Newsstands nationwide got a little less cool on Monday when news emerged that magazine XXL will be no more. The New York Post broke the story that Harris Publications, which has carried the hip-hop magazine for the entirety of its 17-year existence, sold all of XXL to Townsquare Media, the Greenwich, Connecticut-based media company that also acquired XXL spinoff King and Antenna in the purchase. As a result, XXL‘s print run has come to an immediate, abrupt end, with the current issues on newsstands being the final release.
It’s a sad day for hip-hop fans, as XXL played an important part in documenting the past two decades of hip-hop culture. While competitor The Source has always been the most visible purely hip-hop publication in the genre’s history, namely because its longevity has become the template for every hip-hop magazine in its wake, XXL emerged in 1997 as a very visible alternative whose presentation felt like a refreshing new perspective on what was going on in hip-hop. While every hip-hop magazine at this time, including Stress, Blaze, and Murder Dog, was able to find its own flavor, XXL’s presence seemed to grow the fastest. This growth didn’t see them pulling punches, either; their third year gave us a memorable utter decimation of frequent adspace-buyer White Dawg’s album Thug Ride that was highlighted by the words “disturbingly wack,” and later gave out year-end honors and dishonors such as The Worst Skit of the Year Award going to “The Birth of Foxy Brown.”
XXL also devoted some of its resources to documenting hip-hop’s past. Along with columns like Brian Coleman’s “Classic Material,” where notable artists provided track-by-track breakdowns of their most important works (which later spawned three books), there were also the issues that were full-fledged hip-hop events. “The Greatest Day in Hip-Hop History,” the 1998 cover shot by Gordon Park, re-created the famous “A Great Day in Harlem” group portrait of jazz musicians for Esquire magazine, now featuring rappers ranging from Rakim and Scarface to Kool Moe Dee and E-40.
As the years went by, XXL found itself becoming intertwined within rap music itself. The early-2000s feud between Benzino and Eminem frequently alluded to Benzino’s influence at The Source, which he co-founded, and soon escalated to fans who sided with Shady’s camp receiving the Aftermath/Interscope side of things exclusively from XXL. Around this time, under then-editor in chief Elliott Wilson, sales of XXL overtook The Source. The magazine also briefly took the reins of producer/DJ magazine Scratch for a year, before the publication ultimately folded.
More recently, XXL‘s biggest presence within the hip-hop world has been its annual “Freshmen List,” where the publication picks which talents in hip-hop are most likely to be tomorrow’s stars. A tradition since 2008, XXL Freshmen alumni who’ve gone on top the charts include Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore, Iggy Azalea, Future and Meek Mill. We spoke to editor in chief Vanessa Satten about the Freshmen selection process when the last issue hit newsstands, who described it as an issue in which “we look for who we believe in.”
As of now, it seems XXL will remain an online presence. While fans were surprised and saddened by news of the end of the physical issue, some have taken solace in that Townsquare Media has a great track record in maintaining the quality of online properties it acquires, including ComicsAlliance, which it purchased from AOL in the summer of 2013. Even though, sadly, we will no longer be able to find “Hip-Hop on a Higher Level” at the newsstand, the magazine’s thorough documentation of the genre and culture at such a pivotal time in its existence will continue to be an invaluable resource.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 24, 2014