Brick is a bi-annual magazine that documents the current landscape of hip-hop and its ever-expanding cultural reach. Its editorial director Sam Butler tells us its story.
How has 2020 been for Brick so far?
In a word, tumultuous! As is the case for a lot of independent publishers, we’ve had to be as resourceful and responsive as we can as the world has changed. Thankfully we had shot a lot of Edition 09 in January and February, so the lockdown didn’t have too adverse of an effect on creating the latest issue, and we’re really proud of it – our most accomplished one yet. And now we’re right in the middle of making our tenth issue even better than the one before.
At what point did you connect with founder and creative director Hayley Louisa Brown?
I bought Edition 01 of Brick in 2015, and was blown away – particularly by how quickly it had already established such a strong editorial identity. I sent an email on the off chance I might be able to write something for the second issue, and over the course of the next few months started to get more involved with the everyday logistics of the mag: commissioning writers, proofing copy, fielding pitches from record labels. By the time Edition 02 came around, I had joined the masthead as Managing Editor.
Nine issues in; what has changed, what’s got easier, what remains a challenge?
We’ve been lucky enough to have reached the stage where we always have an inbox full of incredible artists being pitched to us – that certainly seems a big change from having to persuade record labels and PRs that we were a legitimate operation in the early days!
Aa far as challenges, we have remained resolutely print-focused since the beginning – existing as an independent print magazine isn’t easy, especially when brands and advertisers are increasingly attracted to the scale that online can offer. Instead, we’re committed to making each issue as beautiful as possible. So much effort goes into the photography on show in each edition, and the best place to showcase that work is in print.
What is the balance you try to strike between print and online?
Brick is a print-only title. During lockdown, we experimented with publishing some of the most popular interviews from our back issues online, such as Kali Uchis, Jorja Smith, and Jeezy. The response to that was great, and it was nice to make the mag a little more accessible to new readers, but our plan for the future remains committed to print.
How has the curveball that this pandemic has thrown at the world of fashion and the live hip-hop scene impacted Brick?
The aspect that has had the most impact is the restriction on travel. A lot of our shoots happen while artists are in London on tour, so, with the entire live music industry still shut down, we’ve had to be a little more creative. That has provided a nice change in pace for the next issue though – we’ve been able to spend time with artists in their hometowns, employing local photographers and writers.
I think for a lot of artists, being out of their usual cycle of writing, recording, album release, tour, has been liberating for themselves, too. We’re always looking for our features to capture the essence of that person, so it’s been a lot easier for our interviews to extend beyond discussions about their latest body of work.
Do you think the likes of Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement will lead hip-hop towards a more reflective and less materialist take on the world?
I don’t see those characteristics as being reflective of hip-hop, or any of the music we cover in Brick. The celebration of financial success will always have its place in the genre, but if you look at the rappers currently considered the best in the world, they are all talking about the need for change, and shining a light on the repeated cycle of trauma within their communities, on both a personal and societal level.
To give an example, our current cover star Dave East can write a song like Don’t Shoot about his family’s experiences of police violence, as well as a song like Nobu, which celebrates the trappings of his lifestyle, and the truth of either is not diminished by the other.
Since Brick cites punk as an influence on its origins, do you feel there is dearth of sub-cultures fuelling creativity at the moment? How is this related to the sense of ‘connectivity’ created by powerful social media players?
In my opinion, sub-cultures are now forming, evolving, and morphing into something else so much more quickly than ever before. They don’t stand still, so it’s difficult to pin a label on them. But you can definitely find that same level of devotion, and the ease of discovering new music has made it much more likely for people to find what appeals to them, however niche it may be. The experience of discovering a band, listening obsessively, more than likely on your own, and then going to a gig and finding hundreds of other people singing along with you still exists. At least, I hope it will still exist once this global pandemic blows over.
What blew your mind in the current issue?
An interview with Andrea Dennis and Erik Nielson, in our regular “Essays” section. They are the authors of a book entitled Rap on Trial, which charts the history of rap lyrics being used as evidence in the criminal convictions of young black men in America. They identify around five hundred cases where this has happened, and 30 in which the use of lyrics penned by the accused has helped to secure a death penalty.
The lyrics written by these men is viewed as a confession of crimes committed, in a way that is never applied to other art forms: film, novels, the lyrics of artists in traditionally white genres. “In short,” say Nielson and Dennis, “this practice happens because it works, few are aware it’s happening, and even fewer are critically challenging it.” I’m glad that we could do our bit to raise that awareness, which will hopefully lead to a closer examination of the process.
What design considerations go into Brick? You have always gone with a selection of covers featuring interviewees. How impactful has the idea of offering a choice been?
We work with the incredibly talented Oliver Shaw of Catalogue on the design of the mag. We try to approach each edition of the magazine with a blank slate – the type treatments we use, and the general design language of layouts change from issue to issue, reflecting the content featured, and the personalities of the artists on the cover.
We’ve been putting four artists on the cover(s) of each issue since Edition 04. As we cover such a broad range of music, it helps to communicate that by featuring such diverse artists on the cover.
Have you come across any hip-hop from Ireland of late?
All the time, really. It’s such a strong and underrated scene. We’ve been honoured to feature Cosha and Maverick Sabre in recent issues – he was photographed for us by Cian Oba-Smith in Ballymun last year. Rejjie Snow has been a long-time friend of the mag, but we’ve weirdly never gotten around to doing an interview! In terms of newer stuff, I’ve really been enjoying JyellowL, Kojaque and Denise Chaila.
Who is currently inspiring you? (music, fashion, books, life)
I’m currently reading Sticky Fingers, a biography of Jann Wenner, the founder of Rolling Stone. I’m not sure I’d say it’s inspiring though, more of a cautionary tale! I’m most often inspired by the work of other great independent magazines such as Victory Journal out of New York, or Courier from London.
Issue No. 9 is out now, £12