There’s no easy way to get hold of Andre Barefield, publisher of the “ragazine” The BootyCrack. If you try the contacts listed on the paper’s Web site you’ll hit a brick wall; the phone is disconnected, and e-mails addressed to him usually bounce right back. Folks lucky enough to get the paper’s current Oakland hotline number will find their efforts rewarded with a curt voicemail greeting — “BootyCrack, the official street gospel. Leave it.” — followed by a computerized message explaining that the mailbox is full. On average, it takes about a week to get through; when you finally get Barefield in real time, he’ll concede that — despite being the ghetto’s very own Lewis Lapham — he’s not all that professional.
Of course, sometimes you have to make yourself scarce when you pooh-pooh all the libel and defamation laws to which most other journalists are beholden.
BootyCrack began eleven years ago when Barefield had a prophetic vision: Frustrated with the language used to discuss Three Strikes on the evening news and in mainstream papers like The Oakland Tribune, the young San Jose scandalmonger realized that the inner-city community lacked “a vehicle to communicate to the individual who would be most affected by the law, but had the least knowledge of it.” Thus, Barefield gathered a team of snoopy hip-hop gadflies to launch the cottage industry that became BootyCrack.
Avoiding conventional advertisers with the same scrupulousness that he avoids regular journalistic ethics, Barefield funds haphazardly frequent paper by throwing promotional rap shows and selling DVDs hand-to-hand. Meanwhile, the zine’s correspondents travel from city to city trying to sniff out the current scandals. In 2001, he says, they took the paper to Las Vegas to rake some muck about legislation concerning parolees and curfews, and a few years ago they decamped to Inglewood to cover police disturbances. Barefield also wanted to cover the city’s ban on pit bulls, given that “we don’t think any dog should be fingered or discredited, based on breed.”
But for all its lofty pretensions, BootyCrack is more gossip than reportage. The zine’s most popular columns, after all, are “Nympho Info” and “Buster of the Month,” which, in keeping with the “rap rag” moniker, are all about ragging and tagging on people. “Buster of the Month” — which has featured such local legends as J.T. the Bigga Figga, DJ Davey D, KMEL music director Big Von, and even Barefield himself — started as a way of calling out “people who need to be tapped on the shoulder and told about themselves,” he said. “Our purpose is to speak the truth at all times. … Someone wrote an article about how I was the Buster of the Month, for being involved in some shady business. I had to let it pass.”
The dishier “Nympho Info” column is set aside for hatchet jobs on women or dudes who done someone wrong — complete with optional investigative details. Barefield said the impetus was to have a section in which people could call in to report “that their man was cheating on them.” BootyCrack would then go into the trenches and verify that it was true; Barefield recalls one exposé about a woman giving head to someone in a parking lot, much to her boyfriend’s dismay. “You’d have to do some research to get ahold of that issue,” he said. Asked if this isn’t crass and mean-spirited, Barefield vehemently defends the column: “If you think about how much the news puts people on blast every day, with all those stories about J-Lo and her marriages, we don’t even compete.” Besides, if the staff gets anything wrong, Barefield can always dump it in “My Bad,” the paper’s correction section.
But when BootyCrack featured Oakland’s favorite rising R&B starlet in “Nympho Info,” members of the hip-hop community said the paper might have taken it too far. Opening with the directive “Hold on Hoe!” instead of a byline, the author pontificated about how the singer Goapele shouldn’t be allowed to date a “white boy” because it was a betrayal of her race — especially considering the singer’s “Rasta” hair coils, which make her look “like a revolutionary ready to slice a bright white throat down to the gristle.” The writer also provided graphic details about how visions of the singer inspired his masturbation. “I’m not go’n lie, I’m hurt!” he wrote. “Bitch, if you wasn’t soooo mutha’fuckin’ fine I might be okay with this.”
Goapele was unavailable to comment on this article, but her brother Namane Mohlabane — who comanages the singer’s label, Skyblaze Entertainment — says that since he “is extremely busy getting ready for the release of Goapele’s new album, Change It All,” he hasn’t had time to read BootyCrack. “But from what I know,” he says, “last summer young African-American males in East Oakland were listening to ‘Closer,’ not reading this rag-zine.”
When the anonymous article caused a stir in the local hip-hop community, Barefield appeared to be incommunicado. But in a subsequent interview, he defended the article. “I can’t say I wrote it, but I stand behind it,” he said. “We stand wholeheartedly behind the article because you can’t discredit someone’s feelings. This piece reflects a particular feeling the writer had at the time he wrote it.” He also defended the lack of a byline, noting that some articles are attributed to “the collective,” and that others come from an anonymous source “via e-mail.” Many BootyCrack writers prefer to use a nom de plume, he said.
Asked if the author’s main point was that Goapele shouldn’t be dating “outside her race,” Barefield said: “If I could take you deeper, it’s about being uppity and bourgeoisie. You pulled the white boy out of the situation, but the upshot was ‘Goapele, can you fuck with us too? We love you too; we love you more!’ Whatever identity problems she may have or not have, we do love her; this is her community, we would love it if she came to fuck with us and make herself touchable. We are all one; we gotta touch each other. This is what our ideal BootyCrack reader got out of the article.”
Dawn-Elissa Fischer, a Ph.D candidate in anthropology who discussed the article in the Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class she teaches at Laney College, says she’d heard about BootyCrack as a hip-hop scholar, and was excited about the prospect of a “well-funded community newspaper” that could sustain the mission of the cash-strapped Black Panther newsletters of Oakland’s past. But BootyCrack wasn’t what she’d expected. “It’s not recognizing the equality of all human beings, because women are sexualized in a derogatory manner,” she said. To be fair, Fischer surmises that “the author probably thought he was honoring Goapele, and was unaware of the race and gender politics of what he was saying.” In fact, many students in her class thought the article wasn’t mocking the singer; it was celebrating her. Nonetheless, Fischer admits that she wasn’t able to finish the article because of its lewd, gross-out language: “Nobody should talk that way about another human being,” she said.
But this is how Barefield gets his jollies. He said the zine’s candor is the key to its appeal: Howard Stern used to read BootyCrack on his television show in 1996 and 1997. Eazy-E would read BootyCrack regularly on his weekly radio program, which aired in Los Angeles. Barefield claims these were the only programs “hard enough” to handle BootyCrack‘s particular brand of investigative journalism. “When people start speaking in that ‘I’m talking to you’ tone, it may need to be massaged a little bit,” he said. “We know the structure doesn’t want us to be here, and that’s why we’re glad to be here. We really rejoice in that; that’s definitely a trophy on our mantel — just being able to be that thing that might piss somebody off. That’s what makes us feel good. It gets us excited.”