Hip-Hop History Tuesdays: Interview With Publisher of Envelope Pushing Underground Magazine, The Booty Crack (1994 - 2002)

Posted by Billyjam, December 15, 2015 07:07am | Post a Comment

Understandably, the imagery alone of bygone Bay Area-published magazine The Booty Crack scared away some potential readers.That minority of readers mistakenly deemed the envelope-pushing magazine as just too plain "ignant" for their tastes. The rapzine's in-your-face editorial style, raw street language, and no-holds barred content was an affront to their sensibilities, and the expectations of what a hip-hop magazine should be.

Simply put, The Booty Crack was unlike any other hip-hop magazine up until that point in time. It was at the beginning of 1994 when San Jose A&R man-turned-publisher Andre Barefield put out the first issue of the controversial but popular, game-changing magazine. At that time there was a wide choice in the ever-growing field of hip-hop publishing. There were many magazines on newsstands and at record stores that covered hip-hop music as well as various aspects of the culture and interrelated topics too (b-boying, graffiti, sports and sneaker fashion, etc.). There were regional zines like The BOMB hip-hop magazine out of San Francisco and The Flavor out of Seattle. Then, of course, there were the more widely distributed national ones like the Source, Rap Pages, and Rap Sheet. The latter's tabloid newspaper style was a format shared by The Booty Crack. But all similarities between The Booty Crack, Rap Sheet, and those other hip-hop magazines ended there.

While most rap writers and hip-hop magazines at the time fawned over their subjects, The Booty Crack talked shit on them and everyone else they covered in their avidly read pages. In fact, The Booty Crack went beyond just music. It was a hip-hop themed but also about the people and the culture surrounding it - and not always the prettiest parts. Pioneering its own brand of confrontational journalism, The Booty Crack was fearless in what it published. Long before the shaming era of the internet age, The Booty Crack was shaming and calling out people publicly in its Buster of the Month and its Nympho Info columns. As a result they landed in many lawsuits with the unhappy subjects of these columns.  Naturally, those not targeted in these printed attacks loved reading these exposes about others.

The Booty Crack seemed designed to shock and grab readers' attention with headlines like "White Bitch Gets Arrested" or the scandal-fueled content of so many of its stories.  The independent African American-published magazine ably accomplished the shock value with such regular features as the controversial but compelling, and regularly offensive, "Klansman Bob" column. Readers may have been shocked, but they made a point of reading the (designed to offend but make one think) column by the fictitious magazine contributor each issue.

At a time when influential big name rappers from East to West had been taking dollars from St Ides to promote their malt liquor in the hood via radio and TV commercials, The Booty Crack took an alternate approach. Via a piece simply entitled “40oz of Bullshit” it warned readers that malt liquor was a poisonous product. Through its grassroots distribution, the message got directly to the audience that publisher Barefield wanted it to.

Publisher Andre Barefield used The Booty Crack to address topics to a community that he felt was routinely overlooked, especially regarding issues that directly affected their lives. He began the magazine just a month before California Gov. Wilson signed into law the so-called Three Strikes and You're Out criminal sentencing measure. Barefield initially did this as a way to get out word on the devastating implications he saw down the road (and he was right!) of this impending new law's far reaching effects, especially in the black community.

While it did still publish up into the first two years of the following decade, the '90s was the decade of The Booty Crack -- a time before the Internet changed everything. At its peak the magazine published 50,000 copies an issue, and made its way into the hands of readers not just in the Bay Area and across the US but all around the globe. The Booty Crack was handed out for free at first mostly, and later sold with a $2 to $5 price tag. It counted among its many diehard fans Eazy-E who would make a point of reading from its pages on the air during his radio show. I had not heard anything about The Booty Crack in years nor of its publisher, so I recently tracked down Andre Barefield whose life has changed a lot since the days of publishing his famed magazine. In the exclusive Amoeblog interview below I ask him about the history of his magazine, as well as its content and controversies. I've also included scans from some issues.

Amoeblog: Looking back, what was the most rewarding thing about putting out The Booty Crack?
Andre Barefield:
The most rewarding thing about publishing The Booty Crack was hearing lifelong block thugs tell me that they never liked reading until they saw a Booty Crack. Hearing addicted 40-ounce guzzlers tell me that after reading the article “40oz of Bullshit” that they never drank another Malt Liquor ever again. Hearing ex-convicts tell me how much entertainment and education they got out of The Booty Crack while they were in prison. This is what I’ll forever love about the existence of The Booty Crack.

