Straight Outta Calabasas
Calabasas may sound like an unlikely origin for a rap magazine, especially one started by a young, Jewish teen.
But that didn’t stop 18-year-old Devin Lazerine, who founded Rap-Up, a nationwide hip-hop and R&B print magazine distributed by Time Warner. Launched in July, the full-color, glossy publication has a circulation of 200,000.
Lazerine is the creator and editor-in-chief of Rap-Up, whose staff of 16 includes freelancers who have written for hot music mags such as Vibe, Source, XXL and Rolling Stone.
Rap-Up evolved from Lazerine’s Web site, rap-up.com, which began when Lazerine was just 16.
“I always wanted to make a magazine out of my Web site,” Lazerine told The Journal. “But I pitched it to a few publishers.”
To his amazement and delight, Lazerine heard back from Illinois-based H&S Media a few days before the July 2000 launch of his Web site. He was awakened by a 6 a.m. phone call from Harvey Wasserman, CEO of H&S Media, who expressed interest in Lazerine’s concept of a hip-hop magazine targeting a 12- to 18-year-old suburban demographic.
“Who knows that target age better than someone that age,” Lazerine said.
Just as interesting as Lazerine’s magazine history is his family’s. His father, of Russian-Jewish descent, hails from Seattle. His mother comes from the first family of Jews to settle in India. Her Calcutta-born mother came from Singapore, and her father is of Spanish descent.
A Jewish connection has long been a part of rap’s history, from the members of the first all-white rap group, Beastie Boys, to Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin’s role in producing seminal Run-D.M.C. and L.L. Cool J records, to current Def Jam Vice President Lyor Cohen, the man responsible for discovering DMX and Jay-Z, two of the genre’s biggest-selling acts of the last five years.
Lazerine believes that, in addition to rap’s tradition of storytelling and word play, suburban Jewish kids like him are attracted to the musical genre because of its exotic cultural nature.
“What appeals to me,” Lazerine said, “is that it’s something that’s not too familiar to suburban teenagers and more of an escape to a different world.”
Calabasas has become a neighborhood where many rappers end up. Gangsta rap pioneer Dr. Dre currently is a Calabasas resident, as was his late N.W.A. groupmate, Eazy-E.
Lazerine, who grew up in Pasadena and Glendale and now attends Moorpark College, said his interest in rap began as a child, when he went crazy over Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Membrane.” That, Lazerine said, led to “Dr. Dre, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey — a lot of singers who incorporate hip-hop into the music.” Lazerine now counts Jay-Z and Ja Rule among his favorite rappers.
Sometimes, Lazerine’s youth is an asset, such as when it helped him land an exclusive interview with P. Diddy, the man formerly known as Sean “Puffy” Combs, two months ago. Lazerine’s interview, one of the best he said he’s experienced, will be next issue’s cover story. He even managed to sneak in a Jennifer Lopez question, despite being advised from doing so by P. Diddy’s publicist.
Last spring, Universal Music Group flew Lazerine to St. Louis to interview hot Midwest rapper Nelly.
But there are times when Lazerine’s age gets in his way, such as the time when Lazerine came home to learn that his mother had intercepted a return phone call and told Destiny’s Child’s marketing manager that he was still in high school. Lazerine was horrified.
“The marketing manager was shocked,” Lazerine recalled. “She thought I was just a high schooler who wanted to meet Destiny’s Child. At first she was really hesitant.”
Lazerine convinced the marketer that he was for real, and the fact the teen had been featured on VH-1’s “FanClub: Destiny’s Child” program did not hurt in smoothing things out. After several scheduling delays, the interview was completed by the R&B group at their Rolling Stone cover shoot.
In addition to his exclusive P. Diddy interview, the upcoming February/March issue of Rap-Up will feature stories on hot rappers Fabolous and Nate Dogg and rising R&B singer Toya.
Beyond Rap-Up, Lazerine hopes to one day run a music empire not unlike those run by Jewish music industry players such as Clive Davis and Cohen. “That’s the ultimate goal,” he said with an eye toward the future.
For more information on Rap-Up, go to www.rap-up.com .