The June issue of Urb pulled me in with a banner across the top of its cornea-burning lime-green cover: "Gay and Gangsta in L.A." Outside of the obvious -- that some low-thinking producer has just found his next wacky sitcom premise -- the headline sizzles because it's punchy, provocative and just a little bit weird. Out of the 724 mags and 4,364 cover lines on display at the local Barnes & Noble, this headline alone made me think, "The next four minutes of my life will likely be enriched if I read this story."
Urb is worthy of perusal beyond that. The mag, which chronicles the underground L.A. music and style scenes, basks in such piquant come-ons. Attitudinally, with its embrace of both the grime and the glitter, it's the magazine that Giant wakes up every morning wishing it could be. It comes across as a slightly less arty left-coast equivalent of Mass Appeal. That's high praise.
The "global party ambassador" (their words) M.I.A. headlines the June "Party Issue," which also checks in with a host of L.A. scenesters/promoters and DJ/hip-hop sorts. These pieces work largely because Urb puts a premium on observation. The slice-of-life portrait of a seedy gay bar, for instance, traffics in telling details, like a homeless man pushing a shopping cart full of oranges past the bar at dawn.
The June issue also excites with its smaller flourishes. Its event listings extend a shout-out to the summer solstice ("where: our hemisphere"), while its visit with the so-smug head of a concierge company is illustrated with a close-up of a wristband-lined forearm. Meanwhile, I don't know much about Urb/NativeSon Media founder Raymond Roker, but I love the idea of a publishing magnate heading out into the Coachella crowds and snapping many of the mag's photos himself.
I wasn't wowed by the organic clothing spread, mainly because each of the models appears to be a fortnight removed from his or her last shower. I also found myself disappointed by the CD reviews. Though Urb covers a wide range of artists --Dinosaur Jr. shares a page with the inimitable DJ Jazzy Jeff -- the mag awards fewer than three stars (on the usual five-star scale) to exactly zero of the 49 CDs it reviews. The critical glad-handing smacks of cronyism.
Too, and this probably has something to do with my own pop-cultural fuddy-duddyness, Urb's extreme hipness irks at times. The mag plops a "Muchas Props" listing on its contents page, while a plug for its Web site begins, "Ain't no party like a binary party... because a binary party is a publicly accessible network of interconnected computer networks that transmit data by packet switching using the standard Internet protocol." Come to think of it, that may well be my biggest peeve with Urb: the way it insists on starting most of its stories with a thoroughly nonsensical salvo. Let's make a game of it -- see if you can spot the made-up Urb story lede from the four candidates below:
1. "'Walk the plank,' the pirates always say, their eye patches and peg legs redoubling the aura of menace."
2. "And there it was -- that dreaded keyword offering an unobstructed shortcut to judgment and many a patchouli joke."
3. "Reach one, teach one... right?"
4. "If you find a bag of weed on the floor, motherf*cker, what the f*ck you gonna do?"
It's one thing to be cutting-edge and deliberately non-linear. It's another to totally disorient your readers. That's gotta stop.
As for the aforementioned gangsta/gay/L.A. story, it reads much more thoughtfully than its cover tease would lead the reader to expect, surveying issues of safety and self-image. It's the kind of trend piece that Urb does exceedingly well, and the mag would be well served to drum up more of them. As it stands now, Urb has raised the bar for publications of its kind; a bit more thoughtfulness and a tad less hipsterism could hoist it even further.
(The made-up story lede is number 1.)