How 'The Source' magazine lawsuit could have sparked a hip-hop Me Too movement : Louder Than A Riot In 2006, Kim Osorio, the editor-in-chief of The Source, sued the magazine and its owners for workplace sexual harassment. Nearly two decades later, hip-hop still has not had a true reckoning around sexual misconduct. In this episode, former Source writers take us behind the scenes at the hip-hop bible and the environment that led to the suit. And activist Tarana Burke, creator of "Me Too," reflects on how this case could have put hip-hop ahead of the curve on reckoning with misogynoir.

If you see something, say nothing: Kim Osorio v. 'The Source'

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A warning before we begin - this podcast is explicit in every way. And this episode covers allegations of sexual harassment.

For more than a year, LOUDER was working on a story about an almost 20-year-old lawsuit in hip-hop, a lawsuit that alleged sexual harassment and workplace discrimination at a place that was the pinnacle of hip-hop journalism at the time, The Source magazine - a story that centered on the plaintiff in the case, the former editor-in-chief of The Source, Kim Osorio. Kim had sued the magazine's co-owners, Dave Mays and Raymond Benzino Scott, and The Source magazine itself. And through our reporting, we couldn't help but hear the similarities between Kim's case and the stories that were all over the news during the height of the #MeToo movement in 2017. The biggest difference was Kim was taking on hip-hop years before that movement.


MADDEN: But then, on an early afternoon in March, as we were putting the final touches on it, this story took a turn.

SAM J LEEDS, BYLINE: Hey, team. I just received this notice from Dave Mays' lawyer about a cease-and-desist order they're issuing to Kim, saying she violated the terms of her settlement agreement. I haven't read it in depth yet, but I wanted to share it immediately.

MADDEN: That's the email my producer, Sam J. Leeds, sent the team. Dave Mays was telling us via a lawyer, he would potentially sue Kim.

Sam, I'm not going to lie. When you told me about this email, my stomach dropped. What was your first reaction?

LEEDS: You know, honestly, I actually didn't think that the email was real. I thought it might be spam. But then I took a second look at the subject line, and I saw Kim's name in it. And I was like, oh, damn.

MADDEN: Yeah. I mean, we've been working on this story for over a year. And we fact checked this episode under a microscope.

LEEDS: Yeah, we really did. And as a final step, like, you know, all journalists do, I decided to reach out to the former co-owners of The Source for comment on the story months before it was set to drop. And, Sid, I will never forget getting that DM from one of the guys Kim had sued.

MADDEN: (Laughter) Oh, my gosh. No, you got to read it. You got to read it. Pull it up.

LEEDS: All right, all right. So we started off by emailing Benzino multiple times for comment. We never got a response. So we were like, all right, what if we try DMing him on Twitter? And...

MADDEN: You know, journalism (laughter).

LEEDS: Yeah, you know, got to try all your avenues. And he got back to us on Twitter. And the DM came through. It has his little photo with him in a hot tub, shirtless. He's got his arm propped up on the lip of the hot tub. And he's, like, mean-mugging the camera with some sunglasses on. And the contents of the DM was just, is there a check involved? Question mark.

MADDEN: Right, one line. And he wouldn't agree to participate unless there was. And y'all should know, NPR does not pay for interviews.

LEEDS: Right. And as for the other co-owner, Dave Mays, we reached out to him back at the end of last year and never heard anything back, and reached out again, never heard anything back. And then about six weeks before the story was set to drop, we got CC'd on that cease-and-desist from his lawyer.

MADDEN: Yeah. They were saying if she violated her settlement agreement or defamed Dave, they'd sue her.


MADDEN: That's why my stomach dropped, because with a scare tactic like this of a cease-and-desist being deployed, we knew from then on it was a possibility that Kim could pull out of the story because whether they have a legitimate claim or not, just the threat of filing a lawsuit can intimidate someone.

LEEDS: There wasn't really much we could do except for just keep working on the story and see how it all played out. And then at the literal 12th hour, we got another email, a new one. And it had one of those little red exclamation points on it. It really caught my eye when it first came through my inbox.


LEEDS: And this time, the email said that they had spoken to Kim and that she wouldn't want NPR to feature her interview.

MADDEN: Yeah. And so we checked with Kim ourselves. And ultimately, she decided she didn't want to risk getting dragged into another costly, lengthy lawsuit. She requested that we pull all of her interviews from this story. And that's what we did, because from jump, we always agreed if we had to choose between our source's safety and the story, we'd choose their safety.

LEEDS: Right.

MADDEN: So you're not going to hear Kim's actual voice in this episode at all, but we're still going to tell this story.

LEEDS: Yeah. So what you are going to hear is the court transcripts, the archival footage, the many, many interviews that we've done. And, Sid, you're also going to be reading a little bit from Kim's book because we do have her words as she's written them.

MADDEN: What you're going to hear in this episode and what went down while we made it, it makes it even more clear why hip-hop still hasn't had a #MeToo reckoning.


MADDEN: Let's get into it.

LEEDS: Let's do it.


MADDEN: I'm Sidney Madden.


I'm Rodney Carmichael. And from NPR Music, this is LOUDER THAN A RIOT.

MADDEN: Where we confront the double standard that's become the standard.

CARMICHAEL: On every episode this season, we tackle one unwritten rule of hip-hop that affects the most marginalized among us and holds the entire culture back.

MADDEN: And one that a new generation of rap refuses to stand for. With one court case, Kim not only changed the trajectory of her career, she put a whole industry on notice because at the time, The Source was hip-hop's gold standard in journalism.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. But what Kim and many other women dealt with behind the scenes at The Source, it was a standard far from gold.

MADDEN: And when Kim decided to speak up about it, she learned just how grimy things could get.


MADDEN: On this episode, we take you through a case that predates the #MeToo movement to show why hip-hop was never really part of it. And we tap in with advocates who continue to fight for one 'cause whether it's in the courtroom or the community, there's still structures in place that show it's safer to keep quiet. On this episode, Rule No. 5 - if you see something, say nothing.


