Kim Osorio: Soul Survivor

At one point, Kim Osorio seemed to have it all. As the first female editor of The Source, she was at the helm of the premier magazine for Hip Hop music, culture, and politics. But everything isn’t what it appeared to be on the surface.

Kim’s dream of Hip Hop supremacy later turned into a nightmare as former Source co-owner Ray “Benzino” Scott embroiled the magazine in a heated and bitter feud with Eminem—which nearly tore Hip Hop’s Bible apart at the seams, taking much of the staff down with it. Inner office conflicts seemed commonplace and an unwelcome sexual advance led Osorio to file an official claim with the company—which subsequently led to her termination as editor-in-chief.

Four years and a legal battle later, Osorio arrives at the forefront of The Source controversy again—this time to tell her story. Her first book, Straight from The Source: An Expose from the Former Editor in Chief of the Hip-Hop Bible hits bookstore shelves this week. HipHopDX caught up with the former first lady of the Hip Hop Bible to discuss her tenure at the magazine, the EminemBenzino beef, and industry double standards.

HipHopDX: A lot of the Internet coverage thus far has centered on your relationships with Nas and 50 Cent, do you feel like the overall message of the book will be lost?
Kim Osorio:
I think there’s always a little concern about that because I want people to know why I wrote it. But you’re always going to have haters and people that want to have something to say. Ultimately, smart people that go to the bookstore and read books are going to understand the meaning behind the books. It’s important to note that the relationships I talk about in the book, those are big names. But none of those names are on the cover, or the back cover or the inside flap. This is stuff that other people are running with. This is not something I’m putting out when I talk about why this book was done.

DX: To the average reader, this will look like another industry tell all book like Superhead’s or Carmen’s. What separates Straight from the Source from other industry tell all books?
Kim Osorio:
I don’t wanna take anything away from anyone who’s written a book, and that includes the two authors you just mentioned, and also artists like Faith [Evans] and Queen Pen and Pepa. Everybody has a story. For people to automatically pigeonhole any book that’s written by a female in this space is frustrating to me as a writer. I am a writer, this is what I do. This didn’t start here, this whole book-writing genre. Barbara Walters wrote a book about her career and talked about an affair with a married man. You don’t see the mainstream media going as hard on her as Hip Hop goes on the women [who write books]. I’m not saying she didn’t catch any criticism, but when I look at how Hip Hop treats women, it’s a lot more critical than I’ve seen versus the mainstream. When we look at these books, we have to look at each of them separately, and my story is different from everything else out there.

DX: Why do you think those women are criticized so heavily?
Kim Osorio:
Nobody likes to acknowledge the fact that there are intimate relationships that go on behind the scenes in the industry. If you want to talk about conflict of interests, we can talk about that all day. It’s not exclusive to people who have sexual relationships. You have radio program directors who are friends with artists. It’s the way the business works. As an individual, you have to separate those relationships from the business, whether they’re intimate or not.

DX: Was there anyone who try to warn you about The Source before you took a job there?
Kim Osorio:
Yes. A lot of people tried to deter me because of things we had heard about the magazine. I had a job at XXL and Elliott Wilson [click to read] was the editor-in-chief there and I was the lifestyle editor. I actually had a higher position at XXL than I was initially offered at The Source, which was an associate editor position. But I had grown up on The Source and on Hip Hop culture. Elliott told me he understood why I would want to leave and said I’d need to see things for myself. You hear all these stories, but you don’t necessarily know how things are going to unfold until you’re there.

DX: When the Source-XXL beef was really heating up, Elliott went hard at not only the magazine, but you as well. Was that awkward?
Kim Osorio:
I think it was awkward because we had a professional relationship before I got to the magazine. He was the first person that gave me an assignment in The Source. But I understand the way the industry works. To be at the top, which is where The Source was, we had to have this rivalry. He did what he had to do, and I don’t hold any personal feelings towards him. At the time, I did.

DX: When the Eminem-Benzino beef first jumped off, did anybody in the office think it’d go as far as it went?
Kim Osorio:
Initially, no one could foresee just how crazy it was about to get. It started off as something small. It was like a rap battle and we didn’t think Eminem was going to respond. The more he responded, the more disappointed we got, like “Please stop,” we don’t want to continue. I’m not saying I don’t stand behind a lot of the stories that were written, because we felt that way. When the tapes came out, we had to report on that. The real purpose was misguided because of one person’s agenda and a lot of what we did went to waste because of that.

