Moments after Antoine Clark pulls open the back of the delivery truck holding more than 25,000 copies of his hip-hoppers-and-hustlers magazine, F.E.D.S. (Finally Every Dimension of the Streets), a man clad in a basketball jersey jumps into the back, yelling, "Where are my copies?" Clark is accustomed to strong reactions to his graphic profiles of drug kingpins and unguarded interviews with hip-hop icons like Funkmaster Flex -- Mary J. Blige requested that he personally deliver the new "all-women issue" to her midtown hotel room -- but this particular F.E.D.S. fanatic surprises even him. Sean "Puffy" Combs is the guy gleefully hopping up and down inside the truck parked outside Clark's office on lower Fifth Avenue. After proclaiming that "F.E.D.S. is the hottest shit in the streets!" Combs rushes off to a nearby business meeting, carefully cradling a stack of issues.
While Clark enjoys the patronage of the hip-hop gentry, he also has been reaping the rewards of a wider readership: Harper's has excerpted two of Clark's interviews; the magazine recently landed on Vanity Fair's and Rolling Stone's hot lists; and after selling nearly 100,000 copies of issue No. 4, Clark signed a six-figure book deal with HarperCollins. Dave Mays, publisher of The Source, wanted to buy into F.E.D.S., but Clark, 31, insists that he "won't give up the magazine. I want to try my struggles alone."
Clark knows a lot about struggles: After dropping out of high school, he was shot during an altercation at the Skate Key roller rink in the Bronx. During his convalescence, he came up with the idea for F.E.D.S. His inspiration? Not a gory true-crime 'zine or the gangster novels of Iceberg Slim but the reporting in Time. "I wanted a magazine with every element of the streets," Clark says. "I wanted rappers in there, too, but I didn't want them on the cover, because that's entertainment." When potential investors balked at his insistence that underworld figures appear on the cover of every issue of F.E.D.S., Clark used $7,000 he earned securing a record deal for a hip-hop act he managed and printed 5,000 copies of the first issue himself in late 1999. It ran to sixteen pages, contained no advertising -- and quickly sold out at $3.50 per copy.
Subsequent issues featuring crack dealer Alberto "Alpo" Martinez and heroin kingpin Nicky Barnes also sold out, causing some readers -- often the magazine's many fans in prison -- to interpret F.E.D.S. as the consummate catalogue of criminal mischief. But Clark maintains that he's only interested in telling the stories of hustlers who've faced consequences for their actions. His advice for criminals interested in being featured in F.E.D.S.? "Let readers know what you did, that you got caught and it's killing you. If you don't give it to me like that, I'm not gonna print it."
Clark is just as impatient with music-industry executives who try to use F.E.D.S. to build street cred for their artists. "Bad Boy president Andre Harrell just asked me to put Shyne on the cover," Clark says testily, referring to the rapper who, along with Combs, is charged with a shooting at Club New York last December. "Shyne's out on the street -- he's out there doing a video. What is that gonna show kids if I put him on the cover?"
F.E.D.S.'s fast ascension as a hard-core hip-hop showcase hasn't been lost on the competition. After failing to buy a piece of the magazine, Dave Mays has scored a deal to produce Fedsmagazine.com, which will also provide F.E.D.S. content to The Source's Website. Just outside a Park Avenue South newsstand, a few minutes after the Puffy encounter, Mays runs into Clark and is eager to compliment F.E.D.S. "It's raw, real, and honest," he says, eyeballing the stacks of magazines before adding hesitantly, "Maybe I can have a copy?"