First issue date: May 2002
On the cover: Nas and Dominic Chianese / Rosario Dawson
Cover line: Nas and Junior Talk Respect
Editor: Ben White
Art director: Todd Wender
Photographer: Jonathan Mannion / Dah Len

Complex was the brainchild of graf writer, hip-hop head, clothing designer, and entrepreneur Marc Ecko. "What we saw was a new cultural landscape in which the biggest rapper was white, the best golfer was black, and skaters of every ethnic background listened to rap," he explains. "We wanted to give a voice to those not-so-easily classified people in music, visual arts, fashion, technology, sports, video games, movies, and television who were taking part in this revolution. We decided to put the cool up front, because there’s no color on cool. At the time, many people weren’t ready to think outside of the box, to embrace the complexity of culture. But hip-hop and street style have always been more multidimensional than the gatekeepers would allow. They couldn’t fathom that a man would want both hip-hop and Hollywood fashion—but our readers got it right away. That’s why we’re still here, and still having fun. The best part is that we’re not just a business, we’re also a vehicle to validate other creative businesses and thought leaders inspired by the entrepreneurial virus that makes hip-hop so much more than music. We understand that 24/7, dollar and a dream, hustle hard mind-set, because it’s our mind-set, too. Today Complex is recognized as the curatorial platform for real American culture."

Former Photo Editor Matt Doyle says: "The first cover shoot was Nas and Uncle Junior from The Sopranos. It was our idea to match up different people. We had a bunch of match-ups that we came up with, and a lot of our match-ups were dream couples that we weren't gonna get on our first issue. Coltrane Curtis was working with Ecko at the time, and we were using a lot of Coltrane's connections with the magazine. He knew the people for Nas, and he knew the people for Uncle Junior.

It's funny, because I believe Nas knew what was up—he was sharing the cover. But Uncle Junior had no idea Nas was gonna be on the cover with him. The publicists knew, but nobody had told him. Uncle Junior was a little bit thrown off, but then he was cool. He was like, 'Nas? No problem.' But we were having a problem, because he didn't want to be portrayed as Uncle Junior. We had the Uncle Junior glasses, and then he said 'I'm not gonna wear the glasses.' So we had him put on a different pair of glasses, which made him still look like the part.

He and Nas had a great rapport. Nas had a lot of respect for the work that he's done on The Sopranos. And Dominick had a lot of respect for music and for hip-hop. He's a musician himself, so he had a love of music himself and a love of hip-hop. So him and Nas clicked.

We wound up with Rosario because she was a friend of [former editor] Alan Ket's. Ket knew Rosario and worked with her in the past and somehow he had a mutual friend with her, as well. So that's how we locked in Rosario. I got Dah Len to shoot the cover. We wanted to do a whole bunch of different aspects of her. Dah Len presented the different ideas. He came up with the naughty schoolgirl look and the styling and everything else on that.

Our concept was to do five different faces of Rosario. So he had the dominatrix, the schoolgirl, the gypsy, and the masseuse/murderer (we had to remove the ice-pick from her hand). She was massaging the back of some guy, and you can see she had her fist up. Advertising was concerned with the weapon, and they made us remove it. There were a lot of images that worked very well for the cover, but we liked this one, because not many covers were showing that much at the time. We didn't want to do the standard GQ three-quarter shot, so we added more dimension to it."