There’s no question that BRICK has been the attraction of choice in the It’s Nice That studio this week. Its fluorescent green logotype and Wiz Khalifa’s fixing gaze on the cover combine to act like metal to magpies, and within seconds of picking it up you’ve been drawn in. It might be to a feature in which ex Death Row Records employee Nina Bhadreshwar reflects on her friendship with Tupac, or one where Cam’ron and T.I. discuss staying relevant after 15 years in the game, or editor-in-chief Grant Brydon gets inside the brain of Joey Bada$$. Either way, there’s no putting it down.
Which is right at the core of everything the new title is about; there’s not a page in the magazine which isn’t intensely readable. The design is pared back and feels oddly honest, the writing is accessible regardless of whether or not you recognise the names in the headlines and the photography is so engaging you can’t not refer to the articles it corresponds to. It feels utterly fresh, and there are a full 246 pages of it to get through.
This is exactly the idea, founder and creative director Hayley Louisa Brown explains to us. BRICK was conceived of as “an intelligent union between fashion and music,” and one which “rejects traditional hip-hop motifs in favour of clean, contemporary graphic design.” We couldn’t not speak to Hayley and art director Ric Bell about the idea behind the magazine, the trajectory from its first iteration to now and the love, sweat and tears which have gone into making it what it is. So look closely and let your eyes adjust to the fluorescent green lettering, because I have a feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot more of it.
In your editor’s letter, you explain that BRICK started with punk. Can you explain a bit more about the link between punk and hip-hop, and how that kicked it off for you?
HLB: I’ve always loved subcultures, it’s something I’ve grown up being continuously fascinated with and something that’s influenced my work since I started taking photographs. Punk was the first youth movement that I fell in love with, I’ve been studying it for years and interviewed people like Poly Styrene as part of my own research just because I find it so fascinating.
For me the idea of punk and hip-hop being linked came with my move to London and the shift I encountered. I started going to hip-hop shows that weren’t in the “real" venues I’d visited as a teenager; they were clubs, shops and back-rooms in pubs up tiny staircases. I grew up in the suburbs hoping the artists I loved would come and perform in a town close enough for my parents to drive me to, queueing up outside holes in the wall to see secret shows by artists on their first visits to the UK. Seeing A$AP Rocky at Cargo is an example that comes to mind. The venue was packed full of kids moshing to this Southern-influenced New York hip-hop like it was rock music, the energy was crazy.
In the beginning I wanted to make a hip-hop publication that physically embodied a punk zine. It just made perfect sense to me because I see so many parallels between the two. I mean, I could talk all day about it, but the political nature of the lyrics in both genres for starters; what’s the difference between the countless Kennedy-isms within the American hardcore scene of the early 80s and Kendrick Lamar’s repetitive distaste for Ronald Reagan? To try and sum it all up, Ja Rule is David Essex in 1976 and Tyler, the Creator is Johnny Rotten in 1977.
What triggered you to start it in the first place, and how has it evolved since then?
HLB: It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for so long now it’s kind of crazy that it’s finally here! There wasn’t anything speaking to me directly in terms of music publications and I figured that was reason enough to make one myself. I originally spoke to Ric about it maybe three years ago, and then my friend Grant (who is editor-in-chief of BRICK) wanted to get on board when I talked to him about what I wanted to do, and I think having that little core team of people who wanted to be involved made my pipe dream seem more achievable – so the idea got bigger, as they tend to do, and the project has grown into this!
RB: Yeah our original conversation about this was so long ago! But I think that because the project has been in the pipeline for a while it has grown quite organically. There wasn’t a major rush or impending deadline to produce the first edition so our thoughts on the visual style and the way in which we presented the content were allowed to percolate. The finished item is something that has been through a couple of re-thinks and re-designs.
"I wanted to make a hip-hop publication that physically embodied a punk zine... To try and sum it all up, Ja Rule is David Essex in 1976 and Tyler, the Creator is Johnny Rotten in 1977."Hayley Louisa Brown
Why do you think hip-hop has been such a difficult genre for a magazine to broach?
HLB: I think it’s such an easy genre to stereotype. The visual style associated with hip-hop has been so parodied and recycled and removed from any remaining semiotic values it once held that it makes it difficult to work with. It’s the reason that XXL had to stop printing and the reason music publications that cover multiple genres tend to leave it to one side, nobody’s sure what to do with it any more. It’s become this free-form genre where anything goes. Everyone’s so different, it’s incredible and I think that’s what’s so wonderful about it right now.
BRICK is accessible where very few music magazines are. Is this something you were aware of the whole way along? What were the key values you wanted to bear in mind when you were putting the magazine together?
HLB: I love pictures. I compulsively tore pictures out of my magazines and stuck them on my walls growing up and honestly, I still do it now. I wanted to create something that could be appreciated on that visceral level regardless of the content. Maybe you’re flicking through BRICK and don’t know who the artist is in this picture but you know the image is great and you want to buy the magazine so you can keep the picture. That was the goal. And Grant is exactly the same but with words. I think that’s why we worked so well together throughout the process; our areas of focus were very much yin and yang in terms of words and pictures and that came together to mean the features were as good as they could be on both sides. I also think the idea of it being readable is very much centred around the design, nobody wants to read something that’s hard to look at.
RB: Something we always tried to bear in mind was that it should appeal to people who knew everything there is to know about hip-hop and also to those who knew next to nothing. There isn’t much point in creating elitist-style content that only certain people will understand. You should be all things to all people as much as possible.
