In 1958, Esquire photographer Art Kane took one of the most famous photos in music history: 57 jazz artists gathered in front of a Harlem brownstone. The group included Coleman Hawkins, Count Basie, Thelonious Monk, Mary Lou Williams, Lester Young, and Sonny Rollins. Forty years later, the editorial team at XXL magazine celebrated Kane’s image by having legendary photographer Gordon Parks recreate it with 177 hip-hop artists and related musicians. Where jazz was once the primary voice of black America and a pinnacle of artistic innovation, hip-hop had taken its place and remade the world in the process.
For Red Bull Daily, Michael A. Gonzales describes what it was like that day in 1998 and how this historic photo shoot came together. A Harlem kid and longtime hip-hop fan himself, Gonzales has been writing about music for decades, and he was the one who suggested Parks for the project. So many hip-hop luminaries converged that day — Pete Rock, Rakim, Phife from A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang Clan, Russell Simmons, Grandmaster Flash, Queen Penn, The Beatnuts, Slick Rick, Da Brat, Mobb Deep, Bran Nubian, Del Tha Funkee Homo Sapien, Wyclef Jean, Souls of Mischief, and on and on. The day was epic.
While most people knew who Gordon Park was, I wondered if they understood that the soft-spoken and cultural warrior who had snapped shots of Malcolm X and Grace Kelly, was a regal fighter from Fort Scott, Kansas who had also come, much like themselves, from nothing, and shaped himself into an icon. Though separated by more than a few generations, Parks understood these “kids,” knew their pain, shared their desire to be heard and seen by the masses. Parks recognized that these new jack revolutionaries had selected rhymes and rhetoric, turntables and technology as their “weapons of choice” in the same way he had chosen the camera.
Suddenly, people started clapping loudly. Turning around, I saw rapper (Reverend) Run, formerly of Run–D.M.C., walking up the street, just in time. As the rowdiness soon turned to calm, a strange hush came over the block. As Harry Allen said earlier that great day, “What this says is what I’ve always believed, is that black culture is a continuum of black people: of our will, of our will to live and to be heard. That is what today represents. Everybody is going to get together for one picture and what it says is, ‘I was here, these are my brothers and sisters and this is what we did. We changed the world.’”