Last Spring I got decked out in my finest business-casual attire and headed downtown for an internship interview. I was trying to break in with an urban lifestyle magazine called Urbanology, but I arrived at the King and Dufferin office not sure what to expect. As the interview began in the corner of a cozy space, I realized something; they were just like me – young, urban, ambitious and down-to-earth professionals from Scarborough. I ended up landing a summer internship position with one of the few hip-hop culture publications north of the boarder.
Two Malvern natives, Priya Ramanujam and Adrian McKenzie started the magazine. Typical of the laid back atmosphere of the office, Priya later said “I’m probably the only editor in chief that comes into work in jogging pants and a t-shirt like every single day.”
While the dress code is casual, the tale behind story book.
While Ramanujam attended Humber College for journalism and McKenzie went to Seneca College for digital media arts, they identified a need for a new type of publication. Adrian recalls going to news stands and seeing nothing but American magazines. There was nothing to help people identify with and connect to the youth from a Canadian’s point of view.
“We wanted there to be a magazine out there that represented urban culture in a positive way from a Canadian perspective and did it right,” says Ramanujam.
So they started brainstorming. Pages and pages of scribbled notes, hours of ideas and dozens of sample covers later, some progress was made inside McKenzie’s basement in Malvern.
“We actually sat inside a room in the basement with 10, 15 of us just spitting out names and then when we said Urbanology almost everyone was like ’yeah yeah,’” said McKenzie.
There was a long process between looking for a magazine to satisfy their desires and actually realizing the dream. Surprisingly no grants or loans were used to jumpstart the magazine. The young entrepreneurs were determined to make their idea a reality solely off their own sweat, sense and cents. This meant personal sacrifice was essential to the financial stability of their endeavor. The luxuries, accessories and activities typical of people in their early 20s were not options for Ramanujam and McKenzie.
“It was like signing eight, nine year contracts with your shoes,” remembers Mackenzie with a smile. “No new shoes, same shirts – had socks since high school.”
The first issue featured New York rap duo Mobb Deep and was released in January 2005. Three years later subscribers top 3,500 and circulation is 25,000. Readership is over 200,000 and now even corporate sponsors such as Telus are signing on for ad space. And although hip-hop stars including Young Jeezy, Ghostface Killah and Chingy have graced the cover, it is the depth and quality of the magazine’s content that widens their audience according to Ramanujam
“Okay, you see Belly on the cover, ‘oh it’s a hip hop magazine,’” Ramanujam says. “And then they start to flip through it and we’ve had like 60 year old men who have no idea about hip-hop culture read the magazine and be like ‘wow I can relate to this magazine.’”
The staff pride themselves on not falling into the predictable habit of writing only about the rapper with the next big album on the way. Instead, they’d rather seek out those figures who have good stories to tell. The depth and lifestyle focus of each article is what is growing its fan base and distinguishing the magazine from competition such as Pound, The Source and XXL.
Another groundbreaking initiative Urbanology employs is including Canadians in their coverage. No longer is American urban culture the only thing that matters. With a growing competitiveness in the Canadian hip hop scene, Urbanology leads the way in providing a platform for fans to get familiar with acts from B.C. to Halifax. The offices receive material on a daily basis from rappers, singers, models all realizing the magazine is an ideal way to get some publicity in a market starving for some media attention.
With three years and 11 issues under their belt, having spread Urbanology from a Malvern basement to newsstands across North America, Priya Ramanujam and Adrian McKenzie are homegrown testaments to the power of a dream.