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[PROFILE] Jefferson Mao - Publisher

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  • madchinaman
    MINORITY ENTREPRENEURS Racy Business How we launched a media company by saying the stuff you re not supposed to say. By Chairman Jefferson Mao
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 5, 2004
      Racy Business
      How we launched a media company by saying the stuff you're not
      supposed to say.
      By Chairman Jefferson Mao

      ego trip, the magazine-cum-media-powerhouse that I helped create,
      has been a study in sacrifice since day one. We've seen contributors
      work sans salary, used computers loaned to us by our interns, and
      survived eight (count 'em) office moves in ten years. But we've
      stuck around because, as people of color, we understand the inherent
      worth of controlling our art and being ourselves. Plus, the freedom
      to make fun of white people without losing ad dollars is a feeling
      equivalent to the moment nudists drop their drawers at a clothing-
      optional retreat.

      It's been almost ten years since two aspiring music scribes from
      Queens, N.Y., Sacha Jenkins (a black man with a Haitian mom) and
      Elliott Wilson (a black man with a Greek-Ecuadorian mom), co-founded
      ego trip magazine. (I, a Chinese man from Boston, tagged along as co-
      conspirator.) We were armed with a small personal loan from a
      friendly white man and a multiracial vision of a smarter alternative
      to such uppity mainstream mags as Rolling Stone, The Source, Spin,
      and Vibe. Employing an "us vs. them" attitude ("them" being the not-
      as-cool-as-they-think-they-are monthlies that are too corporate to
      take chances), ego trip dared to do what others were years from
      doing, blending hip-hop and rock & roll journalism.

      One of our calling cards: using music and an irreverent attitude to
      discuss racial issues, with features like Ignorant Rhyme of the
      Month, a celebration of crude but funny rap lyrics, and "A Survival
      Guide to the Rap Industry." ("Rule #1: Don't smack up your A&R [the
      guy at the record label who discovers new talent]. Sure, he's a
      Caucasian wannabe rapper who's only living out his ghetto fantasies
      by hanging with people he'd normally have nothing to do with. But
      remember, this idiot holds the keys to your future. Mess him up, and
      you'll be back at Blimpie's, slinging cold cuts.") Best of all, we
      weren't pigeonholed as "hip-hop writers," instead covering everyone
      from PJ Harvey to Moetley Cruee. (An ethnic journalist covering rock
      & roll? Now, that was progress.)

      Then something weird started happening. By 1996 the mainstream
      magazines took notice and began hiring us. Frankly, it was a
      schizophrenic existence. By day we wrote and edited relatively
      straightforward if well-paying features and reviews about people we
      weren't vaguely interested in. But after hours, ego trip was our
      labor of love and probably kept us all from going postal.

      The magazine folded in 1998 when we decided it made more sense to
      branch out and leave behind the stressful, low-income world of
      independent publishing. The next year St. Martin's Press published
      ego trip's Book of Rap Lists, the ultimate rap fan's handbook. Last
      year, reflecting our growing obsession with race, we published our
      acclaimed follow-up tome of racial satire, ego trip's Big Book of
      Racism! (ReganBooks, 2002). Filled with stuff like "Conspiracism:
      Finding the Hidden Hate in Ordinary, Everyday Things" (e.g., "Ivory
      Soap: The Great White Wash") and "Cameron Diaz Versus Christina
      Aguilera: ?Who's More Latin?" we presented the idea that race is the
      new pornography, a fascinating taboo that America still has problems
      talking about openly. Since our staff had evolved years ago into an
      interracial puree with the additions of Mexican writer Gabriel
      Alvarez and black Vietnamese art director Brent Rollins, we had
      cover to satirize pretty much every ethnic group, not just Anglos
      ("10 Items Found in Every Asian Home Not Worth Stealing: #3. DOS
      5Sum" Floppy Disks").

      We may have kept it too real for some¬óconservative blowhard Bill
      O'Reilly condemned the book as a "mistake"¬óbut it led to a spinoff
      television program. We're currently developing TV Race Riot!, a sly
      look at the trials and triumphs of minorities on the idiot box, for
      the VH1 network.

      So there you have it. We founded ego trip because we wanted to say
      the stuff you couldn't say in the mainstream. Now the mainstream is
      coming to us, and we're saying those things before a larger audience
      than we ever would have had at Spin or The Source. Like black-
      Haitian-Greek-Ecuadorian-Chinese-Mexican-Vietnamese Frank Sinatras,
      we did it our way.
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