A conversation with…Jermaine Hall

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In 2000, I was ready to leave The Source. I had brief, informational interviews with people who were applying for my job.

I thought Jermaine Hall would be perfect. Jermaine was working at a hip-hop website at the time but he freelanced for The Source often. I was always under the gun and behind schedule when it came to assigning stories. So calling Jermaine to give him a story usually went something like this:

Me: J, You busy?
Jermaine: I’m eating lunch. What’s up?
Me: Your flight’s leaving at 4. Write this story on Xzibit. Make it good. I’m emailing instructions and flight info. Gotta go. Bye!
Jermaine: Wait. Today?! But I-
Me: There’s a car waiting outside your office to take you to the airport. Call me with any problems. Love ya!

And Jermaine always got the job done. Even if I gave him thirty minutes to prepare.

He came in to talk to me about the gig. And after he left, I was convinced he was the man for the job. (My main concern? I thought he might be too fabulous for The Source, a place where Timberlands and Air Force Ones were the only acceptable footwear. Jermaine has always had an impeccable, classic style. Look at him up there! He puts 50 to shame!)

Today, Jermaine is the editor-in-chief of KING magazine. (And he’s still the best dressed man I know…) Launched by founding editor-in-chief Datwon Thomas, (now e-i-c at XXL), the magazine has always been known for scantily clad women with voluptuous bodies. There’s no Playboy-style full-on nudity here. But KING regularly receives more online searches than Newsweek or Reader’s Digest. Whoa.

But the magazine, which launched in 2002, isn’t all T&A. Every time I crack the magazine open, I remember all over again that they actually assign real stories that are thoroughly researched and well-written.

But yeah. It’s got a hell of a lot of T&A too.

In honor of the magazine’s 50th anniversary issue, I spoke with Jermaine Hall this morning to get the scoop behind his favorite cover subjects, his surprising celebrity crush, the actress he turned down for the cover (!!!!) and how he defends KING and their mission to please…

ASK: Did you know that I was concerned about you when you came for the interview at The Source?

JH: No. Why?

ASK: You were wearing Prada walking shoes. No one wore Prada at The Source!

JH: [Laughs] No, I didn’t know that…

ASK: Everything else was on point. But you almost didn’t get the job because you were too fly.

JH: [Laughs] Damn! That’s crazy!

ASK: Okay. What is your favorite KING cover?

JH: My favorite King cover didn’t actually sell through the roof. Just average sales. But the pictures were beautiful. It was Tyra Banks.

tyracover

ASK: It is beautiful. What did you love about this?
JH: Everyone said she’d never pose for us. But we started talking with her and she was more than willing to do it.

ASK: Really?
JH: Yeah. She said something that stayed with me. She said, “If I pose for all these mainstream publications, why can’t I do it for the brothers?”

ASK: That’s dope. I can appreciate that.
JH: She didn’t owe us anything. So I appreciated that too.

ASK: Were you able to get other women to think about posing for KING after she broke down that barrier?
JH: Absolutely. For a while, that was a part of our pitch. Tyra did it! So can you! [laughs]

ASK: Was she a diva? Ask for anything crazy?
JH: She wanted a first class ticket and the right to choose the photographer. That’s it. She was very open and cool.

ASK: Name another favorite…
JH: Megan Good.

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JH: There are some girls we at KING consider family. Megan’s one of them. She understands what KING is. Some women come in and want to do a high-end fashion shoot instead of a shoot for a men’s magazine. Megan gets it. She understands what we do and still keeps it classy.

ASK: Do you ever feel a way about KING’s portrayal of women? You know there’s an argument that what you do is exploitive….
JH: No. I don’t feel a way. We don’t put guns to women’s heads and make them pose sexy. People put King, Smooth and Black Men in this one category. You put a KING cover up and it’s different.

ASK: In what way?
JH: At KING, There’s a lot more class. But people just bypass that.

ASK: Well, I’m biased because I write for KING. But I will say that the content is different in KING.  I’ve seen investigative pieces and hard-hitting features. I don’t see that in the other men’s magazines.

