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 a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Vibe:
Last month, Keyboard Krybaby scolded Vibe editor Danyel Smith for evidently allowing a story about June cover subject Mariah Carey to be printed despite the lack of anything resembling an interview.
For the July “Swagger” issue, the mag secured the participation of Usher Raymond for both a photo shoot and a sit-down chat. In “Caught Up,” penned by Mitzi Miller, Usher addresses the issue that has enveloped his public profile in the past year: the dismissal of his “mom-ager” of 30/15 years, Johnetta Patton, and his marriage to longtime confidant Tameka Foster.
The two were to wed at the Hamptons estate of Antonio “L.A.” Reid last summer, but it was called off, which prompts producer Jermaine Dupri to provide this reminiscence, which amused KK: “Usher had all of us pay for private planes to go to Reid’s house, and on my way to the plane, he cancels, and I blow a couple hundred thousand dollars for not going up in the air.” The rich are very different than you and me, etc., etc….
The common supposition is that Foster has supplanted Patton in Usher’s organization, and that his marriage has rendered him a player no more. (In KK’s municipality, this is called “being pussy-whipped.”) So Miller sets ‘em up for her interloctutee to knock down. In his telling, he did not fire his mother, but she was by mutual consent to be retired so she could be “a full-time grandmother.” Miller contacted Patton, who, after an hour of off-the-record conversation, contradicts her son’s account and enumerates her continuing managerial duties for other artists. Usher goes on to say that he gets his swagger from his wife, which if true would be the first time in history that such a thing has ever occurred.
So this month, Vibe‘s cover story did what it was supposed to: It got a famous person to address a controversy or otherwise surrender personal information, as consumers of popular culture have come to expect. Fine.
But it’s at times like this that KK sympathizes with a complaint common to artists: “Why don’t you ask about my work?” It might be true that said consumers are not interested the creative process, but KK would like to know how his personal life impacted Usher’s (pretty good) new album, and to what degree his music reflects his choices and preferences or those of his co-conspirators. (Miller only references “Love In This Club” in her piece, so it may be that no one at Vibe got to hear the record before press time.) Clearly, though, KK’s interests are prioritized by neither Vibe nor any magazine aimed at the present consumer, so perhaps he doth protest too much.
The other substantive article in the July Vibe comes from the pen of Online Content Producer Linda Hobbs. “Stoked” concerns the alleged misdeeds of Chris Stokes, the “king of black boy bands” and former manager of B2K and Immature, a pre-teen R&B trio that recorded some tunes that KK dug the fuck out of in the ’90s.
It seems that the three less-emphasized members of B2K (lead singer Omarion transitioned into a successful solo career) are now disgruntled and have accused Stokes of sexual misconduct and not allowing his charges to eat chicken, since the hormones therein would make them grow too fast. Horrors! Hobbs has done her due diligence with this deeply reported story; every underappreciated online drone who watches with irritation as his/her lazy editorial “betters” do little other than pick belly-button lint should salute her.
And it does seem, based on this particular issue, that there’s some indifference or sloppiness in the editorial department at Vibe. To wit:
1. The first page of the Usher story is on the right-hand side of the magazine, facing an ad for the Nature Conservancy. The reader sees a freestanding picture of Usher and has to turn the page to see that it’s part of the package: the placement of the photo seems disjointed and is likely a hugely embarrassing error.
2. 2008 marks Vibe‘s 15th anniversary, so the front-of-book of recent issues has dedicated space to counting down the “top this or that” of the past 15 years. This month recounts the most notorious sex scandals since 1993, which on its face is a tremendously lazy exercise. But the fact that the page design defies notions of easy navigation on the part of the reader compounds the problem: each numbered entry proceeds to the next in a willy-nilly, illogical, and almost amateurish manner around the page.
3. Similarly, the results of a sex survey conducted on vibe.com take up nine pages; not only are the findings presented by the edit staff–as it must–as very exciting and revealing, but like the charticle described above, the pages are designed using a worrying clash of colors.
4. Smith states in her editor’s letter that the July issue is not the “Sex” issue traditionally presented this time of year; it is instead the “Swagger” issue. Yet there is not much in the way of what KK understands as “swagger” represented in the issue. You’ve got the Usher profile, and two pages in the VMix front-of-book replete with photos of Jay Z, Snoop and Flo Rida swaggering around. And that’s it.
Typically, this kind of indifference is evidenced in magazines published in July and August, when editorial staffers can’t wait to get to the share house on the Jersey Shore or Fire Island. Is something distracting Smith and her staff?