Photographer Raymond Boyd Tells The Stories Behind 9 Of His Classic Photos

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    Hip-hop may be the most visual genre of music America has given the world. From rappers who look at the world through a literary eye to MCs who want you to know how blue their diamonds are, rap, imagery and images have been inseparable since since the Sugar Hill Gang rapped about color TVs.<br /><br />Photography, then, is important on a few levels. On the most basic, it chronicles the who/where/when/why/with whom history that forms the basis of any scene. On another level, though, it can add to—or detract from—the legacy or persona of a given artist or group. Photographer Raymond Boyd’s work has contributed a great deal to both those aspects of hip-hop photography. He’s captured countless moments with hip-hop greats: some iconic, some hilarious, some surprising, but all quality and all organically. The Chicago native took his craft where it led him, and came away with timeless shots of people like Too $hort, Eazy-E, Biggie, Dre and Ice Cube, among others. <em>XXL</em> spoke to Boyd to find out the stories behind nine photos from<a title="sonic" href="http://soniceditions.com/search/Raymond%20Boyd" target="_blank"> his collection with Sonic Editions</a>—which offers hand-printed, limited-edition prints of classic photos from some of the top photographers in the field—and the change in hip-hop photography over the years. —<em>Jordan Lebeau</em>
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    <b><em>XXL</em>: When did you get started with photography?</b><br /><strong>Raymond Boyd: </strong>It’s a real long story, but basically I started out shooting for the <em>Chicago Defender</em>, doing a lot of entertainment stuff, that led to me getting access to concerts and stuff like that, and from there? My first real national stuff was when I shot for <em>Rockin’ Soul Magazine</em> and that led to me shooting for <em>Word Up</em>, <em>Black Beat</em>, <em>Right On</em>, <em>Rap Masters</em>, and <em>Fresh</em> and <em>Yo!</em> and all those magazines back in the day. I shot for a lot of those, and when different artists came to town I’d follow them to radio and retail and high schools to talk to kids and stuff, and then publicists started hiring me to go around with them, because my work was getting into magazines [and] they wanted that publicity. That’s how I got started.<br /><br /><b>So how did your work help you get to know or become friends with some of the artists you shot?</b><br />I have a lot of memories. During that time, there weren’t a ton of photographers shooting rap like there are now; this was back in the film days. There’d be maybe two or three people there, and a lot were from local newspapers. But I shot for the magazines. Just being able to photograph artists like Kriss Kross when they first started, Jermaine Dupri when he was a breakdancer for Whodini. I had a relationship with him where I got a lot of access to his artists like Kriss Kross and Jagged Edge, Da Brat, who’s also from Chicago. That was real cool. Plus getting to see them three or four times a year and to have them be familiar with me was really awesome.<br /><br /><b>Did you ever feel any responsibility to feed into the mythos or persona of these guys? Or was it just you trying to get the best picture possible?</b><br />For me, personally, I never got into any of the back story like that; I dealt with what I saw in the moments I was with them. So when people ask me about certain artists, I can only give you my experience with them. Maybe when they were with somebody else they were a different person; I can only give my experience. On a few occasions when I shot Tupac, it was unfortunate that on both occasions I shot him there was violence at the concert, Tupac cursed out the sound man because the sound wasn’t right, but it all made for great shots. And then after the concert, being able to introduce myself to him was great because he posed with no problems. He was a different guy than what I saw during the show. I just tried to capture them the way they were, I never tried to put guys together who didn’t get along. I didn’t get into anything but capturing them the way I see them.<br /><br /><b>What rap doesn’t have anymore is this type of organic, unfiltered visual history. What do you think about the absence of that in today’s scene?</b><br />It goes with everything. We’re in a different period now. There was no makeup, they wore their stage getup in the hotel, and it was no problem getting them backstage. Back then, it was carefree, the music was different. It’s an industry, and the access is not there, and it’s a bit unfortunate because photographers may still get pictures of Wayne and Nicki Minaj, but they don’t get the same back story. When Cash Money first came out, I shot them at the Jenny Jones show: it was Lil Wayne, Turk, BG, Juvenile, and they just sat back and shot, it was so cool and carefree. Now? It’s rushed, shoot from the soundboard for the first 60 seconds, and it’s unfortunate that there’s no more of the camaraderie we had.
