For Billboard, Dan Charnas compiles an oral history of Vibe magazine, the first issue of which was published in September, 1993. Founded by Quincy Jones in partnership with Time Warner (and still publishing digitally today), the magazine represented a “new black aesthetic” that “championed hip-hop but thought broad and wide about the genre’s connections to the past and the future.”
Mimi Valdes (editorial assistant, 1993-94; assistant editor, 1994-95; style editor, 1997-98; executive editor, 1999-2002; editor-at-large, 2002-03; editor-in-chief, 2004-06): Jonathan [Van Meter, editor-in-chief 1992-93] booked Madonna and Dennis Rodman as a cover. And Eddie Murphy’s publicist was mad as hell that Madonna was getting the cover over Eddie. We all wanted Eddie over Madonna, so we were upset about it too. When [word of the cover choice] started to get out in the industry, we all felt the need to save Vibe’s reputation.
Scott Poulson-Bryant (senior editor/writer, 1992-96): I said [to Jonathan], “The staff needs to have a conference. People are really not happy about this.”
Van Meter: I said, “This isn’t The Village Voice. We’re not unionized. You can’t come in here representing the staff.”
Valdes: We were all standing by waiting for Scott to give us the go-ahead to come in. When Jonathan saw us, he got really upset.
Van Meter: I felt like I was losing control. And I said [to Scott], “You’re fired.” People in the hallways started crying. Mimi Valdes was screaming as if she’d just found out her mother was shot and killed. And I was like, “Oh, my God, I made it worse.”
Poulson-Bryant: He came to my office: “You’re not fired. Look, we’ll have a staff meeting.”
Quincy Jones: I was staying away from editorial policy. I got involved when Jonathan put the Beastie Boys on the cover and told me he was following up with Dennis Rodman and Madonna. He had already shot it!
Van Meter: I guess Quincy was getting a lot of shit from people for putting the Beastie Boys on the cover, and when he sees the Madonna cover, he went crazy.
Jones: I said, “Over my dead fucking body! That’s the way you blow an urban magazine.”
Van Meter: Madonna was queen. You can’t not put her on the cover. I couldn’t conceive of killing the best cover story we had done so far. [Quincy and I] ended up having a fight on the phone, and I smashed my phone into a thousand pieces and cleared off the top of my desk onto the floor. I think I said, “I quit.” I went home. And then the phone calls started. Everyone tried to get Quincy to change his mind. Even Madonna called me at home. She was really pissed.
Jones: I called Madonna and I said, “I’m telling you as a friend: it’s not personal, but you cannot pander with an urban magazine this early.” She said, “Quincy Jones, you and I can take over the world if we want to. See you around, pal.” I haven’t talked to her since then.