This, for me, represents the end of the 90s. The end of that glorious post-soul black music dominance of America.
Not to say that black music doesn’t still dominate, but we are in a decidedly different era of black music. If we say that the post-soul black music dominance in the 90s represents that glorious, freewheeling sense of childhood innocence, then its dominance since is the self-conscious, confusing, bending toward convention and conformity, slightly nihilistic, essence of adolescence.
Vibe came on the scene in 1992, right as R&B solidified its position as the pre-eminent American music form. This was the year of Boyz II Men, The Bodyguard soundtrack, TLC’s debut, and most notably, the debut of Mary J. Blige.
Vibe was there to chronicle it all. Good (its frequently ambivalent-in-tone coverage of Tupac Shakur as realized in Kevin Powell’s thoughtful essays, like the cover story above, mirrored much of Black America’s ambivalence about young black masculinity, gender, and politics), bad (its obsessive, stunningly uncritical, coverage of the so-called East Coast-West Coast feud) and, frequently painful (we were able to watch Mary J., mess up, clean up, and mature in the pages of Vibe).
Vibe captured that innocence, the wonderment, that we all felt with the expansive canvas on which black music was painting during the 90s.
I suspect Vibe in the 90s is sort of like Rolling Stone in the 60s, a perfect companion-reflection of the times and culture that it covered. For us younger members of the hip-hop, post-soul generation, Vibe was our Bible. We loved it when it got things right (its beautiful deconstruction of the double standard of violence in rock and hip-hop music videos in the mid-90s) and when it got things wrong (that Mary J. cover during the release of Breakthrough…y’all remember).
The end of Vibe is probably good. Vibe hasn’t been truly relevant or reflective of (or on) its time in years. It has shamelessly followed trends instead of setting them. And while we have aged away from Vibe, the younger generation hasn’t aged toward it. I don’t even know if they read magazines the way we did. Who knows.
I think the purge of the industry will hit the Source next encourage enterprising hip-hoppers to create anew. The space is there for something new and fresh and representative (in all the good, bad and ugly ways).
We still need a Vibe. Just not this one.