The Story of Vibe Magazine’s TLC Cover: How it Helps to Explain Race, Representation and Resistance from Journalism’s Hip-hop Generation

By Vinita Srivastava.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper is a case study of one Vibe magazine cover. The examination of this cover, which depicts multiplatinum girl band TLC, serves to provide an analytical framework that posits Vibe magazine as a vehicle for disrupting mainstream press visual narratives about African Americans in general and black youth in particular. However, this oppositional reading requires an analysis of not just the cultural artifact, but also a discussion of audience reception as well as the intentions of the media makers. While some have argued that one cannot battle stereotypes from within mainstream media these media makers were able to circulate new ideas and images. Vibe reproduced patriarchal imagery of African American women, yet conversations with media makers indicate a conscious desire to disrupt such images. For this discussion, I draw on my larger analysis of early Vibe magazine covers as well as interviews with Vibe’s founders and current media workers. Discussed here are motivations of the cover makers but also the cover image as a cultural artifact. One of the top fifty magazines in the U.S. in the 90’s, Vibe helped to catapult hip-hop culture into the mainstream. The paper contextualizes Vibe within journalistic and political history, and critical race communication theories.

Keywords: Race and Representation, Hip-hop Journalism, Visual Communication, Vibe Magazine

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp.57-66. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.888MB).

Vinita Srivastava

Assistant Professor, School of Journalism, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I am currently an assistant professor at the Ryerson University School of Journalism in Toronto, Canada and the director of the Verse City Project designed to encourage youth participation in media. I spent a good part of the 90’s in the New York publishing industry, both within the urban media industry (Vibe, Impact, Honey) and mainstream media (the New York Times). I have also reported for the Village Voice and was co-host and producer of the Asia Pacific Forum on WBAI Radio, NYC. As an insider whose global positionality is oftentimes outside, I hope to reveal the significance of race in these types of institutions along with the ongoing media challenges and debates. On a larger scale, this investigation will seek to answer: Where are the remaining urban media outlets? Who are their audiences? What images are getting circulated? And what are these images projecting? As social media use grows and traditional media declines, what networks are being created by and for urban journalists?