Spin was established in 1985. In its early years, the magazine was known for its broad music coverage with an emphasis on college rock, grunge, indie rock, and the ongoing emergence of hip-hop. The magazine was eclectic and bold, if sometimes haphazard. It pointedly provided a national alternative to Rolling Stone's more establishment-oriented style. Spin prominently placed newer artists such as R.E.M., Prince, Run-D.M.C., Eurythmics, Beastie Boys, and Talking Heads on its covers and did lengthy features on established figures such as Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Miles Davis, Aerosmith, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, and John Lee Hooker—Bart Bull's article on Hooker won the magazine its first major award.
On a cultural level, the magazine devoted significant coverage to punk, alternative country, electronica, reggae and world music, experimental rock, jazz of the most adventurous sort, burgeoning underground music scenes, and a variety of fringe styles. Artists such as the Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, X, Black Flag, and the former members of the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and the early punk and New Wave movements were heavily featured in Spin's editorial mix. Spin's extensive coverage of hip-hop music and culture, especially that of contributing editor John Leland, was notable at the time.
Editorial contributions by musical and cultural figures included Lydia Lunch, Henry Rollins, David Lee Roth and Dwight Yoakam. The magazine also reported on cities such as Austin, Texas, or Glasgow, Scotland, as cultural incubators in the independent music scene. A 1990 article on the contemporary country blues scene brought R. L. Burnside to national attention for the first time. Coverage of American cartoonists, Japanese manga, monster trucks, the AIDS crisis, outsider artists, Twin Peaks, and other non-mainstream cultural phenomena distinguished the magazine's dynamic early years.
In late 1987, publisher Bob Guccione Jr.'s father, Bob Guccione Sr., abruptly shut the magazine down despite the fact that the two-year-old magazine was widely considered a success, with a newsstand circulation of 150,000. Guccione Jr. was able to rally much of his staff, partner with former MTV president and David H. Horowitz, locate additional new investors and offices and after missing a month's publication, returned with a combined November–December issue. During this time, it was published by Camouflage Associates. In 1997, Guccione sold Spin to Miller Publishing.
In February 2006, Miller Publishing sold the magazine to a San Francisco-based company called the McEvoy Group LLC, which was also the owner of Chronicle Books. That company formed Spin Media LLC as a holding company. The new owners replaced editor-in-chief (since 2002) Sia Michel with Andy Pemberton, a former editor at Blender. The first issue to be published under his brief command was the July 2006 issue—sent to the printer in May 2006—which featured Beyoncé on the cover. Pemberton and Spin parted ways the next month, in June 2006. The following editor, Doug Brod, was executive editor during Michel's tenure.
For Spin's 20th anniversary, it published a book chronicling the prior two decades in music. The book has essays on grunge, Britpop, and emo, among other genres of music, as well as pieces on musical acts including Marilyn Manson, Tupac Shakur, R.E.M., Nirvana, Weezer, Nine Inch Nails, Limp Bizkit, and the Smashing Pumpkins. In February 2012, Spin relaunched the magazine in a larger, bi-monthly format and expanded its online presence, which covered reviews, extended editorials, interviews, and features on up-and-coming talent.
In 1995, Spin produced its first book, entitled Spin Alternative Record Guide. It compiled writings by 64 music critics on recording artists and bands relevant to the alternative music movement, with each artist's entry featuring their discography and albums reviewed and rated a score between one and ten. According to Pitchfork Media's Matthew Perpetua, the book featured "the best and brightest writers of the 80s and 90s, many of whom started off in zines but have since become major figures in music criticism," including Rob Sheffield, Byron Coley, Ann Powers, Simon Reynolds, and Alex Ross. Although the book was not a sales success, "it inspired a disproportionate number of young readers to pursue music criticism." After the book was published, its entry on 1960s folk artist John Fahey, written by Byron Coley, helped renew interest in Fahey's music, leading to interest from record labels and the alternative music scene.
Contributors to Spin have included:
SPIN began compiling year-end lists in 1990.
|1995||Moby||"Feeling So Real"||United States|||
|1996||Fugees||"Ready or Not"||United States|||
|1997||The Notorious B.I.G.||"Hypnotize"||United States|||
|1998||Fatboy Slim||"The Rockafeller Skank"||England|||
|1999||TLC||"No Scrubs"||United States|||
|2000||Eminem||"The Real Slim Shady"||United States|||
|2001||Missy Elliott||"Get Ur Freak On"||United States|||
|2002||Eminem||"Cleanin' Out My Closet"||United States|||
|2003||50 Cent||"In da Club"||United States|||
|2004||Green Day||"American Idiot"||United States|||
|2005||Gorillaz||"Feel Good Inc."||England|||
|2006||Gnarls Barkley||"Crazy"||United States|||
|2007||Kanye West||"Stronger"||United States|||
|2009||Yeah Yeah Yeahs||"Zero"||United States|||
|2010||CeeLo Green||"Fuck You"||United States|||
|2011||Adele||"Rolling in the Deep"||England|||
|2012||GOOD Music||"Mercy"||United States|||
|2013||Daft Punk||"Get Lucky"||France|||
|2014||Future Islands||"Seasons (Waiting on You)"||United States|||
|2015||Justin Bieber||"What Do You Mean?"||Canada|||
|2016||Rae Sremmurd||"Black Beatles"||United States|||
|1990||Ice Cube||AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted||United States|||
|1992||Pavement||Slanted and Enchanted||United States|||
|1993||Liz Phair||Exile in Guyville||United States|||
|1994||Hole||Live Through This||United States|||
|1995||Moby||Everything is Wrong||United States|||
|1997||Cornershop||When I Was Born for the 7th Time||England|||
|1998||Lauryn Hill||The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill||United States|||
|1999||Nine Inch Nails||The Fragile||United States|||
|2001||System of a Down||Toxicity||United States|||
|2002||The White Stripes||White Blood Cells||United States|||
|2003||The White Stripes||Elephant||United States|||
|2004||Kanye West||The College Dropout||United States|||
|2005||Kanye West||Late Registration||United States|||
|2006||TV on the Radio||Return to Cookie Mountain||United States|||
|2007||Against Me!||New Wave||United States|||
|2008||TV on the Radio||Dear Science||United States|||
|2009||Animal Collective||Merriweather Post Pavilion||United States|||
|2010||Kanye West||My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy||United States|||
|2011||Fucked Up||David Comes to Life||Canada|||
|2012||Frank Ocean||Channel Orange||United States|||
|2013||Kanye West||Yeezus||United States|||
|2014||The War on Drugs||Lost in the Dream||United States|||
|2015||Kendrick Lamar||To Pimp A Butterfly||United States|||
|2016||Solange Knowles||A Seat at the Table||United States|||
Note: The 2000 album of the year was awarded to "your hard drive", acknowledging the impact that filesharing had on the music listening experience in 2000. Kid A was listed as number 2, the highest ranking given to an actual album.