George Pitts: Notes On Vibe Magazine

George Pitts: Notes On Vibe Magazine As news swept around last week, in e-mails and trending Twitter topics, that Hip Hop bible Vibe would be the latest magazine to close its doors, the response was felt deeply throughout the SPD community. As many wrote to us to point out, the obit for Vibe written by David Carr of The New York Times was a thoughtful and generous reflection, but said too little about the creative teams who have worked to elevate Hip Hop and the specific culture Vibe both reflected, and created. We asked George Pitts, Vibe's founding Photography Director, for his thoughts about Vibe's place in our collective history, and are honored to share those here:

In what was an unprecedented week of devastating losses to our culture, including the deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and the great visionary choreographer Pina Bausch, it was also the week that Vibe magazine folded. The close of Vibe is obviously an event of great personal impact for me, as its first Photography Director, and I've received enough notices from well-wishers to understand that the magazine meant a lot of things to a diverse community of readers.

Working at Vibe changed my own life for the better, and enabled editors including myself to engage in an international discourse with a wide, disparate range of readers: the core fan base of Hip-Hop generation readers, popular music lovers, style and culture mavens, hipsters of all stripes, photography connoisseurs, serious musicologists, black culture militants, and scholars of  all kinds. No doubt there are reader bases that I'm forgetting, but this random listing only confirms for me, the broad appeal that Vibe was able to sustain for 16 years. Vibe was a magazine that one was as likely to find in a dentist's office as in the stunning New York abode of a figure like Madonna. Once Vibe found a central readership, we endeavored to serve not only the hungers of urban culture, but to honor the legacy of taste purveyed by our forebears, which opened the book up to appreciations of figures as varied as: Toni Morrison, Sonny Rollins, Kraftwerk, Malcolm X, Bob Marley, Nina Simone, David Bowie, John Coltrane, Bell Hooks, Robert De Niro, Betty Davis, Vanessa Del Rio, Cornell West, Portishead, Frank Sinatra, Radiohead, Quentin Tarantino, Sly Stone, and dubmaster Lee "Scratch" Perry, to name just a few of the figures that cultural perception may have perceived as odd for Vibe. For it was often in the eclectic mix of inclusiveness bringing together the ethnic yearnings of minority cultures, and the world-class achievements of stellar artists actively engaged in cultural crossover works of artistry, that Vibe excelled in reconciling its mission of information, and connecting the dots between art forms, culture fusions, and audacious work done under the influence of multicultural imperatives.

Such imperatives probably go some way in explaining Vibe's value for a diversity of consumers, who depended on the magazine for this rich mix of culturally divergent yet wholly appropriate range of contributors to what ultimately enlarged the reach, attitude, and regional breadth of Hip Hop music. For one could track the influence of Hip Hop in mediums that were not technically identified with its primary audience. And so the immersion with beats could be detected and enjoyed in the music of a Bjork, or a Massive Attack, just as Jazz cues could be discerned in the work of A Tribe Called Quest, or in how 70s Funk was sampled by countless rap musicians. This cultural cross-pollination resisted assumptions of too specifically defined demographics, racial boundaries, and selective age groups, and fostered, at least philosophically, the notion that every good idea was fair game for transmutation by a creative sensibility who practiced Hip Hop science.

Although my observations just scratch the surface of the media affect of Vibe, they do acknowledge that there was a larger mission at work than was apparent, one that enabled individuals of wildly disparate backgrounds and tastes to co-exist on a collaborative project that realized portions of their respective editorial agendas all in the same publication. Vibe's covers, sometimes an outrage to certain readers: too urban, too sexy, too inclusive of R & B, too topical, were the distillation of a wide-ranging forum of conversations, impassioned arguments, and canny business instincts. Whether it was the twisted wit of styling superstar group TLC in fireman's garb, the daring of a near nude Toni Braxton, or the wholly reverent and sober memorials to slain giants such as Biggie Smalls, or Tupac Shakur, our editors endeavored to serve the community in bold configurations of text and photography.

