In the Gang Starr classic, Mass Appeal, Guru opens with, No way, youll make it, come with the weak s**t, I break kids. Though Mass Appeal got its name from the Hard to Earn gem, they have certainly made it for themselves. A hobby magazine turned into one of the leading culture publications out there. While its not just for Hip-Hop heads, its certainly driven by some.
AllHipHop.com spoke to its leaving Editor-In-Chief, Brendan Frederick about the magazine. As Frederick heads on to XXL he remains active in Mass Appeals direction, and is the person to speak to in looking at its past. Here, we discuss some of the unique traits of the mag, its origins, and how it managed to get MF Doom and Tony Starks in the same room, at the same time. This rap mag game is like ziti!
AllHipHop.com: Simply put, how would you describe Mass Appeal’s place in the market?
Brendan Frederick: Well, I always believed that Mass Appeal was catering to a market that that wasn’t quite defined yet, and judging by the number of other urban lifestyle magazines that have sprung up since, I’d say the magazine was pretty ahead of it’s time. It seems like everything in the market is always segregated so rigidlyyou either have to be white or black, high-brow or low-brow, Rock or Hip-Hop. But that’s not how life really works. Especially with life in the city, you have all these different types of people meeting up and sharing their experiences, so you sort of get this rich mix of cultures. It might not fit into a box, but I feel like there’s a lot of younger people who draw their interests from all these different places.
AllHipHop.com: A lot of people may perceive Mass Appeal to be a spin-off of Ego Trip, based upon Sacha Jenkins’ role in the magazine, the exciting covers, and Hip-Hop content. How is that a mis-perception, or how is it accurate?
Brendan Frederick: While Sacha and Ego Trip have had a pretty clear influence on the magazine in the last four years, especially in terms of the editorial voice, it’s definitely not a spin-off of Ego Trip. Mass Appeal was actually started ten years ago by it’s publishers: Pat Elasik [who
passed away last year] and Adrian Moeller, two graf-writing kids who
came out of pocket and made a graffiti zine, Kinko’s-style in 1996.
As the magazine grew, it started reaching outside of graffiti content
to feature music, art, fashion, film and off-beat urban living. After
June 2002, when Sacha was hired to be the Editorial Director and Noah
Callahan-Bever was hired to be the Editor-In-Chief, it definitely
took on some Ego Trip-ish influences. Any comparison, I would definitely take as a compliment.
AllHipHop.com: Mass Appeal goes beyond Hip-Hop in many ways. To what extent do you think that gives you a greater readership? At the same time, looking at the current issue… is it possible that Wayne Goldsberry [a man who plucked a deer from his house] can be told in Hip-Hop-friendly terms?
Brendan Frederick: Well, on one hand, I’m sure we get a lot of readers who would never pick up a magazine like XXL, simply because they aren’t that into rap music like that. On the other hand, I’m sure a lot of rap fans are
either baffled or turned off by a lot of our more offbeat content. I
think those are both good things. If we can expose a rap fan to
something weird they never thought they would be into, or if we can
expose an indie rock fan to an amazing rapper, then we’ve done
something right. Also, it always irks me that there seems to be this
assumption that rap fans are only interested in reading about rap
music. Like, just because we listen to rap music doesn’t mean we’re
too stupid to care about other things. A lot of traditionally Hip-Hop
writers come to us with articles that might be a little too off-beat
for a traditional rap magazine. We try to
present everything in “hip-hop-friendly terms” without dumbing things
down or talking down to our readers.
AllHipHop.com: At the same time, Nate Denver’s story with Ghostface and Doom in Issue #36 was made for the b-boys and girls, not newjacks. Tell me, as an Editor-In-Chief, how you found balance between teaching and learning for your readers?
Brendan Frederick: Mass Appeal’s voice has become very heavy on the rap references, by virtue of the fact that so many of our writers are trained that way. That said, we strive to be inclusive, not exclusive. We might make
some inside jokes or references to obscure rap lyrics, but that doesn’t mean we’re trying to be “insiders”. A lot of the writing you can enjoy on few different levels, whether you get the references or
not. So many of these “hip” magazines take a very insider stance,
where they present themselves as being cooler than their readers. We
will be the first to admit that we are all huge nerds. You can’t be
“cool” and make a good magazine. Being obsessively nerdy about
something is a must.
AllHipHop.com: Both Mass Appeal and Elemental use photography and design more artistically than the magazines Hip-Hop readers are used to. Specifically with Mass Appeal, how much of the magazine’s approach is visual?
