On the flight to Toronto last week I took the new issue of Complex and pumped my fist in the air a little when I discovered why I like it so much: editor Noah Callahan-Bever wrote in his intro letter that he used to intern at Ego Trip. (I’m not writing ego trip. This is not the 1990s. You want a thoroughgoing abolition of capital letters, go to Catherine’s place.) Ego Trip — as I quickly bored Attackerlady by explaining — was the greatest music magazine of all time.
Long before the team behind Ego Trip started making shows like The White Rapper on VH1 or entire books of listicles it published maybe 15 infrequently-released issues marrying hip hop, indie rock, New York City and a relentlessly complex and honest and hilarious discussion of race. You could write a doctoral thesis on what’s contained in their final issue’s assessment of whether the superior member of various rap duos is the lightskinned one or the darkskinned one. No one ever created a more innovative or ill front-of-the-book. Send, for instance, Count Chocula to interview and out-freestyle Fat Joe and then transcribe the phone call. Find the Ignorant Lyric Of The Month and publish it. An oral history of the Carvel "Cookie Puss" cake, courtesy of Puss’s college roommate, Buttah Milk? Ads for the magazine would come from 90s NYHC labels like Striving for Togetherness. A magazine with Rakim on the cover would profile John Joseph from the Cro-Mags. Why should you have to choose between hardcore and hip hop? How I wish they had explored whether Mobb Deep actually stole their dragon logo from Sick Of It All. (Seriously, it’s the same fucking image.)
They had great taste in hip-hop and, most often, appalling taste in rock music. Do I really have to make an argument against the 1990s-version of Motley Crue? Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments? The important thing was that no other magazine — and particularly no other primarily-hip-hop-focused magazine — during that era embraced the simple truth that people do not generally listen to just one style of music. It’s easy to forget these days how segregated music used to be, and how the presentation of music by TV and publications reinforced that phenomenon. How many magazines can you think of that were equally willing — and, crucially, proficient — to review records on No Limit and Thrill Jockey in the same section?
Anyway, these issues have been out of print since forever, particularly the early issues that were printed on newsprint like high-end fanzines. When a fire fucked up my mother’s house I thought I’d lost them forever. But Attackerlady found them for me on the internet and made this the best Hannukah ever. I cannot urge you more strongly to seek these gems out. Leave behind whatever you think about the TV shows. This was the greatest music magazine of all time. The arrogant voice of musical truth. I would not be who I am if it never existed.