You probably know pioneering rap magazines like The Source and XXL, but as important in hip-hop history is Murder Dog, a renegade, eccentric, independently run publication with a remarkable history and a punk-rock founder, known only as Black Dog Bone, who was born in a Sri Lankan jungle.
Black Dog recently spoke at length to the journalist Andrew Noz about the publication's genesis, influence and business practices. But first, some background on Murder Dog's importance. Where nearly all of the rap press in the '90s was focused on New York (and to a smaller extent the burgeoning scene in Los Angeles), Black Dog and his publication highlighted artists in places like the Bay Area, Memphis, Houston, New Orleans and Kansas City.
At the time, this was seen as highly niche, if not trivial, but as artists like Master P, Three 6 Mafia and E-40 grew into national superstars, Murder Dog ended up looking ahead of the curve (and open-minded).
The magazine didn't just stand apart in the artists it covered, but also in how it covered them. Though The Source, XXL, and later Vibe produced mountains of incredible, artistically presented journalism, as major publications they had to do things a certain way. Murder Dog, on the other hand, strived not to: It would, for instance, print covers that showed artists holding guns, and let them speak almost completely unedited in interviews. (Black Dog says he would edit quotes only when a rapper would insult another—to avoid unnecessary conflict—or when one would incriminate himself.)
The entire interview is as engrossing, both for rap nerds (Black Dog talks about starting out by interviewing Wu-Tang and the Fugees and dealing with labels) and for anyone who loves a bizarre human tale. Black Dog was born in Sri Lanka, telling Noz that he lived in the "jungle." After leaving home, he spent extended time in Dubai, Holland and Iowa—where Congressman Jim Leach sponsored his visa—before starting Murder Dog as a student at the San Francisco Art Institute.
When asked by Noz if he was ever worried that his magazine was promoting negative stereotypes of black men, Black Dog responded with an eloquent and impassioned defense of non-filtration:
The black kid growing up in the hood, especially the male, is like the one who's like the rat – cornered, about to get killed. In all of America, even more than the Mexicans and the Arabs and the Sri Lankans. A black male is the one who's cornered. This music, rap music, could come from no one but that person. Look, I can come from Sri Lanka and some motherfucker can come from India and from Iraq or from Dubai, wherever, and make a life here. But not that fucking black kid who grows up in the ghetto, in the fucking corner. That's the truth, I know that truth. Bro, I know that truth. It fucking hurts me. People don't know what a black boy goes through here.
When we started Murder Dog I gave free subscriptions to prisoners. We would get thousands of letters, literally hundreds every day. I would read these and get so upset that I'd cry. These guys were in prison for no fucking reason, for some little thing. I mean some people do [serious] shit but some people are in for nothing. That black guy in the corner is the worst off in America. He has all the odds against him. When you are walking down the street, when you see a black guy and go, "Is he gonna fucking rob me?" I feel that too. It's a plot. But he might [rob you]. And why shouldn't he? He has nothing.
The story ends with a Black Dog proselytization that may one day end up seeming as prophetic as his signal boosting of Outkast:
"Fuck internet. No one gives a fuck about internet, because there's so much," he says. "I'm not interested in that stuff. To me, it's not even exciting to read something on a website. It's like diamonds or gold. If there's too much of it, you don't even care anymore. It doesn't mean anything to you."
[image via Murder Dog]