Hip HopLegendsOriginal Articles

#OldSchoolSaturday – Stories Behind Iconic Hip Hop Pictures

Notorious BIG
Notorious BIG

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and in the world of wordplay that says a lot. It’s #OldSchoolSaturday once again as yours truly VENOM takes a look at the release of  “Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop.”

Journalist Viki Tobak takes a look back when hip hop visuals were captured with contact sheets instead of digital capture where a roll of pics were made. As you see the legendary Notorious BIG above we get the story of how it came to be. Barron Claiborne’s favorite set of hip hop pics were of Biggie Smalls. The rapper died days later after the photo shoot and “the fact that he died made the symbolism stronger. He had to die for this image to have that symbolism. The king sacrificed. But Biggie has the crown,” Claiborne says.

jay z
Jay Z

Another legendary New York rapper is undoubtedly Jay Z. Before he became one of the most powerful artists in the world who married the “Baddest Chic In The Game”, he was the ambitious Sean Carter. Photographer Jamil GS aw this in the up-and-coming rapper and gave him the visuals to match his future status with symbols of wealth, including a yacht and the World Trade Center.

kanye west
Kanye West

The rise of the “old Kanye” was a thing of beauty for photographer Nabil Elderkin bought kanyewest.com in 2003, but traded the domain for the opportunity for a photo shoot when West’s label offered to buy it. Ye had a vision for “College Dropout” and Elderkin brought it to life. The cover was shot at a Harlem community center, and photographer Danny Clinch says, “I got the sense that he really wanted to take a chance with this debut.”

Another artist who made an incredible debut album was Snoop Dogg in 1994 with “DoggyStyle”. Photographed in L.A. in 1993, weeks after his first video for “What’s My Name?” Snoop Dogg “still had a bit of shyness in him. … He looks vulnerable and tender. The start of a long journey,” photographer Lisa Leone recalls.

Salt N Pepa

The story is told about the photo shoot details behind Salt ‘N Pepa in 1988. It was revealed the powerful women showed up wearing baseball jackets designed by Play from Kid ‘n Play and legendary Harlem designer Dapper Dan.

nicki minaj
Nicki Minaj

Years later a young female rapper from New York by the name of Nicki Minaj would take photos with photographer Angela Boatwright with the goal of  “both embracing and subverting the male gaze.”

queen latifah
Queen Latifah

Years prior before Nicki Minaj would proclaim herself “Queen” there was another New York rapper by the name of Queen Latifah. On the set of “Fly Girl” she would have a photo shoot by photographer Al Pereira who captured Latifah with her mother and some of her daughter’s dancers.


Jannette Beckman who took pictures of another legendary hip hop trio in 1988 with Salt N Pepa had the opportunity to have a photo shoot with the iconic Atlanta duo of Outkast. During the set in 2003, Beckman would hear the classic song “Hey Ya” blasting. 


In recent weeks there was a funny meme going around that would photoshop pictures of Eminem mean mugging into smiling poses which was hilarious. In the photo above, you see Slim Shady at his best with the facial impressions he is best known for. 

In this 1998 Stress magazine cover shot by Jus Ske Salguero Eminem was paying homage to Stanley Kubrick and dissing one of Em’s rivals, the rapper Cage, who had a song at the time titled “Agent Orange.”

The book is a great educational tool and also takes hip hop fans down memory lane. 

“I want the reader to come away appreciating that hip-hop was born from a community (where) there were all these amazing image makers that pointed their cameras at a moment that wasn’t mainstream. They just thought it was important.”

Vikki Tobak – CNN 

Vikki Tobak’s “Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop,” published by Clarkson Potter, is now available. Follow the project on Facebook,Instagram and Twitter.

Photo editors: Clint Alwahab and Brett Roegiers