio in Queens.

The New York police department has a unit dedicated to the hip-hop scene.

Working with similar units in Florida and California, they study songs, scrutinise artistic battles, visit clubs and monitor business feuds. They are on alert when rival crews are in town.

They have been kept busy lately.

Earlier this month federal agents raided the Eighth Avenue offices of rap mogul Irv Gotti, the head of Murder Inc, investigating his connections with a convicted drug dealer.

Two days earlier, the rapper 50 Cent was arrested with four other men after police found two loaded guns in their Jeep, along with several bulletproof vests.

Two weeks ago at least one gunman opened fire on the Manhattan offices of Violater records which handles 50 Cent. Detectives were told a rival rapper may have been involved.

For the time being onlookers are keen to play it down. "There's always beefs in magazines," said Nelson George, author of Hip Hop America.

"It's no different from the rivalry between Vanity Fair and Talk, but like everything else in hip-hop it's just a little over the top. It's one thing for a magazine to be feisty and another to be engaged in nastiness. This is nasty."

"I just hope things don't get out of hand," says Shani Saxon, the executive editor of the urban music magazine, Vibe, which was started by Quincy Jones.

Deadly pursuit

September 7 1996 Tupac Shakur, 25, is shot at a set of traffic lights after watching a Mike Tyson bout in Las Vegas. Six days later, he dies. His mother says: "I measured his life in five-year periods. I was always amazed he'd survived. He was a gift."

March 8 1997 Biggie Smalls, 24, is killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles at a Vibe magazine and Qwest Records party and dies instantly. Two weeks later his album is released. It is called Life After Death.

October 3 2002 Jam Master Jay, 37, of the rap group Run DMC is shot in the head at point blank range in his recording studio in Queens, New York. No leads have been found in the investigation although police believe the murder may be connected to an unpaid debt, a drug deal, or lyrics in a song by his protege 50 Cent which may have angered some people.

The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and Clarifications column, Monday February 3 2003

An editing slip in a piece about US rap magazines, made us describe Raymond Scott, co-owner of the magazine, the Source, as "a white Harvard graduate". In fact, Mr Scott is black. The other co-owner of the magazine is a white Harvard graduate.

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