Mimi Valdes of VIBE: The Examination of Mimi

The ride to the top has been an exciting one for Mimi Valdes, Editor-In-Chief of VIBE magazine. As a fresh-faced college graduate, Valdes’ journalism career was birthed at said urban magazine. While her professional path has had its fair share of twist and turns, the compass has always lead back to VIBE.

These days, VIBE has expanded its branding to include award shows, internet and wireless ventures, and a publication geared specifically to women. Valdes, a formally trained journalist, has exceeded that which is expected of a writer and now manages several of VIBE’s many entities.

How did this self-proclaimed Hip-Hop head go from watching rap videos on Ralph McDaniels’ “Music Box” to capturing the eyes of seven million readers? Read as AllHipHop’s co-chief Jigsaw chops it up with Mimi Valdes, the head of VIBE magazine.

AllHipHop.com: I didn’t realize that you have been with VIBE for so long.

Mimi Valdes: Since day one. I started out as an Editorial Assistant and I was put through a one-month and a half interview process where I interviewed with seven people. I was like “If I don’t get this job…” [laughs] But I left for a while to work for a record company and that didn’t work out. And I was freelancing for a while, and then I was actually at The Source for a little while too. I’m probably like the only ex-employee that didn’t really have a bad experience at The Source. When I got asked to come back to VIBE, I came back here.

AllHipHop.com: What’s been the biggest challenge with VIBE since you have been the Editor-In-Chief?

Mimi Valdes: I always say jokingly that I was given the job at the worst time ever, because, on one level, the music and the culture has gotten so huge and has become such a global phenomenon and, as a life-long fan, it is exciting to see the scope of the influence that this music had on the world at large. It’s such a beautiful thing. Of course, since I have become Editor-In-Chief, everybody wants to do this. The scope of the music has gotten so large that Time magazine wants to put Kanye on the cover. Beyonce is going to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, where they have ignored R&B music forever. As a fan, its beautiful, but as the Editor-In-Chief of VIBE, our challenge – all of us here – have to make sure we are the premier place to find information about these urban music stars.

My big thing, when you consider my reign as Editor-In-Chief, I’m really about trying to find who those new super stars are going to be. VIBE is going into its 13th year. How many times can we do stories on some of these established artists? They are not going to be so open about what’s going on in their life and, more often than not, you know what’s going on. A lot of the superstars are like – you are really still interested in their music, but you aren’t really interested in reading about them. You know everything. I’ve given covers to people, where at first people are like, “[Gasping for air] Like, you’re gonna put Shyne on the cover? T.I.? Game? Are you crazy?” We have had amazing success with those covers. [The Game cover] was one of our best-selling covers. It’s exciting to do stuff like that. Of course it’s about picking the right people.

AllHipHop.com: I noticed you have a lot of diversity with your covers, whether its Allen Iverson, Mary J. Blige, Ciara & Lil’ Bow Wow. Who is your demographic and what involves picking these covers?

Mimi Valdes: We try to reach such a wide range of people, 18-35 is the demographic. If you are 35, your 18-year-old brother or sister might not be listening to what you are listening to. I think, the love of urban music and music, makes the bridge. Allen Iverson was a risky move. Last time we put a basketball person on the cover, it was Michael Jordan and Chris Rock [and] it sold nothing. We’ve learned with VIBE it just makes sense to do music over, even though everything is on the inside. [With Iverson], the NBA dress code was something Hip-Hop was talking about and everybody thought Iverson was the one that started this whole [Hip-Hop/NBA] trend.

AllHipHop.com: Why hasn’t the other Mimi – Mariah Carey – appeared on VIBE’s cover since her resurgence?

Mimi Valdes: Mariah is a perfect example of somebody that is loved by this audience – myself included, love her, love her, love her. But, in the history of VIBE, she’s had three covers – the worst selling covers. They just have not sold. When this album came out, even though it’s clearly her most “VIBE” album, we were thinking, “Is she one of those artists that you love the music, but don’t necessarily want to read about her.” Not to say that we would never do her, but… her next album, just because there is more of a story with the comeback, we could try to figure out something that would be interesting for people to read about.

