Hip-hop photography through the decades, from NY to LA

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Ladies of hip-hop shoot for Paper Magazine (1988). Photo by Janette Beckman.

The Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City has a new exhibit that pays tribute to some of hip-hop’s greats. It’s called Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop.

You don’t just get to see the well-known images on album covers and in magazines. You get to see the contact sheets with the outtakes, the photos that didn’t make the final cut.

“The contact sheets really humanize the artist a lot more, especially in a world like hip-hop, where images are often hyper masculine,” said Vikki Tobak, who curated the show. “When you look at the contact sheets, you see a wider array of who they were as people. You see them making their mistakes, and you see the inbetween moments, and you see them cracking up or smiling.”


Notorious B.I.G (1997). Photo credit: Barron Claiborne.

Notorious B.I.G contact sheet (1997). Photo credit: Barron Claiborne.

“I wanted to do him as a king because that’s how I saw him,” said Barron Claiborne, who did the last studio photo shoot of Notorious B.I.G. before he was shot and killed in California.

“He came to the studio with his entourage, Puffy, and some other people. And I had the crown, and at first Puffy got mad because he thought he would look like the Burger King,” said Claiborne. “I was like ‘whatever,' and Biggie didn't care, so he did it, and the picture is beautiful.”

The exhibit gives a chronological and geographic history lesson of hip-hop, from its east coast roots in New York, to the west coast artists of LA. 

“California both sounded and looked markedly different from New York and from the roots of what hip-hop started as in the South Bronx,” said Tobak. “When we started hearing LA with this like G-funk influence, with car culture, with tattoo culture, that was mind blowing, especially at a time when hip-hop was still pretty regional.”

Cypress Hill, Los Angeles, 1994. Photo credit: Estevan Oriol.

MF Doom, Los Angeles, 2003. Photo credit: Eric Coleman/Jeff Jank.

DJ Quik and Suga Free, Los Angeles, 2010. Photo credit: Jorge Peniche.

Nipsey Hussle, Los Angeles, 2011. Photo credit: Jorge Peniche.

50 Cent at
Mister Cartoon's tattoo shop in Skid Row. Photo credit: Estevan Oriol.

The exhibition runs through August 18th.