Biggie & Tupac
New York City, 1993
In 1993, New York was still the strong era of Public Enemy and LL Cool J, even as newer artists like WuTang Clan were starting to emerge and A Tribe Called Quest released their second album, Midnight Marauders.
This is the time period when Rapper turned Law & Order actor Ice T performed with his rock band Body Count and their controversial song, “Copkiller” landed him on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.
This was pre-internet, pre-smartphones —just magazines, CDs, and cassette tapes. At this point I had been involved in photographing New York’s music scene for less than a year, but the groups I knew were the bigger named entertainers.
My main media outlet for publishing my photographs was Thrasher Magazine. Their music section featured all kind of music: hardcore/punk, hiphop, rock. I was able to package my work by submitting articles along with the photographs I shot to make it simple for the editors to publish.
The night of the Biggie/Tupac photo.
In Fall 1993, I arranged to get photo credentials for a Public Enemy and Onyx concert at a former NYC venue — The Academy. The venue was located one block south from another former music venue — Roseland Ballroom —both located in midtown Manhattan.
I set up this opportunity by pitching the idea to Thrasher Magazine to let me do an article on the group Onyx. Their song SLAM and their aesthetic was a perfect match for Thrasher’s readers. I then contacted Def Jam’s publicist that handled both Public Enemy and Onyx to get me into the concert on Thrasher’s behalf.
I arrived at the venue that evening, checked in at the will-call window, and got my photo pass for the show. I walked into the venue and I looked around. It had the capacity to hold 1500 people — about the size of your average House of Blues concert venue. I wanted to see where the stage was and, more importantly, where the dressing rooms and backstage area were.
I wanted to meet the guys from Onyx, to take some group shots backstage before the show. I made my way backstage and found their dressing room. The door was open as I walked up, there was a crew of 12 bad-ass dudes that looked like they would stomp someone out if provoked.
I tapped on the edge of their dressing room and introduced myself as Eric from Thrasher Magazine. Their manager stood up to greet me with a big warm smile. “Yo,” he joyfully exclaimed,” we heard you were coming- so nice to meet you!” These dudes were cool as hell.
I asked them if we could get some group shots of the guys near the backstage area where there was more room and no one was on stage. They agreed and we headed to the stage to shoot behind the curtain.
I shot maybe six frames of Onyx as a group, just the four main guys. After the last frame, I knew I got the shot I needed. I let them know we were good and they could go back to the dressing room.
The group left the stage area, I packed up my camera bag and as I left the stage and started heading back towards the dressing rooms, I heard someone yell at me, “Yo, why don’t you take our picture?”
I turned around and looked, it was a group of seven guys. I didn’t know who they were but I also had enough respect to not blow them off because I didn’t know who they were.
I walked towards them, set my camera bag down, grabbed my camera and flash, mounted my flash onto the camera. I walked over to the guys, looked at them and motioned with my hand for them to get closer together, so I could frame the shot.
Once I saw they were ready, I told them to look at me, took one picture. The flash went off, I said thanks, grabbed my camera bag and walked back to Onyx’s dressing room.
For years, I didn’t think about that one frame I’d shot of those guys who yelled to have the picture taken, I would casually look at and only noticed a guy giving me the finger and a strong shadow cast on half of his face. That type of shot is not commercially usable in a magazine’s for their ‘who’s who’ celebrity picture page.
It wasn’t until 2011 when I was sorting through slide photographs and beginning to catalog my images that I seriously took a look at that one slide of a dude giving me the finger with a strong shadow on his face…”No f’n way!” I was shocked I didn’t know the guy with the shadow in his face was Tupac.
As I pan around the image, I looked deeper and yelled to myself, “You’re f’n kidding me!” Biggie, Lil Ceaser are in this shot?!
I took out a small light box and a magnifying viewing loop and stared into this 35mm slide in disbelief. Then, I start laughing at myself because as I stared deeper into the picture, I noticed all the guys were wearing,”I’m a Bad Boy” t-shirts. Bad Boy was the name of Biggie’s record label. All the guys, including Tupac were wearing this shirt in support of their friend Biggie Smalls.