‘A reflection of the people’: looking back on 50 years of hip-hop | Photography

Sasha Jenkins, Chief Creative Officer of Mass Appeal Magazine and co-curator of the large new exhibition, said:

To mark the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, Fotografiska New York presents over 200 photographs spanning 50 years of the culture, curated by Jenkins and former Mass Appeal Director of Photography Sally Berman. In addition to the exhibition itself, which runs until May 21st, Fotografiska also offers his program of events such as curator talks, panel discussions, film screenings and even his dance workshops. .

The exhibition is as expansive as it is energetic, capturing the excitement behind countless iconic moments in hip-hop history. From his 1981 Village Voice cover image Frosty Freeze (a pivotal moment in the emergence of breakdancing) to Nas and DJ. His conference premieres with contemporary superstars like XXXTentacion, while recording his groundbreaking album Illmatic.

Emerging from block parties in the Bronx in the early 1970s, hip-hop culture saw transformative potential in everyday objects and left its own mark on the world. “Something like spray paint went from being a tool to being an actual tool,” says Jenkins. “It’s the same with turntables. Hip-hop made them instruments. These kids did it themselves, and in the process of doing it themselves they made these great innovations. is an instrument, like a guitar.”

Public Enemy, Lafayette & Bleecker, New York City, c.1986 Photo: Glenn Friedman

Jenkins and Berman delve deep into the history of hip-hop, showing it to be first and foremost a people’s movement. Jean-Pierre Lafont’s 1972 Savage Skull, an early image of his gang members spending time with their families, shows that hip-hop is a phenomenon for people looking for fun and community. was showing. “Before the rap industry came along, it was just kids, just people,” Jenkins said. “When we came to Queens in 1977, there was break dancing and music in the parks. In , it was done by children.Nobody had the desire to put out an album that would inspire the people of Singapore.Originally, the MC said that your car was double parked and you were towed. It was the man with the mic telling him that he could move.

Early photography almost always has a documentary-style street photography vibe, capturing hip-hop culture in situ, but around the 90s, things are changing. Janet Beckman’s shot of her in 1990 for A Tribe Called Quest looks perfectly poised for that tipping point. Is it a slice of the everyday street scene of a rising hip-hop group, or a thoughtfully constructed identity exercise funded by a record company? -building? Shawn Mortensen’s 1993 image of Tupac in a straitjacket, Geoffroy de Boermenu’s famous 1994 photo of The Notorious BIG smoking marijuana, Christian Witkin’s 1998 Missy Elliot smoking gum Later shots clearly cross the line, such as one of them happily playing in In the 2000s, photography became more elaborate, costumes and props far more expensive, and identities all bigger and more sophisticated.

Rap music is by far the most widely known of the four elements of hip-hop culture. The show features many of rap’s major players, from early greats to modern-day stars like Megan Thee Stallion, Tyler, The Creator, and Post Malone. In particular, Jenkins and Berman struggled to find photographs that showed certain aspects of well-known rap personalities. was created based on the question of what his life would have been like if he hadn’t gotten out of the Marcy Projects. Lisa Leone’s 1991 photo shows an almost unrecognizable Mary J. Blige. This is the product of a chance encounter shortly after the artist signed his first record deal. Pictures like this are fresh and intriguing, even for those familiar with rap music.

Megan Thee Stallion poses for The Cut Magazine (2022)
Megan Thee Stallion poses for The Cut Magazine, 2022. Photo: Campbell Addy

Another notable aspect of the show is its attempt to highlight women who have made a name for themselves in a highly male-dominated and often objectifying art form. and have an identity. This is not the case when it comes to rap music. “Hip-hop wouldn’t exist without women, so we were very conscious of having women on the show,” Jenkins said. , you might think that women are just eye candy in music videos, but that’s not the case, I wish there were more women on this show, but honestly In a way, this is a reflection of the rap industry.”

Ultimately, there’s something reassuring about being able to embrace 50 years of hip-hop’s emergence and transformation all at once. What you come across is a cultural throughline, one that still exists and stands out even as the deluge of corporate money and the media-industrial complex try to absorb hip-hop and transform it according to their own prerogative. The transcendental intensity of figures like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg posing with guns pointed at the camera and at themselves has become a growing force as rap music continues to grow and seek to contain and define them. It also mentions how it changes into a more complex relationship with the power to act. It is mainstream and commercialized.

But even though the exhibition reflects global systems and abstract concepts, it always remains rooted in humans. It’s clearly no coincidence that the show places portraits at the center, as they can show us about personal identity and the cultural influences behind it.For Jenkins, the most important of his exhibitions The thing is, hip-hop is the people and community that underlies his culture. “Ultimately, I don’t think there is a genre in black music in America.”The genre of hip-hop, from 1973 to the present day, has created black music taken from the streets and into the popular culture of non-black people. It’s just a timestamp of a place.I want people to understand that hip-hop is a reflection of people.Hip-hop is people.”

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