TIA BOWMAN: Oh. What did you know about The Source before Kim started working there? So before Kim started working there, I just knew it as, you know, one of the magazines, you know, the Bible, if you will, for hip-hop.

MADDEN: Tia Bowman is Kim Osorio's best friend. She has been for decades. Both New York natives, the two of them became friends back in law school. Tia's her ride or die, even before Kim's Source days. And like Kim, Tia is a huge hip-hop fan.

BOWMAN: I mean, It was XXL, but, you know, it's never in my mind was on the same level as The Source. The Source just had this, like, to-the-streets, like, truth about it, this grit about it. It set the standard.

CARMICHAEL: Man, listen - Tia ain't lying. It cannot be overstated how big The Source was to hip-hop.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The Source magazine, home of hip-hop, music, culture and politics.

THE NOTORIOUS B I G: Subscribe? I mean, it's the s***. F***. Everybody be reading it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The Source is No. 1 with me.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: If you ain't got it, you ought to get it.

MADDEN: We're talking '90s to early 2000s Source, when it was the ultimate in hip-hop journalism. It didn't just capture the biggest moments of the culture. It set the tone.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, and no one rapper was bigger than The Source. That's 'cause The Source made rappers. I mean, even Puffy signed Biggie after Matty C wrote him up in the magazine's Unsigned Hype section.

MADDEN: Right. It was a publication that respected the art of hip-hop and wrote about it with prestige.

ALIYA KING NEIL: I had a friend who had every issue, and I would go to his house and read it 10 times in a row just to remember the writing.

BOWMAN: The Source - it's the truth. Whatever you see in The Source is what's happening. It's what's hot. It's what it is.

TARANA BURKE: The emergence of The Source, you know, that's really what solidifies culture. You have to have something to document it. And The Source did it and did it really, really, really well.

CARMICHAEL: One of the best ways they did that was with the Record Report, The Source's album review section. Now, this was the ultimate in hip-hop taste-making. And if you were skilled enough to cop a five-mic review, you had an instant classic on your hands.

MADDEN: The source got so big they threw their own Source Awards.


KID CAPRI: And now, people all over the world, it's the Source Hip-Hop Music Awards.

TUPAC SHAKUR: The rap community is very diverse, and that is being represented here at the Source Awards.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I think The Source is, like, right on the money.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Call right now and get a year subscription for only 19.95.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: We knew what time it was from the first issue of The Source. We knew they was going to blow.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, The Source was the hip-hop Bible. If you wanted to cover the culture, this is where you want it to be. Now, Sid, I know you spent a lot of time talking to people who came through The Source back in the day.

MADDEN: And I started with Aliya King Neil.

NEIL: Before I get to The Source, I have this vision that it's like - I don't know if the term ghetto fabulous is a thing yet at this time - probably. But that's what I'm thinking.

MADDEN: Back in the late '90s, The Source was Aliya's dream job. Walking in on her first day, she was hyped.

NEIL: I don't have to tap into that memory because I remember that moment like it was literally this morning. The Source at this time was organized with cubicles and offices that lined Park Avenue South. The cubicles were known as the projects because it's just all these personalities and all these people crammed together trying to get out. So I'm in the projects. The main thing I can see or hear is just noise.


NEIL: It was just so loud and so raucous and so - like, I could barely think when I sat down to start getting myself together. I was just like, why doesn't anybody use headphones? Like, why is everyone playing their boombox at maximum level when you're sitting next to somebody else playing - I just didn't understand.

MADDEN: And it was all different songs?

NEIL: All different songs.


GHOSTFACE KILLAH: (Rapping) Brothers try to pass me, but none could...

NEIL: Behind me is Gotti with "Supreme Clientele." Eminem's "Stan" 20 times in a row.


EMINEM: (Rapping) ...Jealous because I talk about you 24/7.

NEIL: Our West Coast editor playing anything West Coast.


MADDEN: Y'all were two of the only women on the floor in the room...

NEIL: No, there were lots of women on the floor. In the music department, it was just us.

MADDEN: And with it being just them two, Aliya admits she wasn't exactly happy to see Kim on that first day.

NEIL: I have to say that when I first met Kim, I was not feeling her. I felt very threatened. I was very nervous. And I was the only woman in the music department, and I just was concerned. Like, is she coming here to try to get my job? When she came, somebody parked her at my desk. Like, just sit here. Aliya is traveling for a story. Just sit here. We'll get you together. I had come back early. I come in, and this person is at my desk. And I could tell within three seconds that she was powerful and that she was dope, just like me. We both looked at each other like, oh, this b****. Like, we just know. You know when somebody is on your level.

MADDEN: But after Aliya got over that initial competitiveness, her and Kim got cool. Being the only women in the music department was part of what bonded them. They figured out how to navigate this office together.

NEIL: Of course, I can only speak on myself, you know, and Kim as well because we had two different forms of that is needing to be nonthreatening.

MADDEN: For Aliya, the strategy was to hide in plain sight.

NEIL: Backpack, baggy pants, Timbs. I can't look like a guy, obviously, but I'm trying to be as tomboyish as I can. It's as deep as rounded shoulders when I'm not a rounded-shoulders person. I'm a back-straight-up person. So I give off this aura of nonthreatening, still cute and dressed down and quiet. Just be quiet, you know?

MADDEN: So you had to be cute but not too cute...

NEIL: Correct.

MADDEN: ...And not sexy.

NEIL: Definitely not sexy.

MADDEN: Because they - because why?

NEIL: 'Cause you would just stand out. You would just look weird.


MADDEN: But no matter how Aliya tried not to stand out, she couldn't always hide. Some men in the office were just always trying to overstep.