And so, in parting, and because this appreciation is appearing in a Design context, I'd like to also draw attention to the visual creatives who contributed to Vibe in Art Direction, Design, Photography, and Fashion, over the years:

Gary Koepke
Richard Baker
Lee Ellen Fanning
Michaela Angela Davis
Melanie Skrzek
Hilton Als
Diddo Ramm
David Harley
Derrick Procope
Kevin Stewart
Leslie dela Vega
Duane Pyous
Dwayne Shaw
Brandon Kavulla
Angela Arambulo
Robert Newman
Florian Bachleda
Wyatt Mitchell
Alice Alves
Dora Somosi
Michael Friel
John Moore
Liane Radel
Marian Barragan
Rebecca Fain
Memsor Kamaraké
Mark Shaw
Robyn Forest

And lastly, to some of the Photographers, Illustrators, and Fashion Stylists who appeared in Vibe, often for the first time in their Editorial careers, who are too many to name in a comprehensive summary:

Barron Claiborne
Dana Lixenberg
Terry Richardson
Wolfgang Tillmans
Christian Witkin
Melodie McDaniel
Geoffroy De Boismenu
Dan Winters
Catalina Gonzalez
Patti Wilson
Marc Baptiste
Darryl Turner
Masha Calloway
Juergen Teller
Miles Aldridge
Ruven Afanador
Taryn Simon
David Lachapelle
Stephane Sednaoui
Dan Len
Michael Thompson
Andrea Modica
Everard Williams
Butch Belair
Erin Patrice O'Brien
Judith Joy Ross
Ellen von Unwerth
Jeff Riedel
Lyle Ashton Harris
Robert Maxwell
Phil Knott
Cleo Sullivan
Larry Sultan
Peggy Sirota
Bruce Weber
Norman Watson
Anthony Mandler
Michelangelo Di Battista
Jonathan Mannion
Albert Watson
Daniela Federici
Piotr Sikora
Dietmar Busse
Dean Karr
Torkil Gudnason
Sacha Waldman
Alex Tehrani
Vincent Skeltis
Malcolm Beckford
Kayt Jones
David Drebin
Ben Watts
Alastair Thain
Guy Aroch
Tony Ward
Arnaldo Anaya-Lucca
Shawn Mortensen
Hype Williams
John Peng
Alexei Hay
Andrew Williams
Seb Janiak
Larry Fink
Fran Collin
Malerie Marder
Ken Schles
Maki Kawakita
Alex Cayley
Emily Shur
Patrick Hoelck
Xavier Guardans
Mary Ellen Mark
Matthias Vriens
Lauren Fleishman
Walter Chin
Eddie Guy
Alessandra Petlin
Darcy Hemley
John Brooks
F. Scott Schafer
Andrew Dosunmu
Martin Schoeller

Thanks to all the named and unnamed talents who graced our pages with your talent, enthusiasm, ingenuity, and high spirits!!

With respect,
George Pitts
A gallery of some of Vibe's memorable covers:

Treach Vibe (1992 preview).png

Snoop Vibe.png

Wesley Snipes Vibe.png

George Clinton Vibe.jpg

Tupac straightjacket Vibe.png

Ice Cube Vibe.png

En Vogue Vibe April 94.png

Eddie Murphy Vibe.png

Prince Vibe.png

TLC Vibe.png

Mary J. Blige 1 Vibe.png

Tupac 2 Vibe.png

Jodeci Vibe.jpg

Juice Mike Tyson Vibe.png

BIG 1 Vibe.png

Death Row Vibe.png

R. Kelly 2 Vibe.png

Juice BIG Vibe.png

Tupac RIP Vibe.png

Mary J. Blige 2 Vibe.png

BIG RIP Vibe.png

Toni Braxton Vibe.png

Puff Daddy Vibe.png

Usher Vibe.png

Lauryn Hill Vibe.png

Foxy Brown Vibe.png

Chris Rock.png

Lil' Kim.png

Eminem + Dre Vibe.png

Destiny's Child.png

DMX 2 Vibe.png

Illustration Issue 2 Vibe.png

Beyonce Vibe.png

Nas Vibe.png

J Lo Vibe.png

Illustration issue 3 Vibe Aug. 2003.png

Vibe X Mary J. Blige.png

Vibe X R. Kelly.png

Brandy Vibe.png

Nelly Vibe.png

Hollywood Issue Vibe.png

Hip Hop Murders Vibe.png

Luther Vandross RIP VIbe Oct. 2005.png

Busta Rhymes 2 Vibe June 2006.png

Keyshia Cole Vibe Aug. 2006.png

Janet Jackson 2 Vibe.png

Beyonce 2 Vibe.png

50 Cent 2 Vibe.png

Obama 1 Vibe.png

Ciara cover 08.png


  • Shaun Baron

    Great people created amazing work at VIBE. Many thanks to the teams at VIBE who have always influenced and inspired me.

  • Brian Taylor Illustration

    Vibe's annual illustration issue was the best. Really great work in those issues.

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