So the thing is, KING magazine was always more than just a place where I wrote stuff.
Ten years ago, I had lunch with Datwon Thomas, a fellow editor. We had a friendly rivalry since I was at The Source and he’d recently left XXL to work for hookt.com. And every once in a while, we’d break bread to catch up and talk shop. Datwon told me about his plans to start a magazine, from scratch. A magazine for Black men. Something that would be irreverent, smart and witty.
He showed me the mock-ups.
“Oh,” I said, “and lots of tits and ass, too.”
Datwon laughed out loud.
“Well, yeah. That too.”
Datwon told me he was pitching the concept to Harris Publications, which published XXL.
I wished him well. But honestly, I didn’t think he had a chance.
Why on earth would Harris launch a magazine pitched by a fellow twenty-something writer with just a few more years of experience than I had?
It felt like the equivalent of me pitching a black women’s magazine directly to Clarence Smith and Susan Taylor.
I remember walking back to The Source after lunch and thinking to myself, that boy’s got some big dreams. But it ain’t gonna happen.
Shows how much I know.
The next time I spoke to Datwon, the preview issue of KING was making the rounds.
Dude was twenty-something years old. Came up with an idea for a magazine at a time when everyone was running away from print and flying to the Internets. He pitched it. They funded it. And KING was born.
I don’t care what your feelings are about the magazine. I don’t care about your they-objectify-women opinions. I really don’t.
Made my peace with KING a long time ago. Hell, I made my peace with men a long time ago.
In brief: they are visual creatures. We women are touchy-feely and emotional, (cue Wendy Williams’ soft and pink music). Men are different. On the planet of Mars, where they live, we are often reduced to boobs and butts. They will still love us when we’re old and gray and fat. (I think). But they’ll be thinking about her:
Anyway, KING magazine took off. I watched from the sidelines and copped every last issue. (Currently housed on my front porch, waiting for a permanent home somewhere).
I didn’t always like every issue. Sometimes I thought the covers were too risque:
Or not risque enough:
No matter, I always checked for the magazine. The editor-in-chief was someone I knew when I didn’t know anyone. And he was doing the damn thing.
Through Datwon, I met Jermaine Hall. They were working together at Hookt.com And Jermaine became my go-to writer when I needed to assign a story quickly.
When I left The Source, Jermaine took my spot, (and took care of The Biggie Belt). And when Jermaine left The Source, he went to KING, eventually becoming editor-in-chief of the magazine when Datwon was named editorial director. Datwon is now editor-in-chief of XXL.
(Whew. Got all that?)
So my connection to KING has remained strong since its inception. And even though I’ve often wished I had a brown paper bag to slip it in when I bought it, I was usually proud of what they were putting out over there.
I did some good work under Jermaine’s direction and made some great memories. Five years ago, I hung out on the steps of a Harlem brownstone with Mekhi Phifer and talked fashion for a story in their Tag section. (I had just quit smoking. Mekhi rolled his eyes and passed me one of his Newports. I smoked it. Haven’t smoked one since. Told you that would be my last one Mekhi!) I wrote a crazy story about a certain celeb that shall remain nameless that was so scorching and scandalous, we ended up not being able to run it. (Sigh.) My favorite story was The Baby Daddy Handbook, a collection of celebrity interviews, random factoids and trivia surrounding the life of the modern-day baby daddy. There were horror stories, (two words: Kirk Kerkorian), tips on taxes and navigating the family court system.
Proud of that story. (Though I’m still pissed at the typo in the title. Grrrr!)
The email I got last week that KING magazine was folding knocked me on my ass. I didn’t believe it. I went to Twitter, of all places. My boy Anslem had written something like: so I guess the sky really is falling. And I knew the rumors had to be true. I couldn’t bring myself to call Jermaine. If it was true, the last thing he needed was me blowing up his cell phone like the rest of the world.
The news threw me off in a way that made it impossible for me to address it here. Or anywhere. And not because I wrote for the magazine. But because I saw its birth. And even when I didn’t always agree with their mission statement, I always cheered on the staff, a collection of bright and intelligent men and women.
I went to Paris on a press trip years ago and one of my travel-mates was Sean Malcolm, a true sweetheart who worked as an editorial assistant at KING at the time. Bonsu Thompson, whom I’d known since he was a smart-aleck intern at XXL, had matured into an accomplished writer who wrote often for both XXL and KING.
A few years back, I spoke at Howard University and met a kid named John Kennedy. I met a hundred kids that day. But of course you don’t forget a kid named John Kennedy. Good kid. Bright eyed and smart. No surprise when he popped up as the editorial assistant at KING. Yet another reason to want to see them all do well.
Let’s keep it real.
You’re not going to find many magazines with more than a sprinkling of Black men on the masthead.
And you damn sure won’t find one in which the editor-in-chief’s picture each month showcases the best-dressed magazine editor in the country. (I’ll put Jermaine up against Jim Nelson any day of the week.).
And now. It’s a wrap.
I don’t know details. I haven’t spoken to anyone over there. And honestly, I don’t want to know. Don’t we know already? It’s a recession. Ads are coming in slow. Rate bases are being slashed. We’ve talked about this already. We all know what’s going down.
I just finished a story for KING that will be published in the last issue.
It’s a guide to coping with the recession.
RIP to KING. And much love and respect to Datwon Thomas, Jermaine Hall, Bonsu Thompson, Seannitta Parmer, Siobahn O’Connor, Matt Barone, Jozen Cummings, Adell Henderson, Thomas Golianopolous, Paul Scire, Laura Hatmaker and everyone else who put that magazine to bed, past and present.
Some people are cheering the end of KING.
I support their right to do so.
But I’m saddened to see the end of this magazine. It wasn’t always for me. It wasn’t supposed to be. And yes, I was conflicted by it.
But ultimately, it’s the end of (another) print magazine. It’s the end of a job for a lot of people I care for. I won’t weep for a lack of booty on the newsstands. But I will fiercely mourn the loss of another outlet for my work—and yours.
I interviewed Jermaine Hall several weeks ago. It’s still one of my top-rated stories. And one of my personal favorites. If you haven’t already, check it out.