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Kanye West Takes Reins as 'Complex' Guest Editor

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Kanye West Takes Reins as 'Complex' Guest Editor

Pop Culture

Kanye West Takes Reins as 'Complex' Guest Editor

Kanye West Takes Reins as 'Complex' Guest Editor

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/12689501/12689504" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Peter Ruben, feature editor for the men's lifestyle magazine Complex, discusses hip-hop mogul Kanye West's wild stint as the magazine's guest editor. Ruben says the magazine staff had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they invited West to take the helm.

CHERYL CORLEY, host:

It is hard to find a newspaper these days that isn't laying off staff. But the blog boom has hit magazines hard, too. So one way for a lifestyle magazine to set itself apart at the newsstand is to invite a celebrity to be guest editor for an issue.

Complex is a relatively new men's magazine. And its feature editor, Peter Ruben, told me they had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they invited hip-hop mogul Kanye West to take the helm.

Mr. PETER RUBEN (Feature Editor, Complex): Well, the whole idea of this celebrity guest editor seems to be a lot about lip service for most magazines. You know, no disrespect to Mr. Bono, as he really did his thing over at Vanity Fair from what I hear.

CORLEY: Okay.

Mr. RUBEN: But Kanye really was very much involved. I mean, he is - as a colleague of mine likes to say, he puts the mic in micromanager. He really - Kanye got to where he is today by knowing what he wants. And when he's given the opportunity to shape a magazine, especially, shape a magazine that for this issue is devoted to style and design, which are, you know, that - those are his passions besides music. There were hoops to jump through, I'm not going to lie, but they all contributed towards making the issue really surprisingly effective for when you get a guest editor.

CORLEY: Uh huh. So give me an example. What did he have a hand in?

Mr. RUBEN: Oh, what did he have a hand in - what didn't he have a hand in, I think is a better question. He actually conducted a number of the interviews in the magazine.

CORLEY: Really?

Mr. RUBEN: Sure. I mean, we featured Mark Ronson, who is a one of the first kind of hip-hop celebrity DJs to come out in the '90s. But he's better known now as being Amy Winehouse's producer. So Kanye suggested why don't we cover Mark, had a great sit-down conversation with Mark. Our fashion feature this issue features T.I. who's really one of the only multi-platinum rappers left in hip-hop other than Kanye and a few others. So Kanye and T.I. sat down and have a conversation.

And then for the cover story that features Kanye, it was him and Marc Ecko sitting down. Marc Ecko, being the founder of Complex magazine, the clothing designer. And then also, we have a major feature on the magazine that's devoted to Kanye, his own - it's called his A to Z of style and design, which is really him going through the alphabet and picking out 26 themes that really stand out to him, which is everything from a designer like (unintelligible), to the movie "Anchorman," to whatever it is.

I mean, he really took it across the board and brought his own ideas to the table. That entailed a lot sit-downs for Kanye. It involved - our next to last day of closing and shipping the issue, Kanye came into the office again and decided, well, he didn't like it this way. He wanted it this way. He wanted this that way, instituted a number in changes that basically put our design department through the ringer in the best way possible, in the best way possible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RUBEN: He had already gone to Europe, so I'm on the phone with him in Europe and he's basically - you can hear him in a very crowded place. And it's past midnight his time but he's still making the changes. He's still that much involved. And he's able to multitask in this really remarkable way that he can keep his concentration going on three or four subjects at the same time.

CORLEY: Now, is this something that the magazine is going to do often, have a guest editor? Or is this something that you'll do again?

Mr. RUBEN: Ah, that's a fine question. We - I think that it really depends on the sale. I mean, Kanye West - a lot of people feel what he says. And he resonates in a number of different ways. And that's really what a magazine is about. I mean, we have, you know, our staff is so multicultural and multiracial. And what we deal with is - I mean, this is not your average men's magazine. Like we speak with fluency that crosses a number different lines and he's really our analogue in the world of entertainment. I mean, no one does what we would consider to be a complex act the way Kanye does.

CORLEY: Now, Peter, I know that you told me that this is a men's magazine.

Mr. RUBEN: Sure.

CORLEY: And that it's for, you know, who your target audience is. But I noticed your magazine had a top five list of women, next to a list of the top five sneakers, as well as various provocative shots of women. And I was wondering if you've been criticized at all for objectifying women.

Mr. RUBEN: We actually have not. I mean, I think that's always in the back of our mind. We do fashion spreads in which we feature women in varying stages of clothedness. But we do it with a sense of fun. We do it - we're not in any way, you know, objectifying these women. The - our staff member, our fashion editor who conceptualizes a lot of this stuff and styles a lot of this stuff, is a very strong woman. A number of women on staff.

It's not the kind of frat boy atmosphere I think people who think of one, they think from men's magazine. You know, we're all very attuned to each other. And everything that's done with enough sensitivity that I think it comes across. There is no high brow. There is no low brow. There is only what we like. And style and design is about that for us. And thankfully, it's about that for Kanye, too.

CORLEY: Well, Peter Ruben is feature editor for Complex magazine. And he joined us right here at our NPR bureau in Culver City, California. Thank you so much.

Mr. RUBEN: Thank you.

CORLEY: The current issue of Complex magazine is available on newsstands now.

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