DX: What was the turning point?
Kim Osorio:
The turning point was when we put out a story a year before the tapes came out. And like I said, I stand behind a lot of what was printed, but when you pack the issue with a poster of Benzino holding up a bloody Eminem head and run a skyline that says “Step into the Arena,” it went from being more than just reporting on it.

DX: Did you ever get a sense from either Dave or Ray that they felt like they were running the company into the ground?
Kim Osorio:
That’s a funny question. Behind closed doors, a lot of us wondered why Ray was doing this. Did he want us to fail and did he want the magazine to suffer? After a while, it was affecting the business. Advertising slowed, a lot of readers were lost; some of us wondered, “Could this be intentional? Is he trying to destroy us, and why?

DX: It’s easy for a lot of us in the industry and outside to really pile on Dave and Ray; what role did Kim Osorio play in this?
Kim Osorio:
When you read Straight from The Source, you’ll get a better sense of me and where my head was at at the time. You come to the magazine and you want to do all these great things and you’re limited. There was a turning point when I just didn’t care anymore and I was doing things because I didn’t want to deal with them. I didn’t want to risk losing my job. I would walk into work and they didn’t have to tell me to hate on Eminem, I knew that was my job for the day. That was probably around 2004 when we weren’t allowed to cover Hip Hop the way we had been trained to do.

DX: You talk about Julie Als [head of human resources at The Source at the time] in the book, were you disappointed at the lack of attention she gave to your initial sexual harassment complaint?
Kim Osorio:
HR is supposed to be the [part of the] company that protects the employees. At the end of the day, they work for the owners. I went to her because that’s what I had to do. I was told after I sent that, “You don’t send that type of e-mail, she works for me.” And that’s disturbing for me, to know there was no protection from this type of thing.

DX: Do you think the reaction would’ve been any different had the harassment not come from an owner of the company?
Kim Osorio:
It’s always a different mindset when you’re dealing with people in control of your job. I want to be very careful when we talk about harassment, because I didn’t win on that claim. I won the lawsuit on the retaliation claim, which is being fired for complaining about it. I don’t think people fully understand the legalities in the case. I filed a case and there were four claims; they were found liable for two: retaliation and defamation.

DX: Was being terminated easier than simply walking away?
Kim Osorio:
It’s not. People think it’s real easy to walk away from a job. When you have a daughter to take care of and bills to pay, it’s not easier to walk away. It’s definitely not easy when you’re fired. It’s worse. You have no plan, usually when you walk away from something like that, there’s a plan. When you’re fired, you’re just out there. How am I gonna pay my bills and provide for my child?

DX: There were a lot of people jumping ship at the time; did you stay as long as you did hoping that things would get better?
Kim Osorio:
I always had hope; I’m an optimistic person. I looked at it like one good cover would put us back on top.

DX: In the epilogue of the book, you write: “I will never be able to recover my reputation as a woman.” What did you mean by that and do you still feel that way today?
Kim Osorio:
To a certain extent. There’s no dollar amount on what I went through and I think a lot of people have misconstrued what my purpose has been. I never filed a case to get any money because I didn’t think there was any money to get. I wanted to stand up for my rights. It’s not about getting paid. You can’t give certain things back to me. When I said that in the epilogue, I wanted to make that point clear: despite what people may believe about anything I may have recovered, it doesn’t give me my reputation back. When you Google me, a lot of those old allegations come up. Everything that’s been said is branded on me. No dollar amount will ever repay that.

DX: You also talk about an industry double standard in the way that men and women conduct themselves. What role do women have in changing that and also, what role do men have in changing that?
Kim Osorio:
Both women and men have a role. Women need to stand up and not be ashamed to speak out. Part of the power that women have is being able to tell our stories through books, or microphones or whatever. That’s a step in the right direction: not being able to let anyone stop us from achieving our success or our goals. Men have to respect women obviously, but also have to afford women the same respect that they would give another man. You can’t criticize a woman for something you wouldn’t criticize a man for. I mean you can, but it’s not right. I think it’s important to note how women have been portrayed in Hip Hop and note that. Now that that’s coming full circle, I think things will start to get better.

DX: For women who may be afraid to stand up for themselves, what would you say to them?
Kim Osorio:
I’m not saying everybody should write a book. [Laughs] I wrote a book because I’m a writer and I felt like I had an interesting story to tell that people could relate to. I don’t feel like women should be ashamed of anything they’ve done. I’ve gotten a lot of support from women and it’s really helped to keep me going. We should never be ashamed of ourselves. Women can’t be afraid to talk about anything they’ve done or do anything they know there’s nothing wrong with.

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