That is the biggest misconception about covers, they are not about people who are [selling the most], they are about who are people interested in reading about. If you feel like you’ve read everything there is to know about Mariah – you’re not going to pick up the magazine. You’ll pick up her album, you’ll watch her videos, but your not gonna pick up the magazine. Everybody thinks they can run a magazine. I’ll tell you what, Kanye West, last year – worst selling cover.

AllHipHop.com: Worst? Wow!

Mimi Valdes: Second to last.

AllHipHop.com: Speaking of Kanye, he had some disparaging lyrics for VIBE.

Mimi Valdes: We got through that. [Laughs] He was upset because his video didn’t get nominated at the VIBE Awards for “Best Video.” He called me up out of nowhere on my cell phone complaining about it. I was like, “I just got promoted. I had nothing to do with that.” And secondly, “Why are you calling me. I don’t even know you.” This is not the way you start a relationship. We had our words. But then he apologized and sent flowers.

AllHipHop.com: What’s the best-selling cover ever?

Mimi Valdes: The Nas and Jay-Z was the highest-selling cover since I’ve been here. We had never done a Year-End Issue before – of just little pictures of things that went down. We heard about this Jay-Z and Nas thing, and we had to get it. I knew people were gonna see it in the newspaper the next day, they might care, but I had to do it. We’re putting the image in color, on a magazine cover. People will feel that they need to collect this important moment in Hip-Hop. I thought it was great for the culture – two grown men squashing beef. It needed to be celebrated.

AllHipHop.com: With Mary, what did you think what she did [criticizing VIBE cover? Were you appalled?

Mimi Valdes: Things like that – we knew going into the awards she didn’t like the cover. We already had that information. I was more disappointed at where she choose to talk about it. Was like, “You just saw me 10 minutes ago. You didn’t say anything to me.” Even still, she didn’t like it – what am I gonna do. Mary J. Blige was one of the first CD’s I ever bought. I just thought someone like her would have talked to me in her face, in private.

AllHipHop.com: I actually liked the cover – I’m not gonna lie. So how do you manage all of these other entities like VIBE Vixen and The VIBE Awards.

Mimi Valdes: I have 20 jobs. I am involved in everything. It’s not just the magazine. I majored in journalism. It is where I find the most pleasure. That’s the best part of the job for me. But, at the same time, I am honored and pleased that I am involved in everything.

AllHipHop.com: Now is VIBE going to go back to being more of a men’s magazine since you have VIBE Vixen for the ladies?

Mimi Valdes: This is the thing, VIBE was always conceived as a men’s magazine. Of course, as they started [to poll who the reader was], we found that it’s very much a 50/50 split. People didn’t realize that females love the music as well. VIBE’s always had a male sensibility. If the girls were coming, they liked what they saw so there was no reason to cater to them. With VIBE Vixen, that’s straight female or for guys that want to see what the females are thinking about. Guys that are smart! [laughs]

AllHipHop.com: Did VIBE Vixen come before or after Karrine “Superhead” Steffans [who penned the book, Confessions of a Video Vixen]?

Mimi Valdes: [laughs] No, before! I’m mad at Superhead actually. I was like “Damnit.” She gonna mar the word. See, women of color are exploited for their sexuality and also made to feel bad about it.

AllHipHop.com: Now there is a blog called “BitterVibes.” I’m sure you are well aware of it.

Mimi Valdes: Really? A blog? What blog? Who writes it?

AllHipHop.com: I don’t know. Apparently somebody in your organization.

Mimi Valdes: [laughingly] I can’t pay attention to an anonymous blog! When they put their name on it, you will get the excusive. I will let you know what I think about it soon as they put their name on it.

AllHipHop.com: You guys recently started putting “eye candy” in VIBE.

