First issue date: August 1997
On the cover: Jay Z / Master P
Cover line: Jay Z "The Untouchable" / Master P "From the Rocks to the Riches"
Editor: Reginald Dennis
Art director: Don Morris
Photographer: Barron Claiborne / Michael Sexton
Many rap fans know how XXL was born out of frustration with The Source, where the editorial staff walked out over Dave Mays and his associate Benzino tampering with the publication's editorial integrity to promote Benzino's rap group The Almighty RSO. But XXL magazine was first conceived by Don Morris, who worked at Harris Publication's basketball magazine Slam.
"This is the god-awful truth," says Morris. "XXL was started in my apartment. I came up with the idea of a hip-hop magazine to go at The Source, because the space seemed open. They said they would do it if I came up with a name and it took me forever. The name is from a Bruce Mau architecture book. He's a famous thinker who works with a guy named Rem Koolhaas. Their book was called S,M,L,XL... As soon as I saw that I was like, 'The dot dot dot is the name of the magazine.' Also in the mid-'90s, XXL clothing was huge, and the brand XL existed through the Beastie Boys. I was like 'XXL is one size bigger.'
So the name came from an architecture book and my desire to be bigger than The Beastie Boys clothing brand. I also came up with the logo—that logo in the red square in the corner was a direct rip-off of Life magazine. I came up with the tagline 'hip-hop on a higher level.' There would be no XXL without those guys, Reginald Dennis and James Bernard. It was The Source editorial team, and they were pissed off because they had just left." Team XXL came out the gate with guns blazing, releasing their first issue as a double cover with Jay Z and Master P—both of whom were just beginning their rise to moguldom."
Former Editor Rob Marriott says: "The double cover came out of necessity because we were planning on putting Jay Z and Master P on one cover, but neither Jay Z or Master P really knew about each other, so they weren't really, fully comfortable being on the cover with each other. Both of them felt like they had more right to be on the cover than the other. This was still during the time that there was a gap between the East Coast and the West of the country. We picked them, because Master P was an incredible phenomenon at that time, and Jay, to us, was clearly the best MC at the time. The cover sold extremely well, and we got incredible responses from every part of the country."
Donald Morris says: "Barron Claiborne is the photographer who shot the famous Biggie with a crown shot. We did the Jay Z shoot at Barclay Rex, a cigar shop in Midtown across from the W hotel.
One of the key moments of that day for me was when Jay Z showed up for the shoot. I worked for a magazine called Art & Auction, so when I got into hip-hop, I started dealing with all the rappers being extremely late. Jay Z was at least 20 minutes early, so he immediately gained my respect. That's a very rare thing in hip-hop. That's always stuck out in my mind. After that Jay smoked his cigar, and Barron got the shot."