How three street-smart guys with no publishing experience, no money and no distribution launched a high-gloss magazine that's actually making it.
The story of the mixtape magazine begins with a bag of pork rinds--cheese-flavored pork rinds.
On a hot July afternoon the three founders of the magazine sit around their publishing headquarters, a first-floor apartment that looks out onto the corner of Broad and Dickinson.
The seventh issue of Foundation, their quarterly magazine, just came back from the printer and today they'll be preparing for the next issue.
Chris Malo and Brian "B. Mack" Mack--32 and 31, respectively--occupy the room's two desks. The third partner, Rob Haney, 26, sporting black-framed glasses, a fitted T-shirt and jeans, is perched on the windowsill. An orange-and-white cat tiptoes across the vinyl-tiled floor.
"Brian has a lot of crazy ideas all the time," says Haney, ticking off a shortlist of his friend's past get-rich-quick schemes, which includes prepaid insurance for taxi drivers and the infamous cheese-flavored pork rinds.
Four years ago, laid off from his computer job and with his unemployment about to run out, Mack registered for school to extend his unemployment benefits and buy himself time while he scrambled for a new plan.
|Car talk: Rob Haney(from left), Brian Mack and Chris Malo are grateful to Lil Wayne for losing his temper. Now people know how hard they work.|
He considered selling mixtapes, a world he'd been familiar with since his teenage years in Willow Grove collecting compilations by DJs like Tony Touch, DJ Clue and Kid Capri. But he was living with a girlfriend who had a child, and because of potential legal issues over rights to the music on the tapes, he didn't want the house to get raided.
So he dreamt up a new idea--a magazine devoted exclusively to the artists, DJs and culture surrounding the underground world of hip-hop mixtapes.
For unsigned artists, mixtapes are an affordable way of releasing music independently and building the buzz needed to catch the attention of an A&R rep. 50 Cent was an underground mixtape legend for years before he got signed by Eminem's Interscope Records and released Get Rich or Die Tryin' in 2003--becoming a national celebrity overnight with his hit single "In da Club."
For artists already signed to major labels, mixtapes are a way of "feeding the streets"--keeping their buzz going during the long breaks between official album releases. On mixtapes artists can record rawer material that a major label may not feel comfortable cosigning, or test certain tracks to see if they're hits.
But the relationship between artists, mixtape DJs and record labels can be tricky. Labels need mixtape DJs to build their artists' street buzz, so they often arrange the recording sessions or leak prerecorded tracks. Yet mixtapes breach copyright laws, and are technically illegal. Last year DJ Drama--official DJ for Atlanta rapper T.I., and creator of the renowned Gangsta Grillz mixtape series that helped launch the careers of Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne--was arrested on federal racketeering charges after law enforcement officials raided his studio and confiscated more than 80,000 mixtape CDs.
Given the importance of the mixtape market, Mack assumed a mixtape magazine already existed.
He stayed up all night surfing the Internet. There was a page or two in the back of The Source or XXL devoted to mixtapes, but nothing that truly represented the role mixtapes play in marketing and promoting hip-hop on the street.
By morning Mack was ready to enlist his friends.
"I approached Chris specifically because of his passion for rap music," he says. "And I asked Rob specifically because--literally--he's a genius."
The 2014 Philadelphia Spring Guide
PW's Winter Coffee Tour