Brendan Frederick: Since the magazine is coming from a graffiti background, the visual
element has always been just as important as the editorial. We want
Mass Appeal to be the type of magazine that makes you want to rip out
all it’s pages and put them up on your wall. Our wonderful Art
Director, Sally Thurer is responsible for a lot of the visual
direction the magazine has taken. It seems like a lot of rap
magazines just don’t give a s**t bout the visual aspect, which is
disturbing. Presenting a story in a visually striking way is the
first step towards showing it respect that it deserves.
AllHipHop.com: There’s a lot of West Coast appeal to the magazine. The car
culture, and some of the features feel very SoCal. Being a Brooklyn-based company, how do you stay so relevant to a movement on
the other shore?
Brendan Frederick: Well, since we’re all in Brooklyn, there is a tendency for things in
the magazine to be very skewered towards the New York experience.
We’ve always been aware of this, but we felt like Mass Appeal was
bigger than just New York. So, early on, we got people like Estevan
Oriol and Mister Cartoon down with the magazine. We appreciated what
people like them were doing, and we knew that New York people would
love it, and it would connect with West Coast readers as well. Since
then, we try to feature stories from all over. We have a lot of folks
from the Bay involved in the magazine these days, so the culture out
there is making itself known in the mag lately as well.
AllHipHop.com: I know you’re on the move. But just so people are aware – tell us a little about your background in writing… They say everybody gets a
big break. If you subscribe to that, what was yours?
Brendan Frederick: Well, I got my first taste of magazine writing when I was in college
and the infamous Dove [now AllHipHop.coms Alternatives Editor] contracted me to write Rime Magazine’s regular
mixtape column. I did that for several years, but things really took
off when I started as an intern at Mass Appeal while still in
college. I learned a lot about journalism so quickly by working under
some amazingly talented people like Sacha Jenkins, Noah Callahan-
Bever, Mary Choi, and Justin Monroe. I worked my way up and soon after
graduation, I came on as the full time Editor-In-Chief, which I did
for almost two years. I’ve since left Mass Appeal full time to work at
XXL, but I’m still sharing Editorial Director duties with Sacha Jenkins.
AllHipHop.com: With your time at Mass Appeal, what was your single favorite story? What was one story that became a headache or a nightmare for you?
Brendan Frederick: The biggest nightmare for me was definitely getting Ghostface and MF Doom on the cover together. When I heard they were working together on an album back in the spring of 2005, I immediately started trying to get them on our cover before anyone else did. It took about six months of work from that point in time to actually make it happen.
Ghost and Doom are sort of notorious for being tough to peg down, and
this turned out to be true, especially since Doom lives in Atlanta
and Ghost lives on Staten Island. We tried really hard to get them
both in the same room, but believe me, the s**t was impossible,
especially when deadlines are factored in. We ended up having to fly
the photographer from Atlanta to New York because Doom refused to
come to New York, and Ghost was too busy finishing Fishscale to make
a trip Down South just for us. But you know, after a lot of work and
a lot of help from Devin at Nature Sounds [Records], we made it happen anyway, and the cover ended up being the biggest selling issue of Mass Appeal
ever. So I guess you could say the nightmare didn’t turn out so bad.
It actually ended up being one of my favorite stories. Another
favorite of mine was a story that Jon Caramanica wrote about a year
ago about the history of rap music recorded from prison. We even got
in touch with X-Raided’s wifey who sent us all these amazing photos
of her visiting him inside. It was an amazingly researched story that
was kind of below the radar.
AllHipHop.com: Fresh into a new year, with a shifting staff, what changes in
growth do you see at Mass Appeal. In terms of the Hip-Hop side of things, is coverage something we’ll see more of, less of, or ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’?
Brendan Frederick: The staff at Mass Appeal changes, but we’re always going to be a
family. If you look at the masthead, you’ll see a lot of
people still on there who are also working at much bigger magazines.
Once you’re down with us, you’re trapped for life. Trapped! 2006 is
going to be a huge year for us. It’s our 10th Anniversary, so we will
be doing a special double issue later in the year. We’re also in the
midst of starting a women’s magazine called Missbehave, which should
have it’s first issue out this summer. We will definitely still be
trying to keep the same level of hip-hop coverageour April issue has
a great cover story on The Clipse written by Jon Caramanica. As long
as rappers keep putting out hot s**t, we’ll keep writing about it.