'Source' magazine relaunches

August 14, 2008 10:20:19 AM PDT
The Source, which was in bankruptcy last year, is relaunching with a 20th-anniversary issue and a new focus. a direction that its co-publisher says will restore the magazine, once known as hip-hop's bible, to prominence."It's a very seminal period, an opportunity to both celebrate 20 years of content and the fact that The Source was a leader in chronicling the culture of hip-hop," said L. Londell McMillan, a media and entertainment lawyer who, along with investment banker Jeffery Scott, purchased The Source earlier this year.

"I'm on a mission to restore it to the community that gave birth to it and open the door to those that currently enjoy and influence that hip-hop culture," he added. "It's exciting because we believe that we can do it."

The new issue, which hits newsstands next week, features four separate covers of hip-hop pioneers LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Queen Latifah and Nas, photographed by director Spike Lee.

"We shared with him what we were trying to do, the vision of hip-hop and where we thought it needed to go, and he thought it was refreshing and clever," McMillan said of Lee, a client.

Inside, the magazine takes a weightier tone, including a discussion with prominent professors Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, led by Public Enemy's Chuck D.

"We're just going to expand on what The Source has always done well," said McMillan, adding that music will be "a core focus but not 80 percent of the book."

He said the magazine will have a "multigenerational" focus, and will include sections on lifestyle, travel, education, business and other topics.

"I think that what we're trying to do is evolve it as hip-hop has evolved and become an international force, to evolve it without losing its core essence that was the centerpiece of its earliest beginnings and greatness. But it has to evolve, just like hip-hop has to evolve," McMillan said.

At its prime, The Source was the pre-eminent magazine for rap, and it helped fuel the rise of urban magazines such as XXL and Vibe, which celebrated its 15th anniversary this week.

But over the last few years, The Source ran through a series of editors, had financial problems and suffered a decline under the ownership of Mays and Raymond "Benzino" Scott; the pair were fired in 2006 and subsequently launched Hip-Hop Weekly, an Us Weekly-like magazine chronicling the lives of urban music stars. When the magazine filed for bankruptcy, it was millions of dollars in debt.

One magazine analyst said that while the magazine has been hurt by its problems, it is still viable.

"It is a force. Nobody can deny the force or the power of The Source. But is it the same as it was five years ago? No," said Samir Husni, journalism chair at the University of Mississippi. "It does not deliver with the same punch that it used to."

Husni said the magazine's new owners faced an uphill battle in their relaunch, but could be successful "if they are true to the DNA of the publication."

McMillan and Scott purchased The Source late last year through The North Star Group and Black Enterprise/Greenwich Street, respectively.

McMillan said that over the past few years, the magazine had focused so much on rap, it had excluded other reader interests.

"It left off so much of what is the key ingredients of hip-hop and lifestyle now ... which is lifestyle, fashion, online, new media, international aspects of how people embrace content."

The magazine is searching for a new editor in chief. Besides a shift in content, it will also undergo a design relaunch, McMillan said.

"If anything we want to restore it, restore it to greatness and its No. 1 spot," he said.