NEIL: There was this one person - I want to say, not in the music department - who I had to get to sign off on paperwork sometimes. And his desk was a couple offices away from where I sat in the projects. I learned really quickly that you don't want to be alone in the office with him. His hands were - he was a little touchy-feely. He was a little - reaching in for a kiss and all kinds of stuff. And I was like, ooh, I don't like this. So my first step was to make sure that I left the door open when I came in. My second step was to take a buddy, take one of my friends and be like, I got to go to so-and-so's office. Can you please come with me? My third thing was, hey, I got to go to dude's office. In two minutes, if you don't see me coming back to my office, come get me.

MADDEN: As time went on, Kim and Aliya would learn the environment at The Source was overall foul. It was everywhere. Men would slap women's butts, buy inappropriate gifts for them. They tacked pictures of porn to their cubicles and even watched porn in the office. Sexism at The Source was the norm, and it wasn't a secret. It wasn't even seen as bad, especially by management, 'cause in reality, it was top down.


NEIL: If it's a boys club and it's smacking girls' butts in the office - if it's all this happening, where did that start? If it's intense, were the people intense when they came, or did it become an intense environment once they got there? That I'm not sure of.

MADDEN: How does this environment happen? Who was in charge of the boys club? Well, at The Source, it was the two co-owners, Dave Mays...


DAVE MAYS: We did it the right way, you know? I mean, you know, we kept it street, kept it real, kept it hip-hop. We didn't answer to nobody. We owned and controlled our own thing. We wasn't...

MADDEN: ...And Raymond Scott, aka Benzino.


RAYMOND SCOTT: Dysfunctional as it may have seemed, the relationship between me and Dave and how it was kind of made The Source what it was. Dave being from college, I'm being from the streets, it just came from two perspectives, and that's how we ran the magazine.

MADDEN: That's the two of them on "Drink Champs" back in 2020. When Ray says they had two different perspectives, he's definitely right. Standing next to each other, they even look like polar opposites - Dave, a white Jewish guy with a short slicked-back cut and a quiet presence; and Ray, a light-skinned Black guy with arms full of tattoos and a boisterous, loud mouth. The Source actually started as a newsletter out of Dave's Harvard dorm room in 1988. But after staff shakeups along the way, Benzino was brought in - or forced his way in, depending on who you ask - as a partner to give the mag more street credibility. Ray took that power, and he ran with it.

KHARY TURNER: Dave was almost at Benzino's mercy. It seemed like Dave was almost in an unenviable position. He was the guy who had to carry out Benzino's will as it related to The Source at least.

MADDEN: That's Khary Turner, a former freelancer for The Source.

TURNER: He could be erratic. He could be combative. He wanted to be seen as creative. He wanted to be respected as an MC, but that sometimes the combative side and the hard edge outshone his talent as an artist. Reputation-wise, he was a street cat. You know, he was hard, and he had a large crew. And Benzino was not a code switcher. In hip-hop, as an artist, it was appropriate. But in The Source, it wasn't always appropriate.

MADDEN: Aliya remembers one specific time that Benzino tried to flex his power.

NEIL: So Ray comes out with the stack of checks. And I was like, well, this is unusual. Like, why do you have the checks? But OK, fine. Just give me my check. He has a stack of the checks, and he has a stack of CDs of his new CD. So he puts your check on your desk, and then he takes the CD and puts it on top of your check and gives you a look like, don't forget where this check is coming from.

MADDEN: All this was the culture Kim was dealing with, too. But she figured out a way to work with Ray and Dave. And at one point, she even considered her relationship with Ray friendly. To keep it that way, she had to ignore how Ray was treating other women in the office. But you know what? Despite all this, she was killing it at the mag, and she was having fun.


BOWMAN: I went to so many interviews with her - like, so many people.

MADDEN: Kim's best friend Tia was definitely enjoying the perks of Kim's success.

BOWMAN: She interviewed Destiny's Child in the Hilton Hotel on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. And we were in a little single room with two twin beds. And so all four Destiny's Child, you know, members were there and Kim and I. So we were all in a very close space 'cause it was a small hotel room.

MADDEN: Right. Right. And you were her ride or die. Every step of the way, you were always, like, her plus-one?

BOWMAN: Always her plus-one. You know, always her let-me-run-it-by-Tia.

MADDEN: Between 2000 and 2002, Kim landed interviews and cover stories with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Trick Daddy, Trina, Wu-Tang Clan, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and more. It was Kim who was responsible for writing Nas' five-mic review on "Stillmatic." It was Kim who brokered the Jay-Z and Rocafella cover. In early 2002, after all this work, Dave and Ray offered Kim the position of editor-in-chief.

BOWMAN: It was huge. She was the first female editor-in-chief, and it was The Source magazine. You know, this is a huge, big deal in anybody's career. And then her being a female from the Bronx, you know, out here doing this on her own, this was a phenomenal achievement.

MADDEN: It may have been a big achievement, but Ray and Dave weren't going to make it easy. In Kim's book, she writes that after initially telling her she got the job, they made her wait eight months before officially announcing it, and they were making her do the work the whole time without the title. She didn't let that stop her, though, 'cause she had a vision for the mag. She wanted to get more enterprise reporting into the pages, like a freelance story by Khary about rape culture in hip-hop.

TURNER: I wanted to give the culture an opportunity to take an honest look at itself. I wanted to use my platform and my position as a writer to advance that conversation, to give artists and executives an opportunity to comment on it. She responded really favorably when I pitched the story to her. She told me up front, you know, I think it's a great idea. I would love to do it. Let's see if we can make it happen.

MADDEN: Kim was with it. Ray and Dave? Not so much.

TURNER: I think their response was that nobody wanted to read about that. I felt that any man asked to support such a story meant that the answer could be no because men's perspective on rape and rape culture can sometimes be like white people's perspectives on Black life.

MADDEN: According to Kim's book, they told her, quote, "N****s ain't trying to hear all that. They want to f***," and that the story was, quote, "women's s***."

TURNER: If your response is it's women's s***, well, how do you feel about that women's s***?

