In the ‘90s and ‘00s, publications like XXL, VIBE, and The Source were the heartbeat of what would later become the most popular music genre in the United States by 2018. These journals of record captured the creative work of editors, writers, and thinkers that paved the way for hip-hop to finesse its way into the mainstream music market.
Over the years, many hip-hop publications have pivoted to digital instead of publishing print editions of their magazines. This has left an unprecedented gap open for lovers of rap to step in and showcase the rare archives and paraphernalia they’ve collected over the years on social media.
We spoke to three archivists who’ve created accounts on Instagram and Twitter dedicated to highlighting hip-hop’s rich history through their own personal collections.
Originally from Ellenville, New York, Evan Auerbach launched upnorthtrips, an Instagram hip-hop archive page in 2012. Auerbach, a dedicated rap fanatic (and self-proclaimed hip-hop archivist), has worked in public relations at Epic Records and, later in his career, was the Vice President of Marketing at Cinematic Music Group. His obsession with the genre began in the early ‘90s. During this time period, he recalled feeling ostracized for being attracted to the genre.
“I was far from New York City,” he said over a Zoom call. “Magazines, flyers, cassettes, liner notes — that was my education.”
Evan’s obsession led him to write letters to record labels when he was a teenager, finding addresses on the back of vinyl records and promo materials he collected. Eventually, he left home to study at the State University of New York Cobleskill, and later, the State University Oneonta where he studied music business. His professional music career began in 2003 when he was an assistant to a business manager at KS Management, where Janet Jackson, Tina Turner, Sting and others had been clients of its founder, Kathryn Schenker.
By 2007, he’d landed at Epic Records, where he stayed for two years as a marketing coordinator. Despite the challenges he faced — primarily the dismantling of record labels’ marketing and public relations departments as a result of the recession and the rise of the iPod — he ideated marketing campaigns and helped artists adapt to the times as best as he could, even launching MySpace pages for acts like Sean Kingston and the late Nipsey Hussle.
upnorthtrips was born out of a transitional stage for Auerbach after he returned to Ellenville from New York City at the end of 2009. That same year, he felt inspired to launch the Tumblr page that started upnorthtrips; in 2012, he moved the account over to Instagram. By then, he had acquired 100,000 followers on Tumblr from scanning and sharing images he loves. The posts he shared there are similar to what he posts on the upnorthtrips Instagram, which features lauded hip-hop moments ranging from Mobb Deep releasing G.O.D. PT III over 25 years ago to Tupac, Suge Knight, and Snoop Dogg’s historic New York Times cover from 1996. You’ll also spot posts dedicated to Outkast, JAY-Z, Nas, Erykah Badu, and Pharrell Williams on the page, which sits at over 44,000 followers.
“What started as rap birthdays and album release dates had to expand a little bit more to those tangential hip-hop moments,” he said, adding that the shift to Instagram felt like a better fit for curating his content. “[I began sharing] things that may have happened in movies, or things that may have happened in sports that also were related.”
When asked why he never shows his face, Auerbach said he wants “those moments to be on the pedestal rather than my opinion on the moments.” He’s also well aware that his whiteness could deter rap fans from feeling he’s equipped to share his knowledge on a genre that is often co-opted.
“I don’t want to use [hip-hop] culture,” he said. “[I’m] in it for the responsibility of sharing the information for preservation purposes.”
Recently, Auerbach has worked as an archivist on behalf of the forthcoming Universal Hip Hop Museum in the Bronx. He also has a book releasing next year under publisher Rizzoli documenting the history of New York City mixtapes he’s collected (which he’s also created an Instagram for).
Nakari Johnson, a teacher based in Atlanta, Georgia, moonlights as the curator/archivist behind Rap Style Archaeology. The Instagram page culminates his lifelong love for rap and his extensive magazine collection, with Johnson sharing over Zoom that he might have between 1,100 to 1,200 copies of The Source, XXL, VIBE, KING, and more.
“I’ve been collecting since I was a kid,” he said. “I’ve always been into [hip-hop] — it started with tapes, and then it transitioned to CDs as time grew.”