JH: Clearly. Prime example: we did a story on a guy named Lloyd Avery.  A young actor. John Singleton’s muse. This kid was very Tupac in nature. Good actor. He had a small part in Boyz n the Hood.

ASK: What part?

JH: He played one of the Crips that killed Ricky. I heard this crazy story that he went to a screening of Poetic Justice and he’s sitting next to Singleton and at the end of the movie he gets up and says, That shit was wack.

ASK: Whoa!
JH: Yeah. So he got mixed up in the wrong crowd, joined a gang. Ended up committing a  double homicide. Went to jail. And then he turned his life around and became a born again Christian. Then, he got a new cell mate: a white supremacist.

ASK: Oh no…
JH: Yeah. The white dude killed him. They didn’t find his body for three days…

ASK: What?! I didn’t read this story!
JH: It’s crazy. Good story. So we submitted that story to ASME and we got an invitation. That’s not something Black Men and Smooth would do. No disrespect to either magazine. But we hold ourselves to a higher journalistic standard.

ASK: I can respect that.
JH: Now, you’re gonna post this on your blog. And I know people are going to say, whatever. All I know about KING is that they have hot women on the cover. It’s hard to get past that. And it’s a battle I fight every day.

ASK: Do you remember when we talked about Ciara? You were mad because she turned down the cover. I told you it was smart for her to turn it down. She needed to grow into doing a KING cover. I didn’t think she was ready for that…
JH: I remember… I wish I had listened to you.

ASK: Really? Why?
JH: Because you were right. She wasn’t ready. We reached out anyway. And she agreed. But then she wore overalls on the cover looking like an advertisement for Osh Kosh B Gosh…

ciara-in-king-magazine

ASK: Oh. Yeah. That’s not sexy.
JH: Ciara wasn’t ready to do a men’s magazine. She should have just said no. I respect a no from an artist. Rather than not doing it right. There are other people who have done this….

ASK: Like who?
JH: No comment.

ASK: Two years after Ciara did the cover of King in denim, she did the cover of Vibe in nothing…

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ASK: Were you surprised?
JH: No. Not at all. She was ready. She wasn’t ready before. If we shot her now, we’d get something different than denim… We’d get a sexy shoot. Not fully naked. But sexy…

ASK: Has anyone ever been fully naked on the cover of KING?
JH: Closest was Angel Lola Luv. She just wore a sheet.

1

ASK: Jermaine, I know you know the truth. Is that girl’s butt real?
JH: No comment.

ASK: A no comment is the biggest comment of all!
JH: I’m going to stay with no comment.

ASK: Alrighty then! Speaking of alterations, where does your staff stand on Photoshopping? Are you liberal with it?
JH: We use it as much as we need to. At the end of the day, we’re selling a fantasy and  providing entertainment. We provide a service to the reader. And you want the most beautiful images possible…

ASK: Ugh. Jermaine, I don’t like the way that sounds. It makes me feel like you are exploiting women when you talk about using them as fantasy and entertainment.

JH: But who is using who? These girls are trying to get their cred up. Very few video models have been able to transition into other things.

ASK: And you honestly think a KING cover can make a difference in furthering a career?

JH: It certainly did for Gabrielle Union. She was on the second cover of KING years ago.

gabrielleunion-kingmagazinecover1

JH: In the story, she talked about wanting to work with DMX on a movie. After that, she got a call for one of X’s movies. I think it was Cradle 2 the Grave. So the cover definitely helped her.

ASK: I can see it helping Gabby. But she’s different. She was already acting. She’s just in a different lane. Clear-eyed and focused…

JH: But don’t you think Angel is the same?

ASK: No. I don’t. I feel a certain way when I look at video girls on the cover of KING. When I see Kimora or Tyra or Gabrielle Union, it’s different than a video girl. It seems like they are on the cover solely because of their bodies…It’s up to debate if a King cover can really transition a girl like Angel.

JH: Is it because of her body type that you feel this way? Because she’s very voluptuous?