MADDEN: Ray and Dave's opinions on women's s*** went beyond that story. One time, another male executive in the office told Kim that because she was a woman, Ray and Dave thought she was, quote, "too weak-minded" to stay EIC. They weren't just saying it behind her back, either. Benzino told Kim repeatedly he, quote, "needed a man to do her job." The long hours, the boys club, the office politics - it was starting to wear on Kim. And on top of all that, Ray started pressing her. Pretty soon after she got the EIC title, Ray started talking to her about his sex life and asking about hers. He would not let up. This wasn't unusual for Benzino when it came to other women on staff, but it was new for Kim.

He was especially obsessed with who in the industry she was sleeping with, and he would ask her again and again and again. Kim details this in her book. Let me just read from it. Quote, (reading) "'Come on, Kim. Why don't you tell me who you slept with? I already know. Just tell me. Admit it.' It's not that I was ashamed to tell Ray whom I'd been with. It was that I knew exactly what he wanted to know. And more importantly, I knew that he would use it against me."

Kim tried to dodge these questions, but he only got more persistent. And according to her, one late night as they were leaving the office, Ray got way out of pocket. They were in an elevator together when Ray said, quote, (reading) "Why don't you come out to Atlantic City with me? We'll have a good time." "Atlantic City? For what?" "Come on, think about it. We can have fun. Don't you think we'd make a good couple?" "Couple?" "We would be the king and queen of The Source." I was running out of ways to be nice as we made our way out the elevator. "Come on. I got a room in Atlantic City. You could stay with me." "I'm not going to Atlantic City with you."

As the elevator dinged open, Kim thought it was over. But Ray didn't leave it there. Kim says she never gave him her home number, but later that night, he called her repeatedly at home, 10 times on her cell and five times on the house phone, trying to convince her to change her mind. And from what he did next, it was clear Ray did not like to be told no. If he couldn't have Kim, then she couldn't have her privacy. Kim got worried that he started spreading her business all around town, saying that she was sleeping with rappers. She writes, (reading) I wasn't surprised that both Ray and Dave had been talking behind my back. I've spoken to former male editors of the magazine who were never asked the same questions. So why was my situation so different? Why the f*** are they so obsessed with my sex life?

Kim had put up with a lot for her love of hip-hop, but she was reaching her breaking point. She met with a lawyer who listened to her situation and told her to file a complaint with human resources. The lawyer told her, they can't fire you for complaining. But she was still nervous. Kim knew it might have been against the law for them to do, but she writes, (reading) The Source didn't always follow the letter of the law anyway.

BOWMAN: And I remember us talking about this because she was going to lose her job. She thought she's going to be blackballed in the industry because she's, you know, making this sort of accusation.

MADDEN: On the night of February 23, 2005, just like when Kim first got offered the editor-in-chief job, she called up Tia.

BOWMAN: She was scared to do it. And she'll tell you sometimes, like, I bully her into things. Like, but I'm not bullying her. I'm giving her...

MADDEN: (Laughter).

BOWMAN: I'm pushing her in the direction that I know she wants to go, but she's sometimes, you know, nervous to do it.

MADDEN: Kim needed Tia's help writing an HR complaint, one that would make it all official.

BOWMAN: We were choosing the sentence structure and the words very purposefully and concisely.

MADDEN: The email was short and to the point. (Reading) As the head of human resources, I am notifying you that I have been discriminated against on the basis of my gender. This unlawful discrimination must come to an end.

BOWMAN: Once you hit send, there's no coming back. She knew it.

MADDEN: Kim hit send. And after that, all she could do was wait.


MADDEN: What did you hear about the lawsuit, and what did you think of it when you heard it?

NEIL: I heard about it just, you know, I guess in the news or whatever. And my first thought was, why? Like, why? Why are you doing this?

MADDEN: Aliya had already left The Source when she first heard about a lawsuit involving her former employer and her friend Kim.

NEIL: Because in my mind, you know, you got to get thrown out of a window to want to file a lawsuit because we were all so trained to think, if it's just this, then it's OK. Just deal with it. As sad as it is, my first thought was, was it really that deep? Whatever happened, was it that deep that you now want to go through a whole thing? I want to make it clear that I'm talking about my 25-year-old self, and I'm 50.

MADDEN: Right, and the internalized misogyny that we all carry with us. Right.

NEIL: Exactly. And so if you're a woman in hip-hop, if you're not ready to accept a certain amount of misogyny, you need to go someplace. You need to just go listen to hip-hop in your room. There's not a single woman in this industry, in hip-hop, who can say, I never had to deal with any of this stuff, and if I did, I always did X, Y, Z. No, you didn't. You had to deal with it, and you didn't always do something about it. None of us - absolutely none of us. So my thought was, is this what it had to be?

MADDEN: Aliya's first thought wasn't wrong. After sending that HR complaint in February of 2005, Kim didn't hear anything. It was crickets for two weeks, until she got a call from Ray and Dave cursing at her. They wanted her to retract her complaint. She refused. So they fired her. And just like that, Kim's time at The Source, her dream job, was over. In her book, she writes that she was jilted, angry, but also prepared. (Reading) A lawsuit was my next step. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but in the end, it was a step I had to take - not for monetary recovery, but because of principle.

In April 2005, Kim filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Then she filed the suit that Aliya had heard about against The Source, Dave and Ray. Kim was suing them for workplace sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination and retaliation. Aliya was worried for Kim about how ugly the trial might get.

NEIL: I remember asking her, like, what if they bring up, like, dudes or, like, relationships? She was like, what are they going to say? I don't have - what? They're going to talk s*** about me. They're going to talk about who I had sex with. They're going to talk about, you know, what I did here, what I did there. That's fine. I can take that. And if it means that you feel more comfortable, good. And, you know, for me at that time, I would have just been horrified to have my business in the street. But, you know, I knew she did her homework. I knew she was prepared. And I knew that if she did it, she was ready to do it.

