A$AP Ferg and Vince Staples front the second issue of London-based BRICK – a title eschewing hip-hop culture cliches for timeless content. Here, we meet founder Hayley Brown
Hip-hop has long been something London-based photographer and editor Hayley Brown has felt a natural affinity with. Growing up in a family with great taste in music – from Mariah Carey to Stevie Wonder – admittedly, she was that kid who brought the latest songs to class. She spent her time burning CD mixes after scoping out new artists through MTV Base – who, at that time, mostly played R&B, hip-hop, reggae, soul and urban music.
“I distinctly remember seeing the ‘California Love’ video by Tupac and being mesmerised, thinking it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen,” she recalls. Adding that back then it was harder to find music. “Now you listen to stuff on Spotify and it'll suggest ten other artists that you might like and then you can find stuff so organically through that. But years ago, you really had to search to find things that you liked... you'd stumble across artists like Tupac who had passed away before you even knew they existed. You'd have this back catalogue, culture, and history, to read up on”.
Last year, she siphoned this fascination with hip-hop into founding BRICK magazine. Issue one was fronted by Wiz Khalifa and ScHoolboyQ and inside the weighty periodical was timeless content on hip-hop culture and the names at its forefront, past and present, such as Cam’ron, Joey Bada$$ and Tinashe.
Taking years of reading magazines like XXL and the Source as her jump-off point, and with previous experience as Clash magazine’s hip-hop editor under her belt, Brown was no rookie to this realm. Where XXL and the Source failed to push beyond the cliches of hip-hop culture – half-nude girls, smoking supplies and diamond watch ads – BRICK excels by producing a title that is thoughtful in its content. There are no fillers here.
As she releases issue two today, which sees A$AP Ferg and Vince Staples grace double covers, as well features with Ho99o9 (pronounced ‘horror’), RAY BLK and Neverland Clan, as well as an illustrated tribute to Phife Dawg on the inside – below, we catch up with her to find out more.
Tell us about starting BRICK. Being a woman behind a hip-hop magazine in the UK – did you feel there was a gap in the market there?
Hayley Brown: Initially, before I'd even worked at Clash, I wanted to make a punk zine, a really throwaway zine with just hip-hop content. I think around that time, there were a lot of artists coming out subverting what we thought was hip-hop. The most obvious example would be Tyler the Creator – it had been a long time since hip-hop had caused such controversy
I just had no time to do it and then it got to a point where I felt I really needed to do this before somebody else did it before me. It is the best thing I've done; it makes me the happiest to do it but I think as for being a woman, it's never really crossed my mind. It's unavoidable in certain scenarios where you're on shoots sometimes and you're not treated the same as men in the room, which I think is really a difficult thing to get past. But if you're producing good content, it shouldn't make that much of a difference. Everyone that works with me is amazing, regardless of whether they're a man or a woman.
How do you feel about the current climate of hip-hop magazines in comparison to its past, with titles like XXL and Source?
Hayley Brown: For me, the golden age of hip-hop publishing was the late 90s and early 2000s with titles like the Source, VIBE, Ego Trip and XXL. All of those seminal American titles were the ones that I used to love reading when I was younger. In this issue, we've actually done a feature on the history of hip-hop publishing with The Hyman Archive which has the world's biggest magazine collections. We went through their archive with them and pulled out some of the best hip-hop titles of the last 20, 30 years – probably longer than that. That was really interesting to look at because there were so many niche titles for specific areas of the world and things that were really interesting.
I think, for me, it was all about creating a hip-hop magazine that didn't feel like a hip-hop magazine. I guess this is where being a woman does come into it. I've always felt that a lot of those magazines were super masculine and a lot of them were very much lad mags with music content. I bought XXL just before it stopped printing and they were still running half naked women and I felt that it was so outdated; it wasn't necessarily what I think represents the current state of what hip-hop is as a culture. I just wanted to do something that felt authentic to the current climate of what hip-hop was and I was looking more at publications like i-D and Dazed for inspiration as to where to take BRICK visually, and I wanted it to be something that was visually really exciting in the way that I hadn't felt since looking at those hip-hop mags in the 90s when I was younger.
“I think, for me, it was all about creating a hip-hop magazine that didn’t feel like a hip-hop magazine” – Hayley Brown
I used to just love looking at images – publications that had rap images, images of Lauryn Hill as the Hindu goddess-like when she was completely painted blue. I think it was a cover of the Source where Wu-Tang Clan were all dressed in army gear when they recreated the image of the flag. The thought and the care and the concept behind all of those shoots are just something that rarely happens now. I think artists will do a press day and they'll sit in their hotel and eight magazines will come and photograph them and interview them and you get all these features that are vaguely similar popping up.
Whereas in the 90s and 2000s, there was that kind of magazine. It was very much tailored for that publication and they would go and do a shoot for that magazine. That level of imagery is something that I really wanted to bring back, and having a physical object that you want to own and hold is super important to me. It makes people look longer and care about it more because it's a real thing rather than being online.
How do you think hip-hop has changed in recent years?
Hayley Brown: In recent years, it's had a resurgence and a lot of the artists coming out have a lot more authenticity. In the early to mid-2000s, there was a lot of radio hip-hop. Where hip-hop artists were more like a feature on a pop song to give it a bit of edge, rather than hip-hop being a culture in its own right. With artists like Vince Staples – who is super smart and honest – a lot of artists now are really intelligent.