Amoeblog: Exactly what was the timeline of The Booty Crack and how many issues were published in all?
Andre Barefield: The Booty Crack published its first issue in February of 1994. We initially set out to be a newspaper that would be published monthly, but quickly realized that publishing once every two months was more than enough. Between the years of 1994 and 2002 we published a total of 21 issues. Most of those issues were published between ’94 and ’98.  A lot of our delays were caused by city sanctions to stop distribution of our publication on the streets. Then every time we would win another one of our court disputes, we would immediately start publishing again. Quite a bit of our readership knew about our court disputes, and many didn’t. As much as we hated having to go through what we went through to continue our journey, I must admit that it felt good to have the city paying so much attention to us. We loved pushing the “freedom of speech” campaign, and we never lost single fight in court, including those that were people dragging us in court on libel suits about what we wrote about them.

Amoeblog: What was it that made you want to start doing the mag in first place?

Andre Barefield: In 1993 I had just closed the doors on my previous business that was an independent A&R firm called Barefield & Vierra. After a few years of success, the industry started to change the way it was signing artists and our firm was growing a bit insignificant. I began hanging out with some of my old friends from the block, drinking 40’s, playing dominoes, talkin’ loud, fussin’, cussin’, and all that goes along with hangin’ out in the hood. By this time it was 1994, and I had become aware of the “3 Strikes Law” -- this was the law that stated if you were convicted of three previous felonies, you could be sentenced to 25 years to life.  As I was talking to many of my associates that were already violators of this law, I realized that none of them were aware of it. That’s when I realized that this law was passed without votes, and by the time the block actually found out about it that it was going to be too late. They would be standing in front of the judge getting struck out, and I simply couldn’t think about anything else other than how to inform the inner city about this law, and their intention to imprison as many young black men as they possibly could for as long as they could. The only way I felt this could be done was through a newspaper, which is what The Booty Crack started out as, which migrated into a magazine. Since I felt that serious information disseminated through the hood would need some comical assistance, that’s where all of the other “stuff” came in.


Amoeblog: To what do you attribute your unique approach to hip-hop journalism at the time?

Andre Barefield:  What I saw missing from the game at that time, was what I considered “real talk.” So many people were concentrating on journalism, and how to write cool and hip, but in a professional manner. This had its place, but it wasn’t going to be able to step through the gutters of where I was trying to get to. So I knew that we had to get real, and push “journalism” to the back. The Booty Crack was just real talk on paper. What I liked to hear most was people telling me that they always felt like The Booty Crack was talking, and that they felt like they were having a conversation and not reading. I knew if I could continue to do that, then I’d be on to something.

Amoeblog: As a publisher facing challenges of putting out a mag; getting content on deadline, working in the tabloid format, securing advertisers, and handling distribution -  what was the most frustrating thing you faced?

Andre Barefield: Well the difficult and most frustrating thing about publishing The Booty Crack was securing advertisers that were already avid readers of The Booty Crack. I was like, “what the prollem is?” I had come to find out that because we were newsprint, tabloid style of a publication, they had a hard time justifying the spending. They expected a publication that looked like ours (let’s just be real, it was pretty ugly and rough) shouldn’t cost more than a couple hundred dollars for a full page ad. But what they failed to realize is that we were publishing thirty to fifty thousand publications per issue. That wasn’t cheap. But, I knew that in order for us to be known as “the shit!” we had to saturate the streets. And, the only way to do this was to distribute as many issues as we possibly could. Around this same time our popularity grew to gain the attention of some fairly big distributors. Tower Records wanted to start distributing them, but couldn’t without a price tag. So, we placed a $2 tag on them. That caused my second biggest frustration. All of my die hard fans had a problem with paying a dollar for an issue, and that pissed me off to the highest of pissitivity. But wasn’t much I could do about it, especially since I was the one that caused this spoiled attitude by passing them out for free. Thankfully, we were selling enough issues around the globe, Japan in particular, for me to continue to pass them out in the hood. So, it worked out…I guess.

Amoeblog: What kind of grief did you get for columns like Buster of the Month or calling Suga T "Suga TIttles" ?

Andre Barefield: I’ve been bum rushed, cussed out, sued, challenged, black-balled, spit at, spit on, you name it, it’s happened. The worst probably coming from 2002, when I made JT The Bigga’ Figga’ Buster of the Month. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t marched through his neck of the woods in Frisco passing them out. For some reason, I was just never scared of my folks. I knew the block was mine. I did too much for the block for them chop my neck off, so I was always confident that I could get a pass if I needed one. But, I was always willing to take an ass whoopin’ too, in the name of good journalism. I always felt that whether I won or lost, I’d still be able to sell some issues. If I were to tell you some of the stories about how close I came to losing my life over The Booty Crack magazine. As for Suga T, and my article “Suga Titties,” well, let’s just be real…it was a compliment. Yes, I had a major crush on Suga T, and while I was wanting to write something about her, I saw a video from The Click that made me go there. Of course, D-Shot wasn’t too happy, but again, thankfully Chaz Hayes, their manager was a big fan, and they distributed The Booty Crack in a lot of their packages. He thought it was a good look and good promotion, and by the moment it was time for D-Shot to get at me, he was convinced that it was a good look, and not clowning. Now, had I made her or them Buster of the Month, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to escape that ass whoopin’ from D-Shot. And anybody that knows D-Shot, knows that you don’t want that problem. But, I really wasn’t worried about that when I wrote it, because if I worried about the trouble that certain articles would cause before I wrote them, I wouldn’t have written shit. Thankfully, the street Gods protected me through it all, and for and to everyone that I hurt in my attempt to be entertaining, I just wish they could accept my apology, because mean is mean no matter what, and it’s not okay, no matter what. No excuses, no justifications.

Amoeblog: Were some of The Booty Crack writers made up names/personas by you and other contributors or were all each different writers?

Andre Barefield: I had a decent squad of spitters, and we all ghost wrote various pieces. But there were some popular favorites like Klansman Bob that many would ask if he was real. And, I never confirmed until this moment, that I did write Klansman Bob. It was for the purpose of having those that fit certain stereotypes of what people consider to be black stereotypes, be able to look at themselves through the eyes of a Klansman. I had a lot of fun writing that piece, but it always took a lot out of me too. But other than that, everything in The Booty Crack was authentic. I think that’s what made it so compelling. It was the truth.

Amoeblog: Could you say a bit about the Nympho Info column - how it came about, what it entailed, and the response?
Andre Barefield: Nympho Info was a column that I felt was needed to help offset the informative aspect of the magazine. I mentioned to you earlier that we needed some comic relief, well we also needed some gossip. During this time, Jerry Springer was very popular, and so was every tabloid on the shelf. So, I thought, why not have a gossip column about some real around the way business. My click was some faulty characters, and we also promoted quite a bit of the functions around town, so finding out about who was fuckin’ who, and who wasn’t doing what with someone they said they was doing something with, was easy to find out. It just so happened that we decided to put the business up in the paper (paper, mag…mag, paper…I can never make up my mind of exactly what it was so I use both interchangeably to assist with my indecision). Of course, those who were written about always had a problem with it, and those who never was written about thought it was the most entertaining thing they had ever read. So, it was hard to let go of it, even though I tried constantly to retire it. I did get sued twice, but we came out victoriously. I have some very good memories about some of those articles though. And, just not too long ago, a Bay Area rapper that went by the name of Step G, contacted me on Facebook to thank me for helping to get him out of some “deadbeat dad” situation that a young lady had him twisted up in. After writing about his ordeal of having his ex-girlfriend name him as her baby’s dad, he sent me all of the dna paperwork and documents, and we put all of it in the magazine. After which, she was shamed into doing the right thing, and he felt that we were the cause of that. That story pleases me quite a bit because while black men got enough reasons to go to jail, being falsely labelled the father of another man’s child shouldn’t be one of them!


Amoeblog: Care to give some more background on the in-your-face "Klansman Bob" column?
Andre Barefield: My favorite line that Klansman Bob ever wrote was “I don’t hate niggers; in fact I think everybody should own one!” Oh yeah, and “the only good nigger is the one hangin’ from a tree!” Come on man, that stuff is pure gold. We had a survey of our subscribers professionally audited one year to find that over 60% of our subscribers were white women over the age of 35, and 25% were white men between the age of 28 and 45. I always felt like Klansman Bob had something to do with those numbers. If Klansman Bob was alive today, I can only imagine the faultiness that would come out of his mouth right now. I’d pay good money to read his full page rant right this minute.

Amoeblog: Care to share on that popular and influential malt liquor attack in The Booty Crack?

Andre Barefield: The article actually documents exactly what went into that. I was drinking 40’s with my homies one day, and we played a game called “Buffalo” back then, where if you were caught drinking with your left hand someone would yell “Buffalo,” and that meant you had to take your drink to the face. Well, I got hit twice that day, and I’ll never forget the haze I was in. Instead of being drunk, I got angry and belligerent. I wanted to fight somebody I had an old beef with, and I wasn’t wanting to let it go. My forehead stayed wrinkled, and my attitude stayed ugly until I eventually passed out from being a bit drunk but also hella pissed of at I didn’t know what. The next day, due to the awareness of my attitude, I went to the library to study up on Malt Liquors, and what was in it that was making me act the way I was. What I found was astonishing. We always called it poison, but I don’t think we actually knew that poison was literally in it. And not just poison, but ammonia and other toxic shit. I found that it was illegal to sell in so many different countries, due to what was in it. And the countries that did sell it made you list all contents in order to put it on the shelf. Most knew that it wouldn’t sell if they did that, so most didn’t sell it. At that time, the hood was “Malt Liquor Central!” Take some Malt Liquor, your favorite rapper, and put you at any party…jail time was eminent. That was if you were lucky. I lot of us lost our lives at that party. I realized right then, I had to do something about letting us know what was in this cool refreshing beverage that we loved so much. Not to mention that it was the last time that I had ever drank it again, and I’m so thankful for that, because who knows where I would’ve ended up?

Amoeblog: Any comment on the difference between how people got news/info back then (pre Internet) and now?

Andre Barefield: Oh my god, I really wish this type of instantaneous notice could’ve been accessible back then. I often wonder what could’ve been done. YouTube? Wow, we would’ve murdered that. I would’ve loved that challenge, that’s all I know. It’s crazy the things that can be done overnight, now!

Amoeblog: Why did you finally stop publishing The Booty Crack and did you stay in publishing afterwards?

Andre Barefield: I think The Booty Crack met it’s demise, because I was just getting too money hungry and it was a lot of money to be made that I wasn’t making. I wish The Booty Crack could’ve made the money it deserved, but it didn’t, or at least I didn’t know how to make it make me rich. So I had to migrate to bigger and better things. I pretty much dropped it cold turkey, and went to Los Angeles to make some entertainment game money. I don’t want to get into name droppin’, but I played with some bosses and factors and cashed some decent checks. Got to drive what I wanted to drive, live where I wanted to live, do what I wanted to do, before cashing out of that for a simple life 3000 miles away with a Queen and two young princesses to enjoy. I’ve never been so happy, as I am now living the non-baller life.

Amoeblog: Thanks a lot for talking to the Amoeblog and for all that history on The Booty Crack. Anything to add?

Andre Barefield: Before closing I would be remiss in not thanking those that assisted our journey. And we’ve been quite blessed. Mike Redd at Priority Records along with Ice Cube and his amazing wife that kept us wet with paper to work with. Eazy-E for reading The Booty Crack on his radio show weekly and putting us on the map in Los Angeles. City Hall Distribution for doing everything they could to get us everywhere they could.Tupac, Boss, Assassin, Keak da Sneek, and Mac Mall for speaking on us in a manner that gave us the authority to speak for them, and Keak for immortalizing us in song. My camp figga’s Walker B, and J.R. Valray - the Minister of Information. And last but not least, it’s going to sound like some bullshit, but early on if were not for this one white man that showed up outta nowhere like an angel, and how he had as much of the hood’s ear as he had at the time he had it, was getting out the word to some real factors in the Bay. Asking us for stacks of cracks and getting them out to God knows where. Representing in places that our money couldn’t take us, and giving us the white face that allowed us to speak in higher places than we were able to get by ourselves. I thank the man they call Billy Jam of Hip Hop Slam for being an angel to our cause, and a boss through it all. If you leave everything else out, just make sure you don’t get humble and leave this out. Because I’ve been wanting to thank you for years, and I’m so glad you’ve found me, and have given me the opportunity to thank you for all that you’ve done. Because it would’ve never gotten past block street without you. Booty Crack one time!

Relevant Tags

J.r. Valrey (1), The Booty Crack (1), D-shot (3), 40oz Of Bullshit (1), Chaz Hayes (1), Suga T (3), The Click (8), E-40 (42), J R Valrey. Ksjs (1), San Jose (3), St. Ides Malt Liquor (1), Buster Of The Month (1), 90's Hip-hop Magazines (1)