ASK: No, I think it’s because the video girls get closer to raunchy. I feel like they go farther than the actresses and singers who protect their images more…

JH: I don’t agree. Trina went hard on her cover. And she’s not a video girl.

king31

ASK: In my opinion, Trina IS a video girl.

JH: You’re so foul. What about Stacey Dash? She went hard on her cover. Tocarra went extra hard on her cover.

ASK: Okay. You’re right about that. They were not playing. And they’re not video girls…

stacey-dash1toccara02311

JH: It’s about what you’re comfortable with.

ASK: What has been King’s highest-selling cover ever…

JH: That would be Free….

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ASK: What made this issue a big seller? Besides the obvious.

JH: The stars were just all aligned. We had been getting requests for a year and a half. She was very resistant. On 106 and Park she would never even turn all the way around to give up a look at her butt.

ASK: But you could see her butt from the front! Just like Mos Def said in that song…

JH: [Laughs] Yeah. I have to give her that… She finally agreed. But she was getting ready to leave BET. So when our issue hit stands, the reader was finally getting to see Free and there was a news angle because she was leaving BET.

ASK: Do you ever turn people down who want to be on the cover?

JH: Of course. All the time.

ASK: I mean, famous people. Not just random people that don’t belong on the cover.

JH: Yes. We do.

ASK: Like who?

JH: Are you seriously asking me this? And you want me to tell you?

ASK: Yes, please.

JH: Here’s one I can give you…Contrary to popular belief, we actually do have lots of women who work here. And the women would come in and talk about that show The Game all the time. Kept telling me Tia Mowry should be on the cover. I watched an episode. And I thought it would make sense.  We pursued her heavily. She agreed. And  then she backed out at the last minute. Left us in a real bind. Not cool. So I get a call from her management team two weeks ago. We’re calling about Tia. Let’s revisit the cover.

ASK: Ah. Yeah…

JH: You come now? When the show is iffy? No thanks.

ASK: But she’s still cute. Might make a good cover.

JH: No thanks.

ASK: How come you never have women interview your cover girls?

JH: I should! I totally agree with you!

ASK: I see you have Christina Milian on the cover.

christina-milian-king-magazine-cover-march-april-2009

ASK: You know I love her. We have the same birthday. I could get her to talk about a lot of stuff that the King reader would appreciate.

JH: I know, if I’d remembered, I would have sent you.

[note to self. Pitch cover story on Amber Rose to Jermaine Hall.]

ASK: Okay, I know how you feel about Brandy, your celebrity crush…

JH: I’m a Brandy-Stan.

ASK: You got her on the cover. Tell me about that.

JH: She’d never really been sexy before. So I knew we were going to win…and then Vibe came out with their cover.

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ASK: Yeah. That was crazy.

JH: I have to admit. Very sexy cover. But we still went ahead and shot her for our cover. It was very rushed. She did what she could…

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ASK: And what was the response to this cover?
JH: Hate mail. Dudes were writing in saying never again. No skinny women on the cover.

ASK: The King reader likes women with meat on their bones.

JH: Gotta have the killer curves…

AK: Last question. You’re in court. On trial for exploiting women in your magazine. The jury box is packed with Essence readers. The judge is Oprah Winfrey. You’ve been raked over the coals for a week of cross-examination. Now it’s your turn to defend yourself. Speak.

JH: [Laughs] Oh man. Okay. We don’t force women to do anything they don’t want to do. I want them to portray themselves in a sexy, classy way. Some want to go further and that’s fine too. Do it to your level. I would say to the Essence-reading jury pool: please open the magazine and see what else we have to offer. We will go to Denver and report on what really happened with Kobe’s rape case.  We will do a story on someone like Lloyd Avery. We have meat and potatoes. No dis to other magazines. But we are not Black Men and Smooth. They serve a different audience. And I ask that we be looked at differently… That’s all I can say.

ASK: And the verdict is….GUILTY!

JH: [laughs] come on!

ASK: Well, you’re guilty until you give me some work!

JH: Aliya, you have a story due to me on Monday.