MADDEN: Aliya had reason to be worried, though, because as soon as the suit went public, they did drag Kim's name through the mud. In a radio interview, Ray said she was incompetent, a slut and liked the fast lifestyle. In a written interview with, Dave said, quote, "It is a fact that Miss Osorio had sexual relations with a number of high-profile rap artists during her employment as editor-in-chief." Because of all this talk, Kim added a defamation claim onto the suit. Now, on top of all this mess - or maybe because of it - no one would give Kim a job. She was out of work for eight months. Just as she predicted, she was getting blackballed by the industry.

RHONDA COWAN: As a woman in this business, they don't really care about how good you are at your job. All they cared about was who does she sleep with?

MADDEN: There was one person willing to give her a chance - a VP at BET, Rhonda Cowan.

COWAN: They would define you by people that you dated, people that you slept with, people they thought you slept with. They would make it up if it wasn't true.

MADDEN: Rhonda had been in the business longer than Kim, so she knew what it was. To her, Kim's situation wasn't nothing new. She offered Kim the job.

COWAN: I took a chance. I knew that she knew music, and she was good, so I convinced my boss to give her a try. She can learn how to work with all the technology, but you can't learn the music.

MADDEN: One of Kim's first assignments at BET had her flying down to Miami to do an interview at a boat party.


MADDEN: Irv Gotti, head of Murder Inc., had just gotten acquitted of money laundering, and Rhonda knew Kim had an in.

COWAN: Kim had a relationship with Irv. She knew him, and he trusted her. So she reached out. He agreed to do an interview. And something told me that Kim might need security because I had a feeling that Benzino might be there. We get on the boat, and we are having a conversation. And all of a sudden, I see Kim's face change. She went from animated talking to, like, you could see the energy just drain out of her. Benzino walks up, and he just kind of is like, what's up, Kim? And he made a comment like, oh, you got security, or whatever. Now it's a thing. The security guy looked, and he like, what's up?

MADDEN: That's when Benzino started to pick a fight with security.

COWAN: Now it's, like, a whole, like, man thing. So I remember Benzino walking away, me walking behind him and saying, what is going on? Like, what are you doing right now? And them asking us to leave the boat. And Benzino's still yelling and screaming. So, you know, we left.


MADDEN: And by we, Rhonda means her, Kim, their camera crew and the bodyguard had to get off the boat. Benzino was allowed to stay.

What do you think it says that y'all were asked to leave the boat and not Benzino, the one who started the...

COWAN: I mean, here's the thing. Again, here's the boys' club, right? So he's not going to ask his mans and them to leave. He's going to ask us.

MADDEN: What did that interaction tell you about the environment she was coming from?

COWAN: Benzino, why are you here in her face? Do you want to go to jail next? Like, what's happening? What's going to happen? You know what I mean? I didn't know. I just felt - I always felt she was unsafe.

MADDEN: Leading up to the trial, this was the type of tension Kim was dealing with. On October 11, 2006, the trial finally started. It took place at New York's Southern District Courthouse in Lower Manhattan. Our team looked through hundreds of pages of trial transcripts, and there was a lot that came out in court about Ray, Dave and the culture at The Source. Witnesses testified under oath to pretty much everything we'd heard from Aliya, Khary and what we read in Kim's book. But witnesses also revealed a whole lot more going on. Here's just some.

Ray touched women in the office inappropriately, went in for hugs, touched shoulders, was handsy with the most junior staffers. Ray snapped the underwear of a woman staffer in the presence of Dave, and Dave did nothing about it, just left the room. Ray watched porn in the office mailroom. The HR rep for the source ignored multiple complaints and even referred to her own dynamic with Ray as being, quote, "like Ike and Tina Turner."

And all this didn't even include acts where Kim was the target. Every time Kim's lawyer brought up something to show how bad the environment at the source was, how bad Ray and Dave's behavior was, the defense threw it back on Kim, specifically her love of hip-hop - like, what did you expect? We had some of the LOUDER team members read transcripts of an example in office where Ray said, in front of Kim, that a female artist they put on the cover had a, quote, "phat p****."


MERCEDES COLWIN: Mrs. Osorio, you've listened to hip-hop uncensored, correct?


COLWIN: You consider yourself an expert at hip-hop, right?

OSORIO: Yeah. Yes.

MADDEN: Ray's lawyer asked Kim if she's familiar with Jacki-O's album "Poe Little Rich Girl."


COLWIN: Do you recall the song which was called "P**** Real Good"?


COLWIN: And "P**** Real Good" was profiled in The Source magazine when you were editor-in-chief, correct?

OSORIO: I believe Jacki-O was profiled in the story.

MADDEN: See, the corner they're trying to back Kim into is how could she be offended by this word if she wrote positively about a song that uses it?

ERICA VLADIMER: This is what we call DARVO, D-A-R-V-O.

MADDEN: This is Erica Vladimer. She's a lawyer and advocate for reforming sexual harassment law in the state of New York.

VLADIMER: And this is a tactic that is used most often in cases of sexual abuse or sexual harassment by the alleged perpetrator, where they deny the accusations, they attack the victim, and then they reverse the victim and offender. That's the RVO of it. In practice, it looks like the alleged offender flipping the script and claiming that it's actually the victim who's the person who created harm.

MADDEN: Kim being able to do her job despite the work environment was also used against her.

VLADIMER: It's called the severe or pervasive standard. And basically, this meant that Kim had to show that in her work environment, it was so - the hostility of the work environment was so severe in one instance or so pervasive over a number of instances that it interfered with her ability to complete her job, to succeed in taking on her job responsibilities.

MADDEN: This standard Erica's talking about makes it extremely hard to win harassment cases.

So if Kim was still getting magazine covers, still hitting it out of the park in her job...

VLADIMER: Yeah. That could essentially work against her.

MADDEN: It's also a big reason why so few sexual harassment cases even make it to trial.

