PICTURED: UNDRGRND founders Michael Pofsky (left) and Andrew Mason. Photo by Josh Seiden

by Marina Dunbar

A new magazine has emerged in Ventura County that aims to shine a light on the region’s vibrant underground hip-hop community. The musical minds behind UNDRGRND Magazine are two Newbury Park natives, journalist Andrew Mason and musician Michael Pofsky. 

Mason and Pofsky attended Newbury Park High School together but followed divergent paths. Mason graduated in May 2019 from journalism school at Boston University, while Pofsky pursued a career as a rapper. Mason closely followed the hip-hop scene of his hometown after graduating, including the careers of Pofsky and other local rappers such as Deo Cane, Belle and KollegeKado. He reached out to Pofsky for an interview and the two soon realized the potential in combining their knowledge of journalism and passion for music.

After becoming immersed in the unique sound of Ventura County, Mason and Pofsky created UNDRGRND Magazine as a way to highlight local talents and share their love of hip-hop with other residents of the 805. 

“When I was at school, I was just focused on sports journalism,” says Mason. “Before I got another journalism job, I wanted to do something cool related to music journalism . . . I thought of the idea of doing a music magazine and I wanted it to be based in the 805. That’s where I’m from and I want to rep that area, but also because that’s the access that I had.”

808s in the 805

January 2021 cover of UNDRGRND Magazine. Photo submitted

UNDRGRND originally launched back in early 2020, meaning it arrived just in time to chronicle the obstacles that faced rising musicians during this difficult year. The magazine’s latest issue begins with a section titled “The 805 vs. 2020” that gives an in depth look at the silver linings of a lockdown that quashed a culture of live music; musicians were given time to reflect and grow their unique sounds at a time when it seemed that their musical voices would be silenced indefinitely. These artists were resilient and proved that hip-hop can pull through without concerts.

The issue also spotlights several local hip-hop artists, such as Ty Fighter, Frankiii, Chris The Thr!llest, BOBBYBEENFRESH, J.ME and many more. Each artist is given an individual page dedicated to exploring their distinctive approach to music-making. A few highlights are Mind Off expressing the similarities between the waves of water and the soundwaves of music, B-Work’s advice on getting over the discomfort of songwriting, and Frankiii describing the advantages of studying music in an academic setting.

There is also a section detailing the relationship between the underground hip-hop scene and the recent movement for racial justice. Many of Ventura County’s local musicians participated in the peaceful protests that took place across the 805 region in May 2020. The local hip-hop community makes a point of acknowledging the origins of its music as an art form created by African Americans, and these musicians do what they can to honor their predecessors.

“Hip-hop has substantial roots in African American culture, and while the genre has undoubtedly taken influence from people of other cultures and backgrounds by now, it is important to understand and pay tribute to hip-hop’s origins because to do otherwise would be arrogant and honestly just selfish,” explains Mason. “Hip-hop music is still in its early days, but the history carries stories of progressiveness and justice that can be applied to life today, even for people who don’t like rap music.”

UNDRGRND also has aspirations of spreading its enthusiasm for hip-hop far beyond just the 805. 

“Our mission statement is to provide a platform and resources to communities throughout the world,” says Pofsky. “We would like to do an UNDRGRND issue for each city throughout the world. We could go international… we could do 20 issues per city, there’s that many artists everywhere.”

Hip-hop in education

The local hip-hop scene has been vivacious for several years now, and hip-hop has become the No. 1 most popular music genre in the country. As some music fans have already pointed out, the term “pop music” seems nearly trivial now, as hip-hop is the new popular music. 

Despite the remarkable rise in hip-hop music listeners, however, the world of higher education is dragging behind. There exist only a few universities in the country where one can minor in hip-hop studies, and there has yet to be a single institution to offer a bachelor’s degree in hip-hop. 

“Hip-hop is a lot more than just the music, more than just the rapping,” explains Pofsky. “It’s cool to imagine that there could be a school that’s just hip-hop related. There could be classes that are music related, some are fashion related, dance related, brand-building . . . the music world now is becoming an independent one. It’d be cool to see actual institutions set up to help people with that.”

With several of these local artists coming from the Ventura County Community College system and California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, perhaps Ventura County might be inspired to make history by offering programs in hip-hop academia. In the meantime, consider supporting local artists who elevate the distinctive soul of the 805.

Read the latest issue of Undgrnd Magazine at undrgrndmag.com.