Mimi Valdes: Well, its not eye candy. With the VIBE Awards, we have our “Goddess Award” and we added a “Goddess” page of women that the guys admire for – not only their looks – but they are also trying to do something.

AllHipHop.com: So, as a female, you don’t take exception to the imagery?

Mimi Valdes: I don’t think there is anything wrong with women that want to use their sexuality, whether they are models or actresses. I am so not against that. I don’t like when people talk about the women in videos. They’re not prostitutes. They’re not killing people. If that’s what a woman chooses to do, then that’s up to her. Am I necessarily a fan of the lack of creative ideas in videos? I think its kind of sad that there’s not a lot of diversity in videos. I just refuse to judge women in these videos, because they are not doing anything illegal.

AllHipHop.com: I feel that these videos shape young people’s mind. I think it does create an over-sexualized child or teenager.

Mimi Valdes: Everything has its pros and cons. The flip side of this – and this is why I’m never gonna talk bad about these girls – Growing up, I only saw one body image. It was a really skinny girl that didn’t have hips, and butt and thick legs. If anything, these videos have helped change the world’s perception of women of color. These are images that were frowned upon or thought of as ugly. I remember when that was considered fat and disgusting and vulgar.

AllHipHop.com: Now, you’re a Hip-Hop head, right?

Mimi Valdes: Yeah, definitely.

AllHipHop.com: I know VIBE does both Hip-Hop and R&B…

Mimi Valdes: Yeah, VIBE does R&B, but you know what have always been the best selling covers? The Hip-Hop covers. Always. We do R&B, Reggae – the whole world of urban music. VIBE was conceived with a Hip-Hop sensibility. Treach [of Naughty By Nature] appeared on our very first issue as a test to see where the marketplace was. Then, a year later, we had Snoop on our first cover.

AllHipHop.com: Did you ever used to break-dance?

Mimi Valdes: [laughs] I did, but I wasn’t very good. I’m not even gonna front. I was too lanky.

AllHipHop.com: Who is your favorite rapper?

Mimi Valdes: Biggie. I know that is so typical. People say Biggie or Tupac. But, I interviewed Biggie, when we put him in the “Next” section of VIBE, and later when he was in the cover with Faith. I got to spend a lot of time with him. I like the party jams. Some people like the more subdued nod your head song. I like party jams and storytellers. I like people like Biggie, Slick Rick, Jay-Z, of course.

AllHipHop.com: Speaking of Biggie and Pac, VIBE caught a lot of flack for helping fan the flames of the so-called East Coast/West Coast rap war.

Mimi Valdes: I never understood, I never thought that was fair. Tupac specifically, all he was doing was talking. We’re journalists. All we’re doing is reporting. These men, there’s a lot going on. We fans and we’re journalists and sometimes the natural inclination is to protect. If people are acting crazy and saying crazy things, we would look foolish…they we would be a fluffy magazine.

AllHipHop.com: So, Biggie was your favorite interview too, right?

Mimi Valdes: Yeah, again…nothing was off limits. He was funny as hell. He was a comedian. I don’t think there was anybody funny as him. He was a really, really comical guy and it was a lotta fun. I was on there for a week. It was him and Kim and Cease and I was just rollin’ on the tour bus.

AllHipHop.com: Ok, on the current issue, which features Lil’ Wayne, there is a typo.

Mimi Valdes: [Sighs] Yes.

AllHipHop.com: I personally want to know, what are the ramifications behind something like that? I know AllHipHop.com has typos and they always bother me.

Mimi Valdes: Yes, there is a spelling mistake on the Lil’ Wayne cover, one of those unfortunate things that got caught too late. Definitely heartbreaking.

AllHipHop.com: Are heads gonna roll?

Mimi Valdes: Out of respect for my staff, I don’t want to discuss personnel matters, but it is clearly something…some things are certainly unacceptable. It’s something that’s never going to happen again.

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