VLADIMER: It solidifies the fact that the severe or pervasive standard is such an insurmountable hurdle for people who were harmed to be able to overcome.

MADDEN: Because of the severe and pervasive standard, Erica says no matter what industry, a certain level of harassment is legally allowed in the workplace. And regardless of the law, lots of people just see it as normal.

VLADIMER: When you're in front of a jury of your peers, this is a cohort of people who have ingrained in their heads that this is standard, that we should have to deal with a** grabs and being cursed at and being hit on constantly and followed down a hallway and begged to come to Atlantic City and be fearful that if we don't say yes to any of the above that we are suddenly going to lose our jobs. That's still the case.

MADDEN: It's not just ingrained in the legal system. It's been normalized in hip-hop forever. So for people who knew both these worlds intimately, watching the trial go down was twice as nerve-wracking.

BURKE: It was certainly a big deal. And it was - I remember feeling a little bit - I guess scary is the right - it felt a little bit scary.

MADDEN: That's Tarana Burke, organizer, activist and teacher. As a lover of hip-hop born in the BX in the '70s, just like Kim, she knew the double-edged sword of loving this culture.

BURKE: You know, loving Biggie - and you will be in the midst of loving the song, getting into the song, and then they just drop these lines out of nowhere. And it's just like, you hate us, and we have to live with that. You know I like them young, fresh and green with no hair in between. Know what I mean?


SEAN COMBS: (Singing) The weak or the strong, who got it going on? You're dead wrong...

BURKE: Biggie, what am I supposed to make of that line? That is the heartbreak of being a woman who loves hip-hop.

MADDEN: Because of that heartbreak, Tarana knew how complicated it was to call out hip-hop like Kim was doing.

BURKE: Like, I hope she comes out of this with her career and doesn't get, you know, damage from this. Hip-hop is a powerful industry. And men have a lot of power inside of this industry, and I'm sure they have tried to wipe her out.

MADDEN: While Tarana was following Kim's case hoping she'd make it through, there were other women watching who low-key felt like Kim was getting what she deserved.

ROSA CLEMENTE: The reality is that most women in the culture did not like and did not want to work with Kim Osorio.

MADDEN: This is Rosa Clemente. She's an activist in the hip-hop feminist space and a freelance journalist too. And Rosa was no stranger to interrogating the culture. The way she remembers it, Kim had a reputation outside of The Source, and it wasn't the one that tabloids are talking about. To Rosa and her people, Kim only covered big-money rappers. She wasn't down for the cause.

CLEMENTE: There were incidences where we were fighting to get, like, these really amazing hip-hop lyricists that were also very politically minded, and many of them were also organizers in their own right. And she refused to ever put these people on the cover. So she was not someone that we, as hip-hop women and feminists, really got along with.

MADDEN: OK, what Rosa's saying here is an essential distinction. I kind of think of it as the dichotomy of Kim's power in all this. 'Cause as we've heard from her peers and read between the lines, Kim did uphold some of the boys club culture herself when it was the cost of getting things done. There were definitely times when she looked the other way. But remember, if you saw or experienced anything, the rule was to keep quiet about it. See something, say nothing. And with the suit, it was a rule Kim broke.

CLEMENTE: And then I kind of began to see her in a different light. Like, damn, what would it be like to work at The Source? I knew a lot of people. I knew the editors. I knew people in the past. And I just thought to myself, like, at the end of the day, she was threatened like this. And we're dealing with all this misogyny and patriarchy. But also a lot of these guys were, like, physically threatened. They would run up on us if they didn't like something we said or wrote. Like, what we're fighting for is for all women in hip-hop to be treated with dignity and equity. So maybe we don't like Kim for whatever reason, but we have to support her. One thing, as an organizer and what I've been taught, is that a lot of things shouldn't be personal. Like, I shouldn't have to be friends with Kim Osorio to know that harm has been done against her.

MADDEN: What Kim was going through stuck with Rosa.

CLEMENTE: When it started making news, I did reach out to Kim. I said, no matter what happens, we have to tell this story. And I'm really deeply sorry for you and the way you've been treated by all these men.

MADDEN: Kim wasn't about to hear any kind of apologies in the courtroom, though. As the case went on for two weeks, Ray started acting out. According to court transcripts, the judge was considering holding Ray in contempt. Why? Because when Kim's lawyer walked by Ray during a break, Ray yelled at him - coward, Uncle Tom, chump. Then when Kim walked by, he yelled at her too. When court is back in session, Ray tries to deny this to the judge, but the judge gives him the option of sitting in the courtroom or leaving. He opted to be escorted out by the court marshal. At the end of the trial, after all the evidence and antics, Kim's lawyer made an impassioned closing argument. He told the jury...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: The eyes of a hip-hop music industry are upon you. You have a great opportunity here - a great opportunity to impose standards on that industry and standards on other parts of the music industry. You have a chance to teach them something about dignity. You have a chance to teach them something about respect. Raymond Scott and David Mays acted with total malice toward Kimberly Osorio. They should be held accountable. You should hold Raymond Scott accountable. You should hold David Mays accountable. You should hold The Source magazine accountable.

MADDEN: From there, the case was in the jury's hands. There was nothing more Kim could do, again, but wait.


MADDEN: On October 23, 2006, the jury finally rendered a verdict. In the end, the jury of six men and two women found that Ray and Dave firing Kim was retaliation for that email and that Ray defamed her in interviews after they fired her. But as for working in a hostile environment and being a victim of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, those claims were dismissed. Rosa Clemente remembers reading the verdict.

CLEMENTE: I already was like, I got to write this story when she wins. And everybody's like, she's not going to win. And I'm like, yes, she is.

MADDEN: And even though Kim didn't win on all counts, to Rosa, this was still a victory.

CLEMENTE: It was, like, not a blip on the radar. And I was going around like, yo, she won, to that day, the biggest amount of damages ever for a woman suing her former bosses. This s*** needs to be the front cover of The New York Times.