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    Photo Credit: Raymond Boyd
    <h2>Bone Thugs-N-Harmony</h2><strong>Raymond Boyd: </strong>[<em>Laughs</em>] That was an interesting shot because it happened during a 2 Live Crew concert with Bone Thugs, and I’m not sure if The D.O.C. was on that bill, but he was there that day. Back then, you could shoot the concert, go backstage after the performance, shoot the group, and do all that kind of stuff, whereas now you can’t. Anyway, after the concert I went to the dressing room and asked the guys if I could get a few shots of them and they said it was no problem. I knew they were smoking weed—you could smell it down the hallway leading to the dressing room—so I asked if they wanted me to wait until they were done and they told me to go right ahead. You can see them just smoking weed, passing it, Bizzy’s head is slumped. Just to have access like that got the whole relationship started, and let that particular publicist know that you won’t show the group in a negative light, whereas nowadays it’s so protective—you shoot from the soundboard at the back of the arena, no backstage access. It’s changed since that time.<br /><br /><a title="bone" href="http://soniceditions.com/image/bone-thugs-n-harmony-backstage-ztr" target="_blank"><em>Purchase This Photo</em></a>
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    Photo Credit: Raymond Boyd
    <h2>Too $hort and Eazy E</h2><strong>Raymond Boyd: </strong>That’s my favorite as well; that was shot in Indianapolis during a Public Enemy tour, and right before Too $hort was going on I popped backstage to see if he was ready to do some shots, and he wasn’t ready. I went and did something else, and when I came back he was just talking to Eazy, so I just started snapping him talking to Eazy. Even though Eazy wasn’t on that particular bill, they were in town probably performing the next day, and back then guys would come to the venue to support each other. Being an N.W.A fan myself, I had to get that shot, and nobody else got that particular shot. That was really cool because I was cool with Too $hort back then, and I was just meeting and getting to know N.W.A, so to get a shot of those two together was really cool, especially with both of them being on top of their game at that point. It made it a special shot.<br /><br />Back then you’d have Public Enemy, Too $hort, Heavy D &amp; The Boyz, Doug E. Fresh, a lot of those guys toured together, so it was nothing to catch any of them together, be it at the hotel or backstage and being able to get shots of them interacting. In St. Louis, I got a shot of Chuck D., Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane, just because they were all back there talking. Years later, they did “Burn Hollywood, Burn,” and Chuck calls me—because, remember, I had taken this shot, and I don’t know if this was in the works when they were talking—but Chuck calls and says, “You’ve got this picture of me, Kane and Cube, can you send it to me?” And they end up using it as the photo for the single, and it was just shot on a whim. Those were the things I really enjoyed, when concerts were easier and more fun to do as opposed to now. But I guess in the age of TMZ and camera phones and publicists not knowing if pictures are gonna be used for TMZ or the <em>National Enquirer</em> or whoever, it’s different now.<br /><br /><a title="too" href="http://soniceditions.com/image/too-short-easy-e" target="_blank"><em>Purchase This Photo</em></a>
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    Photo Credit: Raymond Boyd
    <h2>Eazy-E</h2><strong>Raymond Boyd: </strong>That was the opening night of the <i>Straight Outta Compton</i> tour in Kansas City. That shot was cool because that particular day I was the only photographer shooting them, so I was getting all kinds of exclusives. I got a shot of them in the dressing room with D.O.C. in the shot and Lay Law from Above The Law, and that’s the only picture I’ve ever seen with all of them together like that. Being able to shoot the guys was special because it was opening night, and we didn’t know how the tour would go because of all of the controversy surrounding them and their records, but it went on with no problems, and Eazy-E just did his thing, man. Being able to have shots of him from back then is really special to me.<br /><br /><a title="e" href="http://soniceditions.com/image/easy-e-live" target="_blank"><em>Purchase This Photo</em></a>
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    Photo Credit: Raymond Boyd
    <h2>Flavor Flav</h2><strong>Raymond Boyd: </strong>That shot is real cool; it’s a shot of Flav pointing at me, around the time when I was just getting cool with Public Enemy, Chuck D, Professor Griff, Flavor Flav, The S1Ws. It got to a point that whenever they’d see me in the pit they’d come to me and pose for me or point at me or would stand and pose for a shot, because I was one of the only guys shooting these concerts. There weren’t a lot of photographers shooting, but whenever they’d see me it was like they said, “There’s Raymond again,” so they’d come to me and play up to the camera. That’s always cool because folks see it and go, “You know Chuck D?” and you can say, “Well, yeah.” [<em>Laughs</em>] So that’s cool, too.<br /><br />And it wasn’t me having grown up with Chuck, it was that I’d see them three or four times in a month, because when they were touring I’d catch them here and there. When you see somebody’s face all the time, you can’t help but establish a relationship. As mean as people thought Ice Cube was, seeing him all the time and interviewing him? He’s one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever met, and when you shake his hand, his hands are so soft you’re like, “This dude can’t be a gangster!” [<em>Laughs</em>] Not that I hang with gangsters to know they’ve got rough and tough hands, but they were so soft. But when you think about it, he’s a songwriter and a storyteller. It worked. He made people fear him, but he was so cool. When you saw him walking you wouldn’t say anything to him, but once you knew him and he saw your face, he became easier. But, back to Flav, it’s special because any time an artist recognizes you and knows that you do your job well and you’re legit, it makes for an awesome shot.<br /><br /><a title="flav" href="http://soniceditions.com/image/public-enemy-in-chicago" target="_blank"><em>Purchase This Photo</em></a>
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    <h2>Ice-T</h2><strong>Raymond Boyd: </strong>Yeah, that’s from when Ice-T and Big Daddy Kane were doing a promotional tour, and we were at Dunbar High School in Chicago. And that’s when he had the gun around his neck and all the controversy with the police. We were about to head to another school, and there were two cops outside by their car, doing security for the event. Ice grabbed the officers and wanted a picture, but they didn’t want to at first... [<strong><em>XXL: This is the "Cop Killer" guy...</em></strong>] Yeah, exactly. They took the shot, but after that he went by the police car and posed and we got that shot, and it’s a nice shot, too, because like you said, “Cop Killer” was out, and then he goes and plays a cop on TV! That’s a classic.<br /><br /><a title="ice" href="http://soniceditions.com/image/ice-t-in-chicago" target="_blank"><em>Purchase This Photo</em></a>
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    <h2>Notorious B.I.G.</h2><strong>Raymond Boyd: </strong>Yeah, that was at the Amphitheater. At the time, I really didn’t know much about Big. He came out with Puffy, and Puffy was dancing all over, doing that little skip dance he used to do back in the day. So I was shooting Puffy more than I was Biggie. Someone asked me why I wasn’t shooting the other guy, and I was like, “Well, I don’t know!” So I started shooting Biggie, and then when he blew up, I realized that was the guy I should’ve been shooting, although Puffy blew up in his own right later, you know. But just having shots of him is special. It’s a classic shot. Later on, I was able to shoot Biggie at the Riviera nightclub with The D.O.C. and Saafir and Craig Mack, so just having the chance to shoot him was really special.<br /><br /><a title="big" href="http://soniceditions.com/image/notorious-b-i-g-live-in-chicago" target="_blank"><em>Purchase This Photo</em></a>
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    <h2>OutKast</h2><strong>Raymond Boyd: </strong>I was in Milwaukee at a Jam For Peace concert, this four day concert with like 20 or 30 up-and-coming artists, just promoting peace. OutKast had just come out, and they were doing a radio interview there. Again, I was one of the only people allowed upstairs, and after the interview I asked if they could give me some shots, and they posed for me right there. I didn’t really talk to them—they were really quiet and to themselves at the time—but they were real cool, and once they came out they just tore the stage up. They kinda remembered me from the station and looked down and pointed, so they realized I was legitimate. Just to be there at the start and seeing how far they’ve come now, especially with them touring festivals now, it was special.<br /><br /><a title="out" href="http://soniceditions.com/image/outkast" target="_blank"><em>Purchase This Photo</em></a>
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    <h2>R. Kelly</h2><strong>Raymond Boyd: </strong>That was in L.A. in '96, that was on the set of the video for “Thank God It’s Friday” with Hype Williams directing. At the time I was in L.A. with R. Kelly during the Down Low Tour, and he tells me we have to go shoot this video. We’re in this big old airplane hangar with a Chicago backdrop and I’m thinking that this would be a great shot, but the video kept going. There really weren’t any breaks in shooting, so I’m just trying to shoot what I can. The first break I got was when Hype had to change film or something, and Rob was just leaning on the car, so I just started snapping. The car was white, he had all the white on; it’s just a funny shot. I see why it makes you laugh—I don’t know why either—but when friends of mine see it [and] they laugh about it. He was always a ham for the camera, he’d do crazy stuff like that. But that was really cool, because back then he didn’t really allow many people around him anyway, but being from Chicago and having shot him with Public Announcement and MGM, we built up a great relationship.<br /><br /><a title="kellx" href="http://soniceditions.com/image/r-kelly-leaning-