Born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, Johnson was constantly moving and attending new schools since both of his parents were in the military, living everywhere from Europe and Panama to numerous states throughout the U.S. This somewhat nomadic lifestyle allowed him the space to collect magazines and other goods with each relocation. Johnson candidly shared that no matter what store he and his mother would go in, he wouldn’t leave empty-handed.
He kept his love for collecting well into his formative years at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he studied public relations. After graduating he relocated to Atlanta, Georgia, where he began teaching. But by 2019, he felt an urge to start scanning and sharing his archives digitally rather than holding onto them. Admitting he was inspired by upnorthtrips and other profiles — he’s been following upnorthtrips since 2014 — Johnson’s Instagram page calls attention to the heyday of urban magazines.
Rap Style Archaeology follows the chronological order of what was being published in ‘90s and ‘00s magazines he’s been collecting for years (the account has over 7,000 followers). For example, this month he posted a fashion spread from a May 2004 issue of The Source featuring Trina styled by Misa Hylton, photographed by Ellen Stagg, and written by Tony Fredericks. Johnson tagged each of the creatives who worked on the shoot, something he regularly does with his posts. As a result, the people tagged will sometimes share on-set memories or thank him for highlighting their work. Such was the case with Stagg, who commented the following on Johnson’s Trina post: “I loved shooting @trinarockstarr and this was before a lot of retouching. She is really this perfect.”
As a self-professed rap archive specialist, Johnson feels strongly about the work he’s doing. He shared that the purpose of the page is to acknowledge the tireless work that was put in to get hip-hop to where it is now as a genre.
“It’s a teaching tool,” he said of the importance of archiving. “It’s so many things that are in those magazines that people [can] pull or reference.”
Rap Style Archaeology is more than a passion project for Johnson; he aspires to build the page into something more than a digital destination for discovery. A step in that direction happened last month when he co-curated a weekend pop-up with Sade Mims — founder of Brooklyn-based accessory line edas — titled Library. Hosted at Mims’ Brooklyn studio, the pop-up featured hundreds of magazines from Johnson’s collection, which were available for purchase. The exhibit was a tiny taste of what he hopes to continue doing: traveling and sharing his archive in person.
“[In New York] I felt closer to a lot more things that I want to be around; the kind of rooms I want to be in,” he said. “And I want that feeling to continue.”
New York native Nygel Simons has had a lifelong fascination with fashion for as long as he can remember. Growing up, he recalled watching videos that featured major fashion moments on BET’s “106 & Park” in his family’s Bushwick townhouse with his sister when he was four years old. This is the core of what led to the creation of his Instagram account, Nygel Sartorial, which highlights fashion through the lens of music.
An archivist and stylist, Simons was inspired to create Instagram and Twitter accounts (the latter of which gained momentum after being embraced by pop culture archivist Bri Malandro and writer Wanna Thompson) dedicated to his passions after his Polyvore account disappeared in 2018 (the company was purchased by SSENSE). What came first was his @nygelsartorial account on Twitter, which he said he created on a whim after Polyvore shuttered. An Instagram account followed shortly after.
“I had been hoarding all of these photos on my MacBook for years,” he said. “I had always wanted to make a platform or a page where I could see the content that I wanted to see.”
In the beginning, he shared fashion images he’d previously loved from Tumblr that he’d seen posted by Malandro, as well as fashion and image consultant Rashida Renée. Due to the bump in engagement, Simons began building his magazine archive and scanning images. He made this choice as a way of making his content rarer than other platforms.
The longstanding relationship between fashion and music is presented via Nygel Sartorial on Instagram. On the page, Simons highlights so much from his personal archive: brands like Balenciaga, Gucci by Tom Ford, and Courrèges; female rappers like Lil Kim’ and Foxy Brown in Jean Paul Gaultier and Prada, respectively; and stylish singers of the ‘90s and ‘00s like Kelis and Monica, who both had distinct fashion moments early in their careers.
When asked why he chose to focus on Black style from the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, Nygel said he relates most to this time period.
“[This] is the aesthetic I identify with,” he said. “That’s what I grew up witnessing and seeing: the era of the big-budget music videos and the true fashion moments.”
“I feel like I now somewhat have a duty to bring these things to the light or remind people, and to provide this information and content for the public,” he added.
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