MADDEN: Kim was awarded close to $8 million in damages, a huge verdict for a wrongful termination case at the time, one of the biggest in the history of the state of New York. Rosa's interview with Kim ran in the Village Voice under the headline "All Eyes On Her." In the piece, Kim told Rosa, quote, "This trial for me on a personal level is a vindication of me, my work, my character. In addition, I feel empowered. I did not allow them to intimidate me, scare me, have any more control over me."

What do you feel like changed in hip-hop with this case and what did not change once this ruling came back?

NEIL: I don't think that much changed. I don't think that anything changed. I don't think a single woman could tell you that all the things that happened to her in that suit - all those things happened the next day and the day after that and the day after that and the day after that. Maybe now it's a little bit better. But that suit, I don't think that it - nuh-uh (ph). I think it put people on notice, but I don't know if it changed behavior, if that's what you mean.

MADDEN: Aliya's right. Kim's case didn't dramatically reshape hip-hop or change anyone's behavior. And because the jury didn't decide in Kim's favor on the harassment and gender discrimination claims, this was a missed opportunity where hip-hop could have been ahead of the curve on a major reckoning. But you know what? It was proof that you could push back. You could break the rule. And Kim wasn't the only one fighting.

BURKE: Sexual violence has been weaponized against Black men in this country for so long that Black women are fearful and protective of our men because we don't want to be seen in that same tradition - right? - of weaponizing sexual violence, even when it actually happened to us.

MADDEN: That's Tarana Burke again. And she was trying to break rules, too.

BURKE: So you have Black women questioning themselves and sacrificing themselves, even. You have older generations of Black women who will tell younger generations to essentially suck it up, right? You lived. You're fine. So we pass down a culture of silence from one generation to the other.

MADDEN: In 2006, at the same time as she was watching Kim's case go down, Tarana was trying to find language to help Black girls talk about sexual assault and harassment.

BURKE: Sometimes they would be, you know, like, oh, Miss Tarana, can I talk to you in private? But they were not - like, 9 times out of 10, it wasn't like, oh, I have a confession. I want to tell you something that happened. It was just a - they'll tell us a story, and me and my girl look at each other and be like, oh, my God.

MADDEN: Tarana was running an after-school program, and when girls would talk about their relationships, she recognized signs of sexual violence, even when the girls didn't themselves. And she used specific pop culture references to help her students see what they were dealing with was not OK.

BURKE: We would use celebrities and people who I knew, Black women who I knew had stories. So, like, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott. Fantasia at the time had her movie out. I think Eve, Lil Kim - if I heard even an inkling of a story that sounded like there was some sexual violence, I would use their stories to talk to the girls.

MADDEN: The stories of those artists also showed the girls they weren't alone. This led Tarana to come up with a phrase they could use.

BURKE: At the end of our sessions, we would give out Sticky Notes to everybody so that nobody felt singled out and would say, like, write me too if you want help or if you want to let us know. I'll never forget when we did this one. It was the end of the workshop, and we were like, tell us three things you learned or write, me too. And we just took them and put them in a manila envelope. And then we got back to the room, dumped them all out on the bed, and we started going through them, and I'm telling you, it was like, me too, me too, me too - one after another.

MADDEN: Tarana expanded this program, and she took it across the country. Then in 2017, a white actress tweeted the phrase me too, and it went viral. It snowballed and it became a movement. But as the term spread, it got disconnected from the people it was originally created to help. The voices of those girls who saw themselves in hip-hop were missing in the conversation.

Do you believe that hip-hop was part of the #MeToo movement or the reckoning in 2017 or not?

BURKE: No, I don't. I've heard stories for years. I have friends who dated rappers and - or people in the industry and were horribly mistreated. None of that came forth, and I think it's because they didn't see space for them, which I completely understand. They did not see space for Black women. They didn't see space for women of color. They didn't see an opening in our community, quite frankly. The white women who came forward, I don't begrudge them - right? - because they were survivors, too. They went through something, too. And they honestly didn't know whether or not they were going to have careers or that kind of thing. But we are socialized to respond to the vulnerability of white women. So there's inherently a safety net in that, right? Somebody is going to say, we got to do something to help them. But you have these Black and Latino women and women of color coming forward. There's not the same safety net. There's no guarantees in that.

MADDEN: The inequality of that safety net is built right into the law. Black women - women of color in general - are asked to choose which type of harassment is more important for them to fight, race- or gender-based harassment. Or they're forced to prove both. Because of this, according to the National Women's Law Center, even though Black women are more likely to file harassment claims in the U.S., they're less likely to win their cases. Those aren't the only legal barriers, either. I talked to multiple women who worked at places like Complex, The Fader and OkayAfrica about the current state of harassment in music media today. But ultimately, none of them would go on the record because of ongoing settlement negotiations and, in some cases, restrictive NDAs. And the law, it doesn't even account for where the culture is at. Huge music moguls like Russell Simmons and LA Reid were called out in the 2020 documentary "On The Record," but still, people have continued to support them.

BURKE: As a person who is a survivor, you're watching that, and you're like, I'm not throwing my hat in that ring. I'm not jumping in that fray. For what? To be torn apart? To be called a liar? I'm going to reveal my innermost hurt, the thing that almost killed me. I'm going to bring that out and put that in the world for y'all to tear me apart and call me a liar and a w**** and a gold-digger and a b**** and this and all - I'm going to do that? For what? No. It's really difficult. Our community has to have a hard conversation.

MADDEN: With misogynoir always there to shut down the conversation, the fact that Kim even said anything at all was a risk.

BURKE: I think people don't understand that's what survivorship is. It's ongoing, right? It's not just following the case. People will forever attach you to that thing, to that decision that you made. So you have to continue to live through that. So, you know, I applaud her for - in hip-hop, on top of everything to do that, it's an incredible feat.