ASK: Oh yeah. That’s right. Gotta go! Thanks Jermaine!

dear readers…what do you think? Can a KING cover be classy and tasteful? Does it ever cross the line? Is KING exploiting women? Is Ciara posing nude for VIBE any different than a model posing for KING in a sheet? And um, ladies? Do you realize that Stacy Dash was 42 when she took that picture up there? Forty-fricking-two. Hot damn.

I’d love to hear from you…

Who me? Pose half nude for a magazine? HAHAHA. Never! HAHAHAHA.

Who me? Pose half nude for a magazine? HAHAHA. Never! HAHAHAHA.

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29 Responses to A conversation with…Jermaine Hall

  1. Tremaya says:

    Oooh wee, this is going to be a hot topic right here! I’ll have to admit that this was an interesting post because I have never read a men’s magazine. I just figured that if you put T&A on the cover, that’s all that’s on the inside as well. I don’t think that’s an unfair assumption, but now that I know better will I pick up one? Hmmm…I dunno.

    Can the cover be classy? Yes. Have I seen one that is? Not that I can recall, although some of the photos are well done, like the one with Tyra. I actually kinda considered the one with Brandy to be artistic in some way, until I read the title on the cover. LOL! Hey, I tried.

    Do they exploit women? I think it’s a mutual thing. The women are willing to be “exploited” in the name of self-promotion and the magazine is willing to “exploit” them in the name of “fantasy and entertainment”, and don’t forget the money aspect, so again I say it’s a mutual thing.

    I can’t wait to hear what the male readers have to say, I’m sure their opinions will be much more insightful than mine.

  2. Joel Randell says:

    as a contributing writer to KING, i’ve loved it ever since it first dropped. “finally! our own FHM/Maxim!!” i thought. i think it’s a dope book, and there’s incredibly talented people behind it.

    i’d like to see KING turn the corner though, and advance. to the level where the likes of Kerri Washington, Sanaa Lathan, Rosario Dawson, Nia Long, and Dania Ramirez would have their agents breaking down their doors to shoot in their pages.

    they could so take it there, in no time.

  3. Michael says:

    I love King and I’m not even with that funny shit (i.e. dating a woman). Enough said.

  4. Boss Lady says:

    Aliya!

    I am SO happy John Kennedy @ KING put me on to this blog via Twitter. First of all, I’ve been a big fan of your work for a number of years. Secondly, this interview with Jermaine Hall is truly a great read.

    I’ve always been a fan of KING’s editorial style. Their writers are well-informed, witty and entertaining. I’m always hesitant to pick up the magazine because as a straight female I don’t want to look like…um…I’m looking at other women I guess (ha), but every time I do get a chance to flick through it I’m happy I did.

    In terms of exploiting women, it’s a tough call. especially when a number of the women featured in the magazine (possibly a majority) would most likely feel it’s exposure rather than exploitation. That said, my heart does hurt when I think of how many young, impressionable girls walk past newsstands daily and see KING, Smooth, etc posted up front and center. The images of these women, with their breasts and butts hanging out, isn’t empowering in the slightest. Not saying all of KING’s covers are like that, but a majority certainly are.

    ~Boss Lady

  5. aqua says:

    Great, insightful interview. I wouldn’t say King is exploiting these women. When you say exploit I’m thinking of a sheisty dude telling young women to come take some pictures and unbeknownst to them they wind up on a King cover, which is obviously not the case (full disclosure: I’ve contributed to King in the past).

    Now I won’t go as far as saying these images are empowering (as Boss Lady noted) but that’s not King’s lane, nor should it be. Can’t fault King for standing out in the crowded T&A pack when mags covering and portraying more apropos images of women (think Essence or Upscale) are relatively rare.

  6. clove says:

    ahhh awesome interview. I heart King and yes I write for them but I would love it even if I didn’t. I understand why people initially consider it a straight booty mag but I also think people need to open their minds and recognize the great non-booty stories therein. ALSO if it’s okay for mags like GQ and Esquire to have Angelina Jolie and Lindsay Lohan half naked on theirs covers and still be considered high art, King shouldn’t be an exception just cause it’s black women with more curves

  7. TLAWrites says:

    I have been a King subscriber for years. People would always ask me why I enjoyed reading it and I would say, “They have good articles!” but you know I would get the side eye anyway. Bring back Beetlejuice! But seriously, as a writer King gave me lots of info for a male perspective that helps when I want to know what men think about fashion, realtionships, and of course the opposite sex.

