Mass Appeal co-curated hip-hop photo exhibition opens at Fotografiska New York, celebrating hip-hop’s 50th anniversary

REVIEW: "Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious" photography exhibit at Fotografiska New York helps celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop and its evolution over the years.

The Mass Appeal has co-curated a massive photography exhibition dedicated to hip-hop history with and at Fotografiska New York in New York City.

“Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious” is part of the #HipHop50 initiative, a series of events created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop culture from the partnership of Mass Appeal, Sony Music Entertainment (SME) and Certified, SME’s R&B and Hip Hop digital catalog program. The exhibition, located on the top floors of Fotografiska features a stellar collection of premier photographs and portraits of prominent hip-hop acts and important moments in the culture’s infancy.

Nas, Mayor Eric Adams and other big names were on hand for Wednesday’s preview, with support from SME, and Certified. The Grammy-winning MC performed “NY State of Mind.” Other prominent guests who attended the preview include Nia Long, N.O.R.E., Dave East, Raekwon, Ralph McDaniels, Fabolous and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

(L-R) Trugoy, Posdnous and Maseo of De La Soul on Sept. 12, 1993 outside Harlem’s the Apollo Theater in New York City. (Photo by David Corio – Provided by SME)

Co-curated by Mass Appeal Chief Creative Officer Sasha Jenkins and Hearst Visual Director Sally Berman, “Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious” features work from well over 50 photographers. Some include prominent American hip-hop photo documentarian, Jamal Shabazz, while international artists like celebrated British photographer Janette Beckman took other photos.

The exhibition is sectioned off by American regions and timeframes. Gorgeous black and white portraits of Queen Latifah, Flavor Flav, LL Cool J and Big Daddy Kane from photographer Jesse Frohman are located in the East Coast section. Meanwhile, provocative portraits of 2Pac in a straight jacket from Shawn Mortensen and Kendrick Lamar with a sword in his mouth by Chris Buck are in the West Coast section.

A section for the “current generation” is also on display. The exhibit includes exquisite portraits of some of today’s most exciting hip-hop acts like a stunning portrait of Megan Thee Stallion from British photographer Campbell Addy, as well as an iconic black and white of J. Cole from North Carolina photographer Anthony “Supreme” Thompson.

Some of the most chilling and moving photographers are on the top floor. Many are candid photos of hip-hop culture long before it became a billion-dollar business. Viewers will see Henry Chalfant’s amazing monochromatic photos of a young DJ Kay Slay or the Rock Steady Crew in Jackson Heights, Queens or a b-boy breakdancing at Coney Island.

The breadth of “Hip-Hop Conscious, Unconscious” illustrates the humble beginning of the culture and its evolution into an inspirational art form. It documents how beautiful, poignant and influential hip-hop has been for all of society and how so many Black and Brown innovators made miracles happen before they knew they were doing so.

That sentiment is expressed by Jenkins’ text adorning the walls. For instance, “the music of the New York City park jams, the dance and art and fashion and language that went along with it went everywhere. There are regional dialects and interpretations everywhere. There would soon be an awareness — a self-awareness — of what was happening. The purveyors of Hip Hop began to understand that outsiders were interested in our culture.”

An image of 2Pac in a straight jacket is featured in the West Coast section of “Hip-Hop: Conscious, Unconscious.” (Photo by Shawn Mortensen – Provided by SME)

That interest has grown into such a profitable conglomerate, it’s easy to forget its humble origins. This collection of photographs will inform and remind insiders and outsiders alike just where hip-hop came from and how far hip-hop has come.

“Hip-Hop Conscious, Unconscious” opens to the general public on Thursday and runs until May 21 at the Fotografiska New York.

Matthew Allen is an entertainment writer of music and culture for theGrio. He is an award-winning music journalist, TV producer and director based in Brooklyn, NY. He’s interviewed the likes of Quincy Jones, Jill Scott, Smokey Robinson and more for publications such as Ebony, Jet, The Root, Village Voice, Wax Poetics, Revive Music, Okayplayer, and Soulhead. His video work can be seen on PBS/All Arts, Brooklyn Free Speech TV and BRIC TV.

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