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Best Hip-Hop Photography of the Last 20 Years

Photo: Gordon Parks: The Greatest Day in Hip-Hop History for XXL

A photograph speaks a thousand words without ever making a sound—and when it comes to music, it does exactly the same. The rhythms and beats, harmonies and melodies play on although the single frame freezes just a fraction of a second in time. When it comes to Hip Hop, the challenge is even more intense: how to convey one of the greatest African American art forms which has taken the globe by storm, and capture the nuances, complexities, and conflicts that every MC, DJ, or producer faces through the course of their career. How do they stay true to themselves in a culture that has been commodified and repackaged for popular consumption?

Also: Best Celebrity Photography of the Last 20 Years

The best Hip-Hop photographs look at the culture from a wide array of perspective, paying tribute to the past, honoring the present, and embracing the future. Crave has compiled a list of the best made over the last 20 years.

Gordon Parks: The Greatest Day in Hip-Hop History for XXL

Fifty years after Art Kane’s iconic “Great Day in Harlem” photograph was published in Esquire magazine, the legendary Gordon Parks recreated the shoot for the October 1998 issue of XXL. It was the magazine’s seventh issue and it put them on the map by hosting 200 Hip-Hop artists and personalities over a three-page fold-out cover on the same exact stoop where 57 jazz legends posted for Kane back in 1958. Check out the three-part YouTube video about the making of the shoot, which begins here.

Jonathan Mannion: Mos Def for The Fader

Jonathan Mannion rose up to dominate the music photography scene, creating a body of work that has been iconic in every way. For the November 2004 issue of The Fader, he takes it back to the old school, with Mos Def styled as a Brooklyn cat from the 1970s, standing in front of a piece by CYCLE.

“My story begins in the streets. There you have it: however street people live around the world, I can identify with that. That’s where I am from; I’m a person from the street who had an opportunity and was afforded the chance to see the world,” Mos Def tells The Fader, giving a glimpse into the man behind the Cazals.

David LaChappelle: Kanye West for Rolling Stone

Doing the most: it’s not uncommon in photography or Hip Hop, so when Rolling Stone paired Kanye West and David LaChappelle, the results were sure to be over the top. Kanye had just released the single, “Jesus Walks,” prefiguring his Yeezus album that would come five years later. Back before the Internet, print got people riled up—but nowadays, this looks pretty subtle and tame for Kanye’s standards.

Pitor Skiora: Nas & Large Professor for Mass Appeal

In 1994, Nas and Large Professor changed the game when they dropped Illmatic, one of the greatest albums in Hip-Hop history. After the album’s release, Nas reached the pinnacle of success and switched it up and started working with different producers. It wasn’t until 2001 when the duo reunited for Stillmatic. They sat down with Mass Appeal in 2002 to talk about making history.

Justin Hogan: Young Thug for Complex

Young Thug wasn’t like anything anyone had ever heard or saw before—he was deeply ambiguous, straddling the boundaries of style and sound. But as Birdman’s latest protégé, he was a surefire star and quickly appeared on the covers of magazines, with a new kind of glamour. In 2014, Justin Hogan photographed the artist for Complex, evoking his pretty-ugly, sexy-creepy aesthetic to flawless effect. The interview is truly Warholian, a media trick that still works.


Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.