"There isn’t much point in creating elitist-style content that only certain people will understand. You should be all things to all people as much as possible."Ric Bell
How do you think the role of hip-hop has changed in mainstream culture in recent years?
RB: For me, it’s gone the same way as skateboarding. What was once a niche market has mass appeal now penetrated and influenced what happens in popular culture on nearly every level.
HLB: Exactly. I think a lot of it has to do with things like Tumblr, hip-hop is the one genre that seems to get the most love on Tumblr. But actually, maybe that’s because I follow a bunch of hip-hop blogs? I don’t know, it seems to be everywhere! I think youth culture on a visual level is a lot more accessible to people now, it’s made knowing about a genre so much easier to fake. You don’t need to go any further than Tumblr to “reference” an entire culture, and only a couple of clicks beyond that to buy whatever you need to make that reference a reality.
Walking down the British high-street is almost like watching those badly dubbed kung-fu movies, you know? Like I’m seeing all of these things with visual signifiers that should be saying hip-hop, but they’re so diluted that they just don’t communicate it anymore. This is a whole different discussion to start, but the whole thing blows my mind and I think is one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to start BRICK – I just wanted something to be available that represents the culture as it actually is.
As far as the design of the magazine is concerned, what were your key references?
HLB: I’m such a hoarder of imagery! My references for this were such a mix of things that I’ve collected over the years in one form or another. It was all about collaborating with the guys at POST— I brought a lot of imagery from various zines, favourite layouts from Bruce Weber books and Elvis Presley annuals from the 60s, Issey Miyake adverts from the 90s, the crazy duo-toned covers of OZ magazine, the classic block sans-serif typefaces from Big L’s Lifestylez Ov Da Poor + Dangerous and Wu Tang’s 36 Chambers album promo posters, old Sciences et Voyages magazine covers, spreads from Arena Homme + with incredible typography… so much! I think one of my favourite things that POST– did with my punk reference was the custom BRICK typeface which has been christened “BRICKSTICK,” but I’ll let Ric go into detail…
RB: Yeah in the early stages we looked absolutely everywhere. Vintage Indian posters mixed with traditional German typography and old exhibition catalogues and art show flyers. The amount of obscure zine reference Hayley brought to the table was massively impressive.
As far as contemporary influences go I’m a big fan of the recent Elephant redesign by Astrid Stavro and Pablo Martin, I think we pored over Issue 20 for a while when that came out. I love everything David Lane has achieved with The Gourmand and how Shaz Madani has nailed a unique look and feel for Riposte at three issues in. I remember having loads of pictures from Zeit Magazin on the wall, and remember there was an image of BRUTUS magazine that has Bruce Weber holding a puppy on the front with an electric blue masthead which was amazing too.
Our goal was that BRICK would feel at home one the shelves with all of these while having its own identity and I think one way in which we managed that was creating the custom masthead typeface. Taking the early punk and DIY references, it was loosely based on the shapes created when sticking down bits of tape to form characters. We vectorised this and turned it into a usable font, however soon decided that using it too much throughout the mag would be a bit overkill, opting to use it subtly for the page numbers instead.
We mixed this with Bau for bold statements, Neuzeit S for editorial content and Big Caslon for the traditional title styles and essay sections. The essay section was something that took a lot of crafting and something we’re particularly proud of, taking cues from things like the FT and The New Yorker, mixing traditional editorial layouts with our fluorescent green special ink.
Overall I hope the design of the magazine enables a new audience of people to read and learn about the culture of hip-hop where previously they might have been put off by the brazen design and photography style of the more recognised hip-hop mags.
Is there anything in there that you almost didn’t manage to pull off?
HLB: The feature with Ty Dolla $ign! It’s a pretty long story but I had an incredible photographer, Olivia Rose, who I desperately wanted to shoot for BRICK on board and had promised her the feature with Ty. We all turned up to Atlantic Records to shoot him at our allotted time – Olivia with her kit and assistants, a stylist, groomer – the works; to be told repeatedly that he was running late, until finally “late” became “not coming.” After letting the disappointment rub off, Olivia decided she didn’t want to take no for an answer and her tenacity rubbed off on me until between the two of us, we managed to coerce his PR into allowing us five minutes with Ty the morning he was leaving London. This story is told in full in BRICK but it ends with Olivia in Ty’s hotel room, with Ty in bed cuddling a teddy bear. Proper happy ending.
Who was the most surprising person you spoke to in the making of BRICK?
HLB: Nina Bhadrashwar, without a doubt. Back in 2012 I was the hip-hop editor at Clash magazine and when I mentioned wanting to start a hip-hop zine of my own to the editors there, Simon Harper and Matt Bennett, Matt told me I should chat to his friend Nina and kindly hooked us up on email. Nina, as it turns out, has had the most incredible life. I don’t want to give too much away and spoil the interview but in a nutshell: she self-published a hugely successful graffiti and poetry zine from her home in Sheffield in the 90s which, by a string of curious events, led to her moving to LA, working closely with Suge Knight at Death Row Records and becoming pen pals with Tupac. I feel so honoured to have spoken to her, she is the most interesting, wonderful and kind lady. She lives in LA, I’m going next month and I’m so excited to meet her properly!
What was the best experience you had while working on the issue?
HLB: All of the “firsts” – the first time an act said yes to a feature, the first set of images I received back from a photographer, the first ever layouts I saw from POST—… right up until last week with the first time I tore open a box of magazines and saw BRICK as a physical object. I’m so excited to share it with everyone, it’s been so long in the making.
RB: The first few weeks and the last few weeks. And now I’m really looking forward to the launch party at Protein!