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Brief us on your professional background.
I've been a photographer since around the mid '70s. Images have been published in New York Times, Mass Appeal, Word Up! and Rap Masters, Daily News, Life Magazine, Newsweek, Time, Vibe, Rolling Stone, Spin, Ebony, Jet, The Source, VH1, MTV, XXL and hundreds of books, posters and album covers around the world. Harper Collins will publish a book covering 27 years of my Hip-Hop photography in 2002 with text by Kevin Powell entitled "Who Shot Ya?" My photography has been exhibited in The Brooklyn Museum of Art and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Some of the people I've photographed and that have been in my studio are John Kennedy Jr., Britney Spears, Tupac, Big, DMX, Jay Z, Run DMC, Public Enemy, Wu Tang, Goodie Mob, Slick Rick, Nas, dead prez, Vulcan, Canibus, Fugees, L.L. Cool J, Rakim, Rob Base, Redman, Naughty By Nature, Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Omar Epps, Minister Farrakhan, Aaliyah, Snoop, Master P, KRS1, Afrika Bambaataa, Lee, Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Big Pun, Latifah, Ice Cube, Ricky Martin, L'il Kim, Faith Evans, Beenie Man, Buju Banton Guru, Salt n Pepa, Crazy Legs, Kane, Roxanne Shante, Ice T, Busta Rhymes, EPMD, and Method Man.

How did you become involved with Word Up! Magazine?
I started as Chief Photographer with Word Up! Magazine at its birth in 1987. I was asked to work with them because they found out I had been shooting Hip Hop and was able to link with whoever they needed for a shoot.

How and whend did you become involved in photographing Hip Hop culture?
My first Hip Hop images are of graf from the mid '70s.

What intrigued you most about Hip Hop?
The realness and rawness of Hip-Hop fascinated me. Hip-Hop, specifically graf, which was an outlaw art form. Writers risked jail, beatings from the police and rival crews, death from electrocution in the subways, risked being bitten by police dogs.

All of this was to put up a burner or piece that may take a week to complete and might be painted over by a rival, the police or the transit authority in an hour. Hip-Hop reflected the anger, force and danger of the streets, unlike the packaged garbage that infests the top ten now. It was truly "Rebel Music".

You started photographing Hip Hop fairly early on in its evolution. Did you have a sense of the importance of documenting Hip Hop without knowing how influential it would become?
You ask about the importance of documenting Hip-Hop at its inception without knowing how influential it would become. That is a real question and deserves a real answer. I was intrigued, fascinated and in love with all of the raw/real/ugly/true/dangerous/street/ghetto aspects of original Hip-Hop. I was not making money from shooting the scene back then, not even enough to pay for film. It was what I was chosen and chose to do. Without trying to dis anyone, 90 percent of the Hip-Hop culture now is pre-packaged and 95 percent of the present day Rap photographers are just in it for the money. They lack the sense of culture; value, love artistry and legacy that is imbued in my craft. Hip-Hop was the power of the streets and the voice of the voiceless manifested before this art form became Hip-Pop.

Which of the 4 elements of Hip Hop did you find the most interesting?
Which of the four elements of Hip-Hop did I find most interesting? Actually there are five elements; they are DJing, Emceeing, Dance, Graf and Knowledge/Street Enterprise/Wisdom and overstanding. Graf was the most ubiquitous, followed by dance (break dancing) these were everywhere.

Few photographers dedicated as much effort as you did to documenting graffiti outside the subway system. Was this a conscious decision or just a natural progression for you?
As a person trained in art and art history I compared the "burners", or giant graffiti pieces to the Mexican and Egyptian murals. I was compelled to photograph as much as I could, because I felt (quite rightly) that it would be destroyed, painted over before it could be documented.

What time span and locations did your documentation of graffiti cover?
My documentation goes from 1975-2001 and covers, Newark, Jersey City, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Bronx (Tats Cru), Queens, Patterson, Harlem, Lower East Side, among others.

During the course of your documentation did you meet many of the painters?
Yes, I interfaced with many of the painters; some of the earliest were KAOS, KANO and VULCAN as well as GNOME and FUTURA and dozens from the Newark area of New Jersey.

What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of your work?
The most rewarding things to me are now being called a LEGEND by people like Afrika Bambaataa, LL, KRS1 Chuck D and Jay Z. Speaking on panels with Kool Herc and Doug E. Fresh. Speaking at the United Nations as a spokesman for The Temple of Hip-Hop. In addition, of course my book coming out next year, also being interviewed by Mass Appeal, At149st, One World and other real Hip-Hop publications that matter is exciting. It also gives me joy to see and hear most of the new crop of photographers give me props. The art directors and photographers who do not yet acknowledge my contributions will be forced to re-think that when they see my book and gallery showings. At this point, I am seeking corporate sponsorship for a nationwide traveling exhibition of my images to coincide with the release of "Who Shot Ya?"

You have photographed some big names in the Hip Hop music industry. Do any experiences stand out in particular?
Dozens of experiences stand out in my mind, Doug E. Fresh praying in my ear not to fight someone, traveling and hanging out and doing three album covers for Public Enemy. Doing the last photo session with Big Pun before he passed. Sharing a lecture with Prof. X of the X Clan. Seeing the evolution of Ice Cube, L.L. and Latifah from Rappers to actors and TV personalities, Chili of TLC sitting in my lap braiding my hair. Watching Rakim performing live. The Fugees struggling to be taken serious, then exploding. Busta growing as a solo artist. Zulu and Rock Steady anniversaries. Spending time with George Clinton. Working with JFK Jr. and on the sets of Puffy's million dollar videos.

Your documentation of graffiti has rarely been seen publicly. Do you have plans for a publication or an exhibition in the future?
Only one of my graf images has ever been published. That is in the summer 2001 issue of Mass Appeal magazine. I will only allow my graf work (out of respect to the artists) to be published where it will be respected and shown as art and not as an oddity or aberration. Many of my graf images images will be in my book and hopefully in my gallery shows.

Do you have any closing words?
I have been documenting Hip Hop for nearly three decades and have tried to be a role model, spokesman for Native Rights, Human Rights and Hip-Hop, an artist, documentarian, and thinker. I don't just want to leave pictures of Hip-Hop, but a visual legacy of Hip-Hop. Although I'm called a Legend it has been and is a struggle to survive financially. I remember a person taking a picture of me with Grandmaster Flash and remarking he just shot two Legends. Flash smiled and told me "Better watch that Legend shit, it either means you're dead or broke or dead broke, either way it sucks".

Peace and thanks Ernie Paniccioli - October 27th, 2001.

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