I’ve always wanted to talk with Priya Ramanujam – Editor-in-Chief of hip hop mag Urbanology. I’m a magazine junkie, so I felt compelled to thank her for publishing a legit mag that caters to the local and international hip hop scene. Growing up on magazines from back in the day (remember Word magazine? Peace Magazine? Even Mic Check?), I felt a slight void after they ceased production, so I was happy that Urbanology made its presence known. But who would’ve thought that interviewing this tiny, soft-spoken entrepreneur would have had such an impact on me?
It’s not because she’s a magazine boss and actually complimented my writing (she did and you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face!) – I was affected by her down-to-earth spirit. We spent an hour conducting the “official” interview, and another half an hour just talking about our fave rappers, her love for Scarborough (seriously, Priya is the unofficial face of Scarborough), and her non-existent vices. I felt very comfortable talking with her. I felt like I was grabbing coffee with one of my besties.
In addition to being completely won over by her warm nature, I learned that Priya’s love of writing started from an early age and she was determined to pursue it. Believe it or not, her career in journalism almost didn’t happen due to an insensitive remark made by her high school Writer’s Craft teacher. When Priya told her teacher that she wanted to follow her passion and take journalism in college, her teacher’s response was, “No that wouldn’t be a good idea. You’re not a good writer.”
Understandably Priya was disappointed by the comment, but she still decided to apply to the journalism program at Humber College. She was accepted, and the experience inevitably encouraged her to publish her own magazine. And guess what else? She now teaches journalism at Humber College! #dropsmic
All right, I’ll stop gushing over my new BFF (okay, she’s my BFF in my head!). Keep reading to learn more about her love of writing and magazines, hip hop, and her work with youth.
Hometown: Scarborough, ON
Astrological Sign: Virgo
Years Urbanology has been published: 10 years strong in Dec 2014
Fave hip hop album: Illmatic
Fun Fact: The first hip hop single she bought…..EPMD’s Headbanger
PRIYA: THE EARLY YEARS
When did you know that you enjoyed writing?
I knew probably around 6 or 7 years old. I just liked doing it. Not sure if it was the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun or the Scarborough Mirror, but one of those papers had a section for young kids to write. I would read it and I wrote a few stories and sent them in.
How old were you when you started to listen to hip hop?
I got into it at the same time my brother got into it (he’s 6 years older than her). He got into it at around 10-11 years old and I kinda adopted what he and his friends were listening to. He liked EPMD, Eric B & Rakim, Run DMC. He then got into Nas, Biggie and Wu-Tang.
When did you know that you wanted to make writing a career?
My brother’s really into hip hop, sports and magazines, so he would bring home magazines – like Rap Pages and The Source and I would look at them – not really 6 year old reading material! I really liked the idea of magazines, so I thought to myself I want to be a writer.
I applied to Humber’s Journalism program and applied to a bunch of Business schools. Aside from writing, I wanted to study business. I ended up getting into the Business schools and not into schools for journalism.
I was just about to accept Business at Guelph-Humber but I got a letter from Humber saying that they would take me after all. So I thought it was a sign. Maybe this is what is meant to be……so I accepted it.
What made you want to start your own publication?
When I was in second year at Humber, part of the journalism program is that you take a magazine writing and research class first semester and you do a magazine editing and production class in second semester. In that class you put together a magazine as a class. Everybody applies for a different position within the magazine and the instructor selects who gets what role based on how they’ve applied. So I applied to be the editor-in-chief and I got the position.
The whole experience was very stressful but made me want to start my own magazine. I talked to a friend (co-founder – Adrian McKenzie) and he said, “Yeah, I would start a magazine with you.” We basically formulated how the magazine would look after many sit-down sessions.
STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM NOW WE HERE
What is the mission behind Urbanology?
We wanted it to speak to hip hop culture, youth culture. Stories that we weren’t seeing covered anywhere else in Canadian media.
How did you come up with the name?
Urbanology was something we came up with in my mom’s basement – a bunch of us just throwing out names. We liked the “ology” part because we wanted the science element – we wanted people to know this was going to be a deeper magazine covering urban culture and lifestyle – not just surface content. Over the years we developed a brand of delivering content that matters in the four pillars of Music, Technology, Culture and Fashion.
How did it feel to see the first issue printed?
It was equal parts chaos and a lot of excitement. We were learning so much…we definitely didn’t know what we were doing.
When doing research on Priya, I noticed a lengthy list of the youth initiatives that she is involved in. Throughout the interview, she spoke about how much she enjoys helping and providing opportunities for youth. One of the programs she is a part of is called Say Word.
What is Say Word?
It is a youth led journalism program started in 2008. It was funded to be a project that would engage young people from the 7 priority neighbourhoods of Scarborough. The main goals of the program are to encourage young people of diverse backgrounds to consider media as an option and try to shift the voice of media. Basically allowing them to tell their own stories.
What’s new for Urbanology going into its 10th year?
The publishing world has gone through a lot of changes since we’ve come into existence. Now, there aren’t many magazines on newsstands anymore. It’s really important to us that our voice remains. There aren’t many voices like ours in Canadian media. Our goal is to survive these times no matter what, and keep our voice alive.
Isn’t she amazing? I could have easily written 2 more pages on Priya.
I completely respect her as a journalist, but her thoughtful nature is what struck me the most. Love that she devotes her days to overseeing a magazine, teaching at Humber, and still squeezing in time to help others. You’re my #shero. Thanks, Priya!
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