MADDEN: What's incredible is that talking about this case years later is still dangerous. Kim had moved on, rebuilt and created a lucrative career for herself in the TV space. Last year, when we reached out to her for this story, it was because we wanted to highlight what this trial could have been, what it could have meant for hip-hop. And originally, Kim was down for that, too. Then Dave's lawyer came calling. His lawyer made sure to emphasize to us that Kim was unsuccessful on the claims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination and that she shouldn't be declaring she won on them, which to us, she never did. In fact, her being unsuccessful on those claims is the entire point of the story.


BURKE: Hello?

MADDEN: Hello? Hi. Hi, Tarana. This is Sidney from LOUDER THAN A RIOT. How are you?

BURKE: I'm good. How are you?

MADDEN: I'm good. Do you remember...

The last time we talked to Tarana was before this episode evolved, before we got that email from Dave's lawyer. So you know we had to get her back on the line.

My first question is, what is your first reaction hearing that update?

BURKE: That's some bulls*** (laughter). My first reaction is that's some bulls***. And this is her life, right? This is her talking about her own life, and you threaten legal action?

MADDEN: Now, one of the things Dave's lawyer stressed most in that email was that Kim should not be positioning herself as, quote, a "pioneer" of the #MeToo movement because she didn't win on the sexual harassment claim in court.

BURKE: I think people need to recognize is that winning the court case is not the same. So they're actually wrong, completely wrong. You had this sister who was steeped in the most deeply masculine, sexist, macho, male-driven thing that there is in entertainment and culture, had the wherewithal to step forward and say, no, I'm not standing for this - it is a predecessor to and the catalyst for the cultural moment that we saw happen in 2017, to stand up in the face of misogyny and sexism and patriarchy and say, this is not right, and I won't stand for it, and regardless if I have to stand alone, I'm going to stand. And that's what Kim did, and that's why it's so significant.


BURKE: So winning or losing is really not the measure of success in this instance.

MADDEN: What would you say to Dave right now?

BURKE: This is a moment where you could have shown leadership. You did a remarkable thing however many years ago The Source was founded. You gave something to the culture, and Kim elevated that thing. And when you f*** up, you got to say, I f***ed up. That's just how you get better. And when you're not good for the thing, you got to step away from the thing. So you fighting and clawing to hold on to something, to hold on to your reputation, to hold on to reputation of The Source, whatever it is you're doing, we see you.


BURKE: We see you for what you are. I don't think - I don't know what it is you think you're doing now, but we see you for what you are. This is how, Dave Mays, you actually tarnish your reputation.


MADDEN: What would you say to Kim right now?

BURKE: I respect the fact that she did what she had to do to give herself peace, the work that she did years ago when she, you know, filed the lawsuit and did the fight. She did the work already. So pulling out right now rather than do that fight all over again, I 100% respect that. She doesn't owe us anything else. That moment was great, and it was a beautiful contribution. But she has so much more to contribute to the culture, and it doesn't solely define her. So that's why I would just say, you know, I'm grateful for you, sis, and I can't wait to see what else you give us.


While working on this episode, I asked a lot of people what it's going to take to really change this culture. And after all the reporting and all the ways this story changed, of course it was Tarana who spoke most clearly about the point hip-hop keeps missing.

BURKE: Women are pioneers in hip-hop in every single facet. Every single piece of hip-hop has women at the forefront of it. And no matter what we do, you have some way in which men will silence, will not recognize - we have these moments where we get diminished. And you're going to have people who will excoriate me. They'll be like, you just want to take down our men. You just want to - but we will not have enough self-respect, self-reflection, self-love to say we can love hip-hop. And if we love hip-hop - like, accountability is a part of love.


BURKE: If we really love hip-hop, then we would hold ourselves accountable. We would hold it accountable. Those two things can happen at the same time. We don't have to tear hip-hop down to hold it accountable, right? That's how you actually build it up.


MADDEN: All right, y'all. We're halfway through the season of examining misogynoir in the culture, and so far, we've centered women's stories. But whether it's body policing or being bullied by the boys club, it's not just women being singled out or told to change.

CARMICHAEL: Was hip-hop obsessed with whether or not you were gay from the start?

ILOVEMAKONNEN: I think so. But hip-hop's been obsessed with that.

CARMICHAEL: Who's man enough to be in the boys club? ILoveMakonnen takes us through rule No. 6. That's next time on LOUDER THAN A RIOT.

MADDEN: LOUDER THAN A RIOT is hosted by me, Sidney Madden, and Rodney Carmichael. This episode was written by myself, Sam J. Leeds and Soraya Shockley. And it was produced by Sam J. Leeds.

CARMICHAEL: Our senior producer is Gabby Bulgarelli. And our producers are Sam J. Leeds and Mano Sundaresan. Our editor is Soraya Shockley with additional editing by Rhaina Cohen.

MADDEN: And our engineer is Gilly Moon. Our senior supervising producer is Cher Vincent. Our interns are Jose Sandoval, Teresa Xie and Pilar Galvan with help from Jerusalem Truth.

CARMICHAEL: And the NPR execs are Keith Jenkins, Yolanda Sangweni and Anya Grundmann.

MADDEN: Original theme by Kassa Overall, remixed by Suzi Analogue. And the scoring for this episode was provided by Suzi Analogue and Kassa Overall.

CARMICHAEL: Our digital editor is Jacob Ganz. Our fact-checkers are Julia Wohl, Greta Pittenger and Candice Vo Kortkamp.

MADDEN: And big shoutout to our lawyers, Ashley Messenger and Rachel Seller. If you want to learn more about Kim's story, you can read her book "Straight From The Source: An Expose From The Former Editor In Chief Of The Hip-Hop Bible." If you like this episode and you want to talk back, hit us up on Twitter. We're @louderthanariot. And if you want to email us, it's

CARMICHAEL: From NPR Music, I'm Rodney Carmichael.

MADDEN: And I'm Sidney Madden. And this is LOUDER THAN A RIOT.


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