In the late 1990s, Selwyn Seyfu Hinds edited hip-hop’s The Source magazine like an upscale Condé Nast publication with Ivy League-level journalistic ambition. Before the burst of the dot-com bubble, Hinds next carved out space for hip-hop on the Internet, running rap mogul Russell Simmons’s eventually defunct 360hiphop.com as executive vice president. In 2002 Simmons praised that the Guyanese-born, Brooklyn-bred writer’s essay collection, Gunshots in My Cook-up, did for hip-hop culture what poet Langston Hughes did for jazz—a neat segue into Hinds’s next book project: To a Young Jazz Musician, with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.
But the Princeton grad’s stellar résumé doesn’t end there. Boomerang director Reginald Hudlin took the reigns of BET in 2005, and installed Hinds as an executive producer for four years. Hudlin, also writer of Marvel Comics’ Black Panther series from 2005-’08, may have inspired Hinds’ current move into the world of adult-themed four-color comics. Beginning this week, Selwyn Seyfu Hinds launches a Vertigo Comics series of his own creation—the supernatural, New Orleans-based Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child—with legendary African-American comic-artist Denys Cowan.
EBONY: Tell us the premise of Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child.
Selwyn Seyfu Hinds: Dominique Laveau is a Tulane grad student busy with her life in post-[Hurricane] Katrina New Orleans when she’s ambushed by a bloody new reality: In less than 24 hours she goes from college student to fugitive; unimaginable things try to rip her apart; and the life she had stands revealed as a lie—because Dominique’s actually the heir to the Voodoo Queenship of New Orleans, a destiny that’s news to her.
This is a series about the tragedies and triumphs of a unique American city. It’s a series about a young woman’s hard journey from outcast to acceptance. It’s a series about what lies between real and ethereal. And, ultimately, it’s a series about choice and consequence, about the decisions made after that proverbial fork in the road.
EBONY: What attracted you to Vertigo?
SSH: Man, that sounds like I picked Vertigo out of a lineup of sexy suitors clamoring for my attention. Hardly! For the uninitiated, Vertigo—an imprint at giant comics publisher DC, home of Superman, Batman, etc.—is like the HBO of the comic book medium. It’s the place you dream about as a creator, the home of much of the smartest, most literary, most groundbreaking work in the space. Stuff like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (probably The Sopranos equivalent in our HBO analogy), Lucifer, Preacher, 100 Bullets, Hellblazer, Fables, and more series than I can name right now.
Technology created today’s individualized world of niche choice and music on demand. But it destroyed the communal listening experience that was once synonymous with hip-hop.
My own path to Vertigo happened because I was concepting a (insert top-secret and recently-greenlit project here) with my mentor and homie Reggie Hudlin and Denys Cowan. Karen Berger, executive editor at Vertigo and a real legend in the game, happened to see that project, wanted to meet the writer, and the rest is history. I still pinch myself every now and again.
EBONY: As editor of The Source, did you expect to be a diehard hip-hop fan your entire life? When did you stop paying as rabid attention as you used to?
SSH: I did, but I was twentysomething years old! In fact, we should all be washed clean of the youthful sin of exuberant pronouncements when we turn 30. To be fair, I’m still a fan. But I’m a 40-year-old fan. I’m not the 23-year-old kid who got a cassette of The Roots’ Do You Want More?!!!??!! and spent the entire summer of ’94 listening to it every day before writing a review essay in The Village Voice. I’m not the 25-year-old music editor who frantically stalked Lauryn Hill for a week just so I could get her to fact-check her verse for The Source’s “Hip-Hop Quotable.” I still bang the latest Pharoahe Monch, I’ll go far and wide for anything blessed by J. Dilla, and I’ve been checking out these L.A. cats—Kendrick Lamar, Odd Future—who seem like the Good Life crew come again. And I’ve always loved dope beats, so I’ll bop along to the latest Kanye or Rick Ross, or whatever’s bumpin’ when I’m out. But I lost my rabid hip-hop fervor a long time ago.
Part of it is simply growing up. Good art has to provoke a response in you, initiate an inner conversation, make you give a damn. And there’s not necessarily much that an 18-, 19-, or 20-year-old can say to move me. Which is as it should be. They shouldn’t be making music for someone my age. But the other part of it, to my mind, is the death, at least on a mass-market level, of hip-hop’s lyrical ambition. For me, that’s at least a decade-old phenomenon, somewhere after [Jay-Z’s] The Blueprint. Without getting all rosy with nostalgia, I think it’s fair to say that there was a time when being the dopest, being nicer than the next cat on the mic, meant something. I’m not