In the mid-2000s, there was a lot of stuff that was very much about money, hoes, and clothes, to quote Biggie. Now I feel like it’s so much more commonplace to hear artists being more interesting, intelligent, and discussing topics that they wouldn't have discussed before. Like Kendrick Lamar, who is just like a genre within himself. I think that there's so much more scope for the mainstream and the wider audience to see and accept that kind of thing, rather than dismissing it for being different. A lot of artists have the freedom to say and be who they are rather than to fit into a predetermined mould that fits within the genre.
What differences do you see between US and UK hip-hop? Do you gravitate to one over the other?
Hayley Brown: I think I've always grown up looking at America thinking they're super interesting, exciting. I guess because I didn't grow up there, I've always looked at it as being this far off realm that had loads of interesting stuff going on. British artists didn't necessarily interest me as much as American when I was younger but I think the whole resurgence of British hip-hop and the way that it's affecting the whole world is exciting. I think Skepta's a really strong example of this and is spearheading the British takeover. It's a really interesting and exciting time to be British; we've got so much talent in this country and going to a Skepta show or a gig that has British artists playing, there's such an amazing energy to it. Up until recently, that's not really been the case.
In the new issue, we've done a section purely dedicated to British artists just to push that side of things because the first issue was really American-heavy because of my personal taste in things. Weirdly, it was easier to get press time with American artists. We tried to get some British artists for the first one and it didn't work out for one reason or another. But for this issue, we've got AJ Tracey, RAY BLK, Neverland Clan, and we've done a photo feature with Vicky Grout on her grime portfolio of stuff, so there's a lot of stuff in there that's really nice.
Who would you love to work with on the magazine?
Hayley Brown: I'd like to do something with Young Thug because he's interesting; and Kendrick Lamar's my favourite artist. I just think he's phenomenal. He's on my hit list along with Frank Ocean's; there's a never ending list.
You landed Wiz Khalifa and ScHoolboyQ for your first issue – how did you get off to such a good start?
Hayley Brown: I had some contacts with record labels from Clash and I've always shot musicians, so a lot of the time I'd be shooting an artist and would then meet the people from the record label. When I came to people and said I was doing this magazine, people were really kind and receptive to it and helped on the first issue. Between Grant Brydon and I – who now works on RWD and Clash magazines, but worked with me on the first issue of BRICK with me – we managed to get a lot of good names, and after the first one came out, everybody was really nice about it.
So this time, it was much easier in some respects because people knew what the product was. I always try to include people who are amazing so I can be genuinely enthusiastic about featuring them in the magazine. I think if you're enthusiastic about what you're making and you're going to do your best to make the artist look great, the artist teams are helpful and lovely. I always let my enthusiasm shine through and I'm always in constant disbelief of things. Vince Staples is one my favourite artists that's out at the moment. I listen to Summertime ‘06 every week and every time I listen to it, I remember that he's on the cover; I get super excited and I'm like yeah!
“In the early to mid 2000s, there was a lot of radio hip-hop. Where hip-hop artists were more like a feature on a pop song to give it a bit of edge, rather than hip-hop being a culture in its own right. With artists like Vince Staples – who is super smart and honest – a lot of artists now are really intelligent” – Hayley Brown
What’s the process of creating the issue, and what can we expect from issue 2?
Hayley Brown: Generally, I work out a hit list of who I would like to be in the issue and then reach out to all of the people. I want to get an accurate cross section of the whole spectrum of hip-hop. This time we have Ho99o9, who are a punk hip-hop duo from LA on one end, and then we've got RAY BLK, who's RnB, and then we've got A$AP Ferg from New York who's doing his whole A$AP mob stuff. It's nice to have a geographical scope so there's different stuff going on in it. And I think it's important for me to have that narrative within the magazine so it flows nicely.
It's always long, something always goes wrong – you put aside 12 pages for a feature and the shoot falls through. The most important thing is not being too deterred when stuff goes wrong. I think i'm super sensitive and I always take things personally so when things don't work out, I'm like, ‘it must be because they hate the magazine!’ So much stuff happens in the US, trying to organise stuff in LA when you're in London, it's a nightmare because of the time difference... but it got there in the end.
Did you run into any memorable moments while creating this issue?
Hayley Brown: The courier lost the magazines this time. They were supposed to be delivered to me Monday and they didn't come and then I got a phone call from the printers, saying, 'so the courier has lost them'. They've been found now but that was super stressful. When we were in Texas shooting A$AP Ferg for the cover, we found out when we were there that the passes we thought had been sorted hadn't been sorted so we had to wing it the whole time. It's a miracle we got a cover story out of it, actually.
If you could have one song or album sum up this issue, what would it be?
Hayley Brown: “Tired Of Waiting For You” by The Kinks because it took me so long to get the thing made.
What's next for BRICK?
Hayley Brown: We're launching the online platform really soon. I wanted to do something separate from the magazine for online so we're looking more at original video content and doing projects that are film based online. That should be coming out over the summer and then we're working on issue three.
BRICK issue 2 is out now – available here or hit up Artwords, Wardour St News, Harrods, Goodhood, The Tate Modern and Selfridges in London (and more) or Barnes & Noble in the US (from next week) to pick up a copy. Follow Hayley Brown here