    King doesn’t do anything that other mens magazine don’t already do. Do people ask Jennifer Aniston if she felt exploited posing with a necktie on the cover of GQ? Yeah, Angel Lola Love isn’t on par Jennifer Aniston career-wiese, but sistahs can’t help if that we have curves for days!

    There is a fine line between trashy and classy, and while King may not always hit the nail on the head, I feel like they always try to keep a balance. A King cover can be a major career move (or not). It all depends on the lady and how readers respond. King Mag gets traded like money in jails, prisons, and school cafeterias on the daily.

  8. Katura says:

    I do tend to think of all the “booty” magazines as the same. I never get past the skin covers to look inside and see how/if the writing distinguishes one from another. And it has nothing to do with the fact that the women on the cover are curvier and of color. GQ may have Jennifer Aniston near naked one month, but don’t they also have covers that don’t feature scantily clad women?

  9. dolly says:

    Great article. That Jermaine Hall is a smart guy. And I’m not even a contributer. Can’t wait for the next 50 issues. Congrats!

  10. Retha says:

    Hmmmm…not sure how I feel about this one. I can tell you I have purchased a King magazine…once….as part of a Valentine’s Day gift basket for the hubby. And I can tell you the main reason why was because of the T&A I saw on the cover…mostly the A because I knew he would “appreciate” it. So the cover was what motivated my purchase, as with most magazines. I didn’t even flip through it to check out the articles, I wrote it off as not having anything I would be interested in reading. I do remember that Stacey Dash cover, that was all over the internet and I remember thinking like you Aliya…42???? wow! I don’t necessarily think they’re exploiting the women, but I am concerned about the images that young girls see as Boss Lady mentioned, and their inability to filter art from reality. Some will say its not King’s responsibility to set an example, but if it is a magazine for “us”, I think we all have a responsibility to think about what messages we are sending to the young black girls that are a part of the “us”. I just think we have to be responsible for what happens to “us”.

  11. Hanif says:

    King’s appeal to me is the ability to get women with Star Power to pose the way they do. I don’t really care about the covers with the video vixens cause I could see them doing that all day. I think the diffence between the mainstream actress and the video girl is that the latter is over saturated. And 9 times out of ten, on their King shoot they’re actually OVER dressed. But the exclusives I’d kill for. Raegan Gomez was on of my personal favs. I knew that free Cover was a killer, I saw it online, and went right out to cop that. Exploitive, I think not, we could have a debate for days, but at the end of the day, everyone can say No.

    If were doing request for covers…Tia would be a good look for those of us who grew up watching sister sister. J let by gones be by gones my brother.

  12. nycole says:

    It’s great Jermaine breaks out of the boring prude mold we live in. More power to him! CONGRATS

  13. Jermaine Hall says:

    @ ALIYA: Selwyn was also extra fly in the office. Never had the opportunity to work under him, but I do remember the stories of him staying fresh. And yes, perhaps the Pradas were not a good choice. HA!

    @ JOEL: Agree with you 100% homie! We’ve done the song and dance for all those beautiful women you just mentioned. I flew to LA to meet with Dania’s manager Jeff Maroney. We had a lovely lunch at Chows (think this was right after she got the X-Men 2 gig). He talked a good game. I thought we had it in the bag, but it was all Hollywood smoke and mirrors. As far as Nia, next time you run into Datwon ask him about that story. Major entertainment. And utterly disappointing at the same time.

    @ KATURA:GQ EIC Jim Nelson lives a charmed life. It’s great to be able to go back and fourth between men and women on the cover. But at one point I believe that Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Biel posed provocatively on back to back covers. I’m gonna guess that out of the 12 issues they put out that year those two were top five.

    @ RETHA: I could say don’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s preposterous. Why wouldn’t you? It’s the natural thing to do. But if that issue you bought your boo is still around and you’re bored one day, crack it open. If you don’t enjoy it, I’ll refund you the $4.95. In a recession. Call me on that. Please.

