The 2007 Reginald Dennis Email

So I wrote a Hip Hop Journalism is dead piece in 2007 and a couple months later I got the below email regarding it from Reginald C. Dennis. Mr Dennis was a early writer for The Source and later founding editor of XXL. I never shared this email with anyone, not even Dimez. Not sure why but now’s a good a time as any. I never claimed to be a writer but subconsciously maybe that’s what I wanted to do but could never figure out a way “in”. Either way I think I would have done a hell of a job. Maybe in another life…enjoy.

Big Chew –

Was copping some mixtapes and came upon your heartfelt and quite accurate editorial. You might not consider yourself to be a journalist, but coming from someone who has spent the better part of the last 17 years as a journalist covering all facets of the hip-hop experience, I found your piece well-written, passionate and on point.

While I agree that greed and endless conflicting business interests have diminished a culture that could, back in the day, be counted on to reinvent itself every eight months or so, I don’t agree that things are as bad as you claim, nor would I put the blame exclusively at the feet of the current crop of writers.

I started out at The Source and later founded XXL magazine. Along the way I helped about 250 people get their dicks wet in this business and a good majority of them – I won’t name names – have gone on to do things that for the most part have honored both their talent and hip-hop culture.

Believe me, when I first started out there were few media opportunities open to a hip-hop fan. The Village Voice and Spin had the most consistent coverage and provided the platform that allowed the likes of Barry Michael Cooper, Nelson George, Greg Tate and Harry Allen to create an industry that we have all benefited from.

But as talented as they were, they weren’t able to build institutions. But they did create ideas and possibilities, and their efforts opened the door for cats like me. The Source magazine changed publishing, became an institution and gave opportunities to a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have ever considered a career in writing. I was 20 years old and still reading Word Up, so you know I was ready to read a magazine that spoke directly to me and my concerns as a young Black man trying to make his way in the world.

As a journalist who has made a name for himself there are few outlets that would not jump at the chance to hire me, but I remember the days when the designation: “hip-hop journalist” was a disqualifier for most jobs. I remember that after 25 years of publication Rolling Stone magazine had no Black editors and had only offered two Black writers the opportunity to write cover stories. The situation is quite different today. I don’t knock my peeps for taking more lucrative opportunities elsewhere, but I never aspired to be a mainstream journalist. I only wanted to write for The Source. And when my time at The Source was done, there were few platforms for a brother to do his thing (I don’t fuck with VIBE at all), so I created XXL – an alternative that could take the hip-hop discussion to new places. XXL’s management had other ideas and you have the magazine that you have today. But you can’t say that niggas didn’t try to create things worthy of the culture.

When I walk past a newsstand and see 20 magazines with young brown faces peering back, I know that I helped the business of publishing turn a much needed corner. The current generation has more institutions and possibilities than I had back in the day, so if shit is fucked up you can’t point your finger at the folks who dug the foundations, drafted the plays, won the rings and literally changed the color of these businesses.

I agree that laziness is the phrase that pays these days, but I also believe that if there was something interesting to write about, cats might rise to the occasion. When you have a world populated by PE, BDP, Run-DMC, Eric B. & Rakim, NWA, De La Soul, ATCQ, BIG, etc., well, yeah – you are going to have writers motivated to document that experience like never before. When you have Hurricane Chris and Jim Jones, it is what is. But I’m not mad. Quality will eventually shine through. And people will continue to not support things that don’t challenge them intellectually. Everything corrects itself. When the mainstream media gave hip-hop a raw deal, hip-hop journalism was born. When hip-hop journalism became to corporate, the blogosphere exploded. But at the end of the day nothing has changed from 1978 when I was buying Grandmaster Caz tapes. We are still having heated discussions about the culture and music that inspires, frustrates and sustains us. I’ve had this conversation on project benches, university dorms, Wall Street boardrooms, weed spots, television stations, magazine offices, book companies and now the digital age promises to take things even further.

I’ve done my part and will continue to do more, but the ball is in your
hands and it is really up to you and yours to keep the culture worthwhile and vital. And, of course, half the fun of that task is figuring it all out.