“Vibe” Takes On The Big And Small Screens

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Once again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe, and Spin are given a once-over by an anonymous writer who’s contributed to several of those titles–or maybe even all of them! After the click-through, a look at the new issue of Vibe:

The first thing Your Correspondent noticed about the March 2008 issue of Vibe? Simply that it’s clearly modeled on the hallmark cover design of one of its competitors: Marc Ecko’s “urban” culture-oriented vanity magalog Complex, which always features two covers on its “front” and “back.” This month’s Vibe features images of 50 Cent and Robert DeNiro on its front and back covers.

The front cover heralds 139 pages consisting of a Hollywood-centric feature well (on which more below), the ReVolutions review section, front-of-book sections like VNext, a well-intentioned package devoted to raising awareness of global warming titled “VGreen,” etc., etc. Flip it the mag over, and the other shot of the pair leads an additional 29 pages devoted to “And the Winner Is…,” wherein Tracy Morgan, Jill Scott, and a bunch of actors, singers-and-rappers-turned-actors, and Tyler Perry are mooted to have a big 2008.

We’ll start with this month’s FOB marquee package, “Music Videos: Made You Look,” compiled by Keith Murphy, Shanel Odum and Chris Yuscavage. Its intro posits that the migration of music videos from television to the likes of YouTube and Blastro.com necessitates a look back to hip-hop’s glory days at MTV and BET and with director Hype Williams. A series of questions is posed–“What was the first music video ever? (A: A brief Bessie Smith performance in 1929’s St. Louis Blues, apparently); “What makes Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ clip the best ever? (A: various)–and thus a bunch of factoids w/r/t videos are presented.

If YC had a hand in a survey of music video history for Vibe, he would think it worth noting that MTV, which was essentially run like an AOR radio station at its inception, refused to show videos by black artists in its first year and a half on the air. It took the threat of embargo of all videos from CBS/Epic Records–for which not only Jackson but Journey recorded–for MTV to relent and program “Billie Jean.”

Any mention would have fit right in the package’s “Who started MTV?” segment, which notes that Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment VP John Lack uttered the words first “broadcast” on MTV in 1981: “Ladies and Gentlemen, rock and roll…” There’s your goddamn cue to observe that “rock and roll” in MTV’s initial conception meant corporate rock, various Englishmen and Pat Benatar, Vibe! YC would think this a germane point of interest in any history of music video–particularly for a magazine devoted to African-American culture. But perhaps Vibe has opted for a Obama-esque “post-grievance” tone here…

And! Perhaps this winter is light on major new hip hop and R&B albums. Perhaps Vibe has said the hell with trying to haggle with labels over getting high profile hip-hop/R&B records to reviewers well before deadline. Or perhaps Vibe is taking all the talk regarding the meltdown of hip-hop album sales directly correlating with a steep artistic decline seriously. Whatever it be, its ReVolution section runneth over with blawg-rock.

To wit: Vampire Weekend; Cat Power’s Jukebox; and Hot Chip’s Made in the Dark are each assessed alongside mild rebukes of Lenny Kravitz’s It’s Again Time for Me to Reference Various Signifiers Common To The 1960s and Del the Funkee Homosapien’s 11th Hour. And, as a sidebar to Greg Tate’s review of the “expanded edition” of Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, Sean Fennessey notes that Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out The Lights is “the other divorce album.” This may be the first time either Thompson has ever been mentioned in Vibe. Being that he believes that man should not live by two closely entwined and similarly marketed kinds of music alone, this is fine with YC. But since Vibe gives no consideration to non-R&B and hip-hop artists anywhere else in its pages, it’s more than a little dissonant.

YC should also mention that the author of the Hot Chip review is Nick Sylvester, the clownish former Village Voice staffer who ventured haplessly and disastrously into “real” journalism two years ago, taking a VV editor down with him and providing an abject lesson in what can happen when bloggers get in over their heads.

Editor-in-Chief Danyel Smith pens the puffish cover feature, thus creating anticipation for the summer crime film Righteous Kill, in which her interviewees star. We learn that the young DeNiro was referred to as “Bobby Milk” by his “crew”; DeNiro thinks 50’s acting instincts are good; and, in an indication that his notions of parenting may be slightly deluded, 50 thinks “it’s impossible” for his son, who apparently spends more time with his mom these days, to miss him, since if he “went through his regular day, there’d be references to me around… his school knows 50 Cent is his dad.”

Continuing with the issue’s Hollywood motif, The Wire is described beatifically in a three-page retrospective, followed by “media assassin” Harry Allen’s report on the ongoing production of the decidedly-not-Hollywood documentary SlingShot Hip Hop, which portrays the burgeoning Palestinian rap scene. Understandably, the rappers here don’t think much of Israel’s presence in the Middle East in the past 50 years and its subsequent attitudes towards Palestine, and Allen pretty much sympathizes. This guarantees that Vibe either will or may already be deluged with missives from folks that otherwise would never be moved to learn of the mag’s existence.