    @ HANIF: It’s never personal. Just don’t think Tia would sell issues at this time. And she might show up in a dress. Just keeping it super real.

  14. Timothy says:

    Amazing. I started off thinking this was not going to be a good read, and once again…i fooled myself. When will I get learn! Thanks Aliya and thanks EIC.

    As far as KING goes. Yes, it is obviously exploitive. Yes the “we didn’t force the women to pose” argument is highly persuasive here. As well as the “if we don’t do it, someone else will” argument. Can’t deny that. Yes, I do like the magazine (pictures), but at the same time it is sad.

    I wish there were a comparable high content magazine to what women have in ESSENCE, for Black men, but there isn’t and probably never will be. Sex sells and cash is the bottomline.

  15. yes says:

    I actually pick up King from time to time and I’m female. I just like the essence of it and the quality of the photos and the articles. And if the women don’t mind showing their asses off then more power to them! I would love to have an old magazine featuring me and my sexy body when I retire. lol Do it while you can!

  16. When The Source’s money got funny, I started contributing to King around the first couple of issues. I have always been a connoisseur of feminine beauty and its obvious synonym. Unlike the self destructive gestapo environment that was The Source during the anti-Eminem days, Datwon and company didn’t care if wrote for other magazines at the time. He even supported me in launching my own. I only worked with Jermaine for a few issues before jumping ship, but he showed me a lot as far as the norms of the editorial for which I am still grateful.

    I have to admit when I first seen him in the suit, I was like this l black republican looking guy going to edit a rap mag. lololol. However, he helped me expand my horizon. I learned not to be just talented hip hop journalist. I became a professional.

  17. MML says:

    jermaine is nice with his. when i got old enough in the tooth to start looking at hiphop writers in waves, i knew ‘maine was definitely on the come-up. and i (we) was right…

  18. Whitney says:

    I agree with lots of the previous comments. KING is a great mag. I don’t read it on a daily basis, but I have read a few of features and was always impressed. It’s crazy that we’re so prudish that it’s even a question of whether a mag can be both booty + deep. That’s like saying a pretty girl can’t be smart!

    Great interview Aliya!

  19. jay1 says:

    king is dope, i actually own every issue that’s pictured in this post.

  20. serenakim says:

    this was a great interview! and i see how you slyly worked in the full disclosure on your relationship with jermaine so we have a deeper sense of the inner workings. many thanks for a great read!

  21. "amelda" says:

    “I would say to the Essence-reading jury pool: please open the magazine and see what else we have to offer.”

    Actually I do. Granted I edit the sex/relationships section so I may be more liberal than the average reader. Eons ago, there was a little Kim cover with her wearing a black Borat-esque swimsuit (pre-Borat and you know, the green string one?) She was revamping her Hardcore cover. It’s raw, raunchy and absolutely beautiful and powerful too. I have a collage of images on a wall in my home. It’s prominently placed.

    All Essence folks aren’t prudes. Give us a chance. We’ll give you one too ;-)

  22. Jovi says:

    Great article. Always thought King was geared to horny men, one step below Playboy. I was actually scared to open it. Mr. Hall says the magazine is more then just T&A so I will have to pick it up and judge for myself.

  23. Pingback: KING MAGAZINE FOLDS, FALLING AD MARKET TO BLAME « STREET KNOWLEDGE MEDIA

  24. wayne says:

    Hi Sis
    I saw this site on a link from Richard Prince’s Journal-isms on mije.org.
    Great interview. Just want to flag your use of the word “anniversary”
    My copy editing days suggest an anniversary comes once a year.

    Best to you and yr fam

    w

  25. Well Noted says:

    Jermaine Hall is a bootlicking Uncle Tom married to the most busted white woman Leslie Hall of Iced Media. I can’t take this Uncle Tom Sellout seriously. I wonder if he’s one of those colorstruck Caribbean folks who think white is right. His woman has fangs and is completely hideous. Jermaine you don’t know jack about hip hop running around with IT.

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