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The Stories Behind Legendary Hip-Hop Photos

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 02, 2018

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Hua Hsu reviews Contact High, a visual history of hip-hop by Vikki Tobak that takes interviews, essays, and outtakes from over 100 photographers through all of hip-hop’s history, from early b-boys and b-girls breaking to iconic album covers.

There’s something thrilling about seeing Michael Lavine’s outtake versions of OutKast’s “Stankonia” cover, where André 3000 has his hands up rather than pointed toward the viewer in a hex, or alternate versions of Danny Clinch’s famed portrait of a shirtless Tupac and his “Thug Life” tattoo, where he’s looking down at the ground with a measure of peace, rather than toward the sky or directly at the viewer in defiance. These images are like portals into alternate time lines. There’s a lone photo of the Notorious B.I.G., wearing a crown and grinning, surrounded by a dozen versions of him flashing a tragic scowl. The crown was the photographer Barron Claiborne’s idea, meant to evoke Biggie as the king of New York. Biggie’s close friend and producer, Sean “Puffy” Combs, feared that it made him look like the Burger King.

Here are a few photos and contact sheets from the book, including Biggie in his crown, plus outtakes from Baduizm by Marc Baptiste, and the Rock Steady Crew’s Frosty Freeze by Martha Cooper.

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This was taken in 1981. I love it so much.