Exploring the Legacy of Vibe Magazine

When legendary musician Quincy Jones created Vibe magazine in 1992, he told the NYT “rappers need a home for themselves” and that “Rolling Stone makes second-class citizens out of the people in this business who are icons”. He wanted to do what RS did for Rock, for Hip-Hop.

Vibe was possible due to a partnership between Jones and Time Warner chairman Steven J. Ross. It had a troubled start, changing name last minute and dropping it’s EIC after disagreements over cover choices (Jones stated featuring Madonna would blow the magazine).

With rap now mainstream, it’s difficult to imagine how magazines refused to feature it. During arguments about the magazine’s viability at Time, questions like “Does that mean we have to put black people on the cover?” were being openly asked, as Greg Sandow told Billboard.

“You have to remember that the kind of coverage you see now did not exist before Vibe. [Hip-Hop] was incredibly bold and vibrant, and it was getting, at best, a sometime look in most places.” - Vibe editor Daniel Smith for the NYT

Despite those growing pains, Vibe rapidly grew to 200+ page issues by 2001. Although there were Hip-Hop magazines before it, it arguably presented the medium in a more accessible way, and changed journalism on the genre. With larger funding, it boasted top tier art production with photographers like Albert Watson and David LaChapelle, putting beautifully shot black musicians front-and-centre in the magazine aisle. It too highlighted black designers like Sean John and Fubu, and upheld diverse behind-the-scenes talent in a predominantly white industry.

Although praised for its raw coverage of Hip-Hop, some believe Vibe got too involved in the East vs. West coast beef, fueling the fire of the feud. Rumours circulated about Vibe backing Tupac, with Mobb Deep rapping “Vibe magazine on some love shit” on Drop a Gem on ‘Em.

After the new millennia, Vibe began to lose its market to the likes of Complex, and by 2014 had closed its doors for print, the reasons for that…complex. It can be partly attributed to the constant changes in ownership, and the wider coverage of Hip-Hop it was created to push for.

All images VIBE Magazine.