How three street-smart guys with no publishing experience, no money and no distribution launched a high-gloss magazine that's actually making it.
Once in the VIP area, which they were told had been reserved for the media, Mack tried to strike up conversation with an industry type.
"Are you from the press?" he asked the stranger.
"Nah, dawg, I'm from the streets," the man barked back.
"We didn't know how to approach anybody or politic," laughs Malo. "We were so clueless."
Thus began the 24/7 mixtape magazine hustle: constant Chinatown bus rides to New York to drop off issues or appear at events; booking last-minute trips (like the one to Houston to promote the magazine at the Core DJ retreat); locating drop-off points at mom-and-pop CD shops up and down the East Coast; never-ending networking and bullshitting in order to work their way into nightclubs and VIP rooms for a moment of face time with Paul Wall or Russell Simmons.
There were personal sacrifices too: eating Ramen noodles for three months straight and sleeping on friends' sofas. There was the loss of sleep and girlfriends.
"I feel like in order to be successful you do whatever it takes," says Mack. "And we've done anything and everything."
But despite all of the genre's notorious beefs and battles, hip-hop proved to be a forgiving industry.
"One of the great things about rap/hip-hop is that the hustle and the grind is really respected," says Malo. "And people saw that in us. It wasn't just a bunch of 45-year-old guys in suits who saw the potential. They recognize we're just as passionate about this as they are. So they do whatever they can for us. They're real appreciative of us."
Eventually Malo joined Haney at Temple to get a degree in journalism. Like many freshmen, he had no formal publishing experience--save one: He was the editor in chief of his own magazine.
"If you look at print media, new publications and niche markets, there's nothing about our story that suggests we should've made it this far," Malo says. "So the fact that we have, we're doing some things right."
"Have you ever been playing with a dog and you're wrestling with it and it's all licking your face and friendly ... and then all of a sudden it snaps?" Malo says, describing his interview with Lil Wayne, the biggest rapper in mixtape history.
For months he'd been trying to line up interviews with both Lil Wayne and 50 Cent--"two of the people at the very tippy-top of the mixtape game," he says--and in April calls came in from reps at both Universal (Wayne's label) and Interscope (50's label). Both camps wanted to arrange an interview. Both artists had upcoming albums to promote--G Unit's Terminate on Sight (released July 1) and Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III (released June 10).
Both wanted to be on the cover.
At that point they hadn't decided which one they should put on the cover. Knowing either interview could fall through, they scheduled both--for the same day.
Mack and a freelance writer drove up to New York to meet 50 Cent while Universal flew Malo to Atlanta to meet Lil Wayne.
"We debated whether that was a smart move journalistically," Malo allows.
Once in Atlanta, Malo went to the recording studio to meet Wayne.
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