“WORKED AT VICE THEN WENT TO JAIL”: HOW A BUNCH OF CANADIAN HIPSTERS WOUND UP SMUGGLING COCAINE (AND GETTING CAUGHT)

In December 2015, five young people were arrested in Australia during a botched drug trafficking attempt. In September 2019, their handler Yaroslav Pastukhov—a onetime Vice Canada editor known as Slava P.—pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine. Slava admits his involvement in the scheme, and expects to serve time in prison. Does he feel that bad about it?

Ringer illustration

Like so many people who have crashed and burned in digital media, Slava Pastuk sees a bright future for himself in the world of podcasting. “The whole podcast industry is so cool,” he said in September, staring out at his mother’s tomato plants in her Brampton, Ontario, backyard. He’d spent most of 2019 living in her basement, listening to the Red Scare podcast, and thinking about his many, many mistakes. He’s “blacklisted” as a writer in Canadian media, he thinks, but maybe there’s room for him in the world of audio storytelling.

Slava—born Yaroslav Pastukhov, but known around town and the internet as “Slava P.”—was, for a few golden years in the early 2010s, an editor at Vice Media’s music vertical, Noisey. Working from the company’s Toronto outpost, he interviewed artists like Daniel Caesar, Rich Homie Quan, and Grimes, making a name for himself as a well-connected and hard-partying young writer just as Toronto was finally getting noticed as a hip-hop destination. He was living a suburban rap nerd’s dream, going to shows for free, churning out blog posts while hungover, and palling around with his heroes as his city was reshaped into “The Six” in the public imagination. With a brawny build and a fondness for flamboyant headwear and Raptors gear, Slava looked more like a rapper’s bodyguard than a writer, and he knew where all the good parties were. He doesn’t have many supporters at Vice anymore, but his splashy bluster bought him a degree of prominence in Canadian music journalism. “He was the Noisey Canada guy,” a former coworker said. “He was a real mover and shaker in the Toronto nightlife scene.”

Nowadays, Slava, 29, doesn’t have a very high opinion of his former employer. “If I only worked with people whose actions I agreed with and who I didn’t find morally reprehensible, I would’ve never taken the opportunity to work for Vice,” he emailed me one afternoon this fall. But he did take the opportunity. After dabbling in humor writing and stand-up comedy, Slava got his first big break writing for Noisey in his early 20s. He saw journalism as a means to an end. “I just wanted to talk to rappers,” Slava reminisced. “Being an editor sucks.” His debut piece for the website, from January 2013, was titled “How To Make Money Off Rap Without Really Rapping.” It starts off: “It’s easy. You just have to be sort of a con artist.”

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