courtesy of Vibe
Past covers of Vibe. Chris Brown will be the cover boy for the relanuched Vibe's first issue. ()
Past covers of Vibe. Chris Brown will be the cover boy for the relanuched Vibe's first issue. () courtesy of Vibe
Len Burnett helped launch Vibe, a hip-hop music magazine, back in 1993, and he's just launched it again. NPR Music's Frannie Kelley recently spoke with the founder and Co-CEO of Uptown Media Group about Vibe's dominance then — and its relevance now — in the changing landscape of the music industry.
In an exciting time for hip-hop and R&B, the major labels of 1993 were thriving while smaller labels like Bad Boy were just emerging. There was no shortage of hip-hop music and urban culture for Vibe to cover.
But by 1999, the landscape was beginning to change. In spite of hip-hop's popularity, Burnett saw labels cutting back on traditional black-music divisions.
"There was a continued deterioration in the willingness of labels to work artists," he says. "There was a deterioration in the diversity of music within the labels, and there was a sense of getting the most out of a little. Labels were quick to lean on the hardcore hip-hop, the stuff that sold immediately, instead of working the records that had a little more positive energy."
Burnett and Vibe tried to make the best of it, and they succeeded: Vibe held its own as one of the most popular hip-hop magazines on the market. But eventually, the Internet and digital media caught up with them. The traditional models that Vibe, and major record labels, counted on were no longer profitable.
"Record labels not adjusting to and embracing the way people were going to buy music was a signal to me that the industry was not getting it," Burnett says. "Those were signals to me that it was never going to be the same, and that we needed to find ways to adjust and to embrace it rather than fight it."
The job wouldn't be easy, and Vibeexperienced some hiccups. Burnett left and returned to Vibe several times before departing for Uptown Media in 2007. In July 2009, the magazine announced that it was closing its doors. News arrived just before what would be Vibe's 16th anniversary. But Burnett and his company, Uptown Media Group, would not let the Vibe brand die. Instead, they revitalized the product with a new focus on digital media.
"We're looking at our business not like there's a magazine and a Web site. They're one together," he says. "In years past, there were folks that worked on the magazine and folks that worked on the Web site. And rarely did those two meet. We've stripped all those barriers down."
Vibe is back. The first issue will hit newsstands in December. It's been reduced to bi-monthly publication, but Burnett says he isn't worried about the change, and that he's confident the site and magazine will complement one another.
"Let the magazine do what the Web can't do," he says.
Through all the ups and downs, Burnett maintains that Vibe is the one of the most urgent brands in hip-hop today. The music industry is changing, but hip-hop is here to stay. And so, apparently, is Vibe.