For the first installment of Mass Appeal's new series Contact High: The Stories Behind Hip Hop’s Most Iconic Photographs, it caught up with the legendary photographer Janette Beckman. Beckman is behind some of the most iconic photographs of hip-hop greats, including the famous black-and-white image of Slick Rick. In the interview with Mass Appeal, Beckman explains exactly how she captured the famous shot.
As the story goes, the London native moved to New York City in 1982, where she was eventually hired by Def Jam to do a shoot of the rapper.
"This photo was taken as part of a Def Jam press shoot for The Great Adventures of Slick Rick album in 1989. It’s a legendary shot. We were all hanging out playing music in my studio on Lafayette Street in this old industrial building," she told Mass Appeal.
"My studio was set up with the white backdrop and I made a mark on the ground," she said. "Ricky just stepped right up and I just let him do his thing. He stood there wearing a suit and Kangol hat. He put his bag down on the floor while holding the champagne bottle, and then just—snap! I took that picture within the first two minutes of the photo shoot and I knew that was it."
What resulted was an iconic image of the rapper sporting dark shades and an oversized suit, in a pose that clearly says IDGAF.
"He just posed himself, drinks some champagne, grabs his crotch and that was it," she said. "And I love that. To me that image and that attitude was just so hip-hop."
Beckman also recalls meeting Slick Rick a year later when putting together her first book Rap, Portraits & Lyrics of a Generation of Black Rockers. "We wanted to shoot Slick Rick for the cover," she said. "He came to the studio again but he was kind of different guy by then— more famous, tons of gold chains and with these two little pearl-handled guns and a crown."
"So I was taking these pictures of him with these two guns and he’s smiling this crazy smile. It was about two months after that he went and shot his cousin and a bystander. He was sent to jail so our book publisher said we’re not putting somebody in prison on the cover of that book. We ended up using Big Daddy Kane image instead."
To read the full interview with Beckman head over here.