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:
At the conclusion of his assessment of the July Vibe last month, Keyboard Krybaby asked whether something was distracting the magazine’s EIC, Danyel Smith, and her staff. Based on the August issue, which in current parlance could charitably be described as a “hot mess,” his question still stands.
Before he jumps into the specifics regarding the exceptionally poor packaging extant, he should mention that this particular issue, “The Real Rap Issue,” is the first in the mag’s history in which hip-hop is featured exclusively. Smith says in her editor’s letter that “many think of Vibe as a hip-hop–all rap, all the time–magazine,” and that this is not correct. But she feels that the various obituaries for the genre offered recently warrant this issue.
Smith also mentions that next month’s issue will celebrate the magazine’s 15th anniversary. Over the past year, each issue of Vibe has included photo compilations focusing on images of hip-hop and R&B personalities from then and now, as well as countdowns of the best or greatest this or that. This issue, in the V-Mix front-of-book section starting on page 57, vintage photographs of the likes of Salt & Pepa and Remy Ma are contrasted with images from the past year or so.
But 16 pages beforehand, as this issue’s V15 Rewind, comes “Dropping Gems,” in which verses from Nas, Scarface and Lauryn Hill are hailed as the best that have been spit in the magazine’s lifetime. In between comes an article listing 19 reasons hip-hop isn’t dead at the moment; “Because the King of the South (T.I.) isn’t getting dethroned yet” is No. 1, while “Because Nicki Minaj” (a Lil Kim-esque MC) “raps…and loves to play dress up” is the list’s final rationale.
What KK is getting at is that it’s self-evident that Vibe‘s staff should place content regarding the present together, and the stuff concerning the past as such. He would have thought it only logical to abut the two aforesaid retrospectives, then follow ‘em with “Diggin’ in the Crates: 24 Lost Rap Classics.” KK learned quite a bit about records he never heard of, but he also thinks that, notwithstanding Ms. Smith’s keen desire to emphasize the genre’s health, it doesn’t say much for Vibe‘s estimation of hip-hop in the here and now when this throwback piece appears as the sum total of VRevolutions, which is nominally devoted to reviews of new music. It may be that Vibe just can’t get their hands on upcoming hip-hop and R&B records, which in any case seem to be produced and manufactured without much regard to the needs of entertainment magazines.
He also would have placed “Bringing ’88 Back,” a survey of records and movements that rendered 1988 “the greatest year in hip-hop history,” next to those pieces. KK thinks that the article’s assessment of that year’s importance to hip-hop is about right, and is pleased that 2 Live Crew’s Move Somethin’ and Too Short’s Life is…Too Short are placed alongside Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back. (He’s somewhat embarrassed to admit that he doesn’t like the latter very much.) But he’s also confused as to why Geto Boys’ album from that year, Making Trouble, makes the cut. As he’s a fan of music with lots and lots of cursing (Blowfly, G.G. Allin), KK loves him some Geto Boys, but Andrew Nosnitsky’s piece “Most Known Unknowns” fails to describe why anyone should have cared about the then-Scarface and Bushwick-free crew, other than the dubious claim that sampling Tony Montana’s dialogue from Scarface was a “major innovation.”
It seems like all of these retrospectives not only could have benefited from a greater unity in packaging, but perhaps should have been saved for the big 15th-anniversary blowbang next month. Did Smith conclude that there were not enough ads being sold for the August issue, and dump the longer pieces here?
The cover subject of The Real Rap Issue is reputed Keyshia Cole suitor Young Jeezy. KK has to salute writer Benjamin Meadows-Ingram, for his feature Q&A “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’” manages to evolve from a customary exercise in braggadocio (“you can go to any club, anywhere in the United States, and probably motherfucking Pakistan, you gonna hear a Jeezy record”) to a very candid interview with a guy who would rather labor mightily to keep the focus on his upcoming album, The Recession. Jeezy admits that he did not (and still does not) have insurance and paid cash for an operation on his damaged vocal cords; that Ms. Cole did not deny strenuously enough in public that she was pregnant by him, and that she asked him to marry her and bought him a ring; and that he is mindful of the absence of his father during his childhood when he reflects upon how his profession keeps him away from his son. Good stuff.
KK was also interested in A sidebar to the Jeezy story, Linda Hobbs’ “Southern Hospitality,” wherein we learn that Antonio “L.A.” Reid’s move from Arista in Atlanta to Def Jam in New York was viewed with suspicion; the subtext is that there’s a lingering resentment among the New York hip-hop cognoscenti that Southern artists and execs have success that is perpetually and rightfully due them. And Chris Yuscavage’s “I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T” explores the online strategies that rappers like Soulja Boy and Flo Rida, as well as comers like Crooked I, Mickey Factz, Blu, and Jay Electronica, rely on in place of altogether fucked major labels.
Vibe hasn’t been sucking all over the place, but the way this issue was produced indicates distraction and sloppiness on the part of the staff. KK certainly wouldn’t blame anyone in the print business for feeling a little insecure, but he does think that as long as one has a job therein, one should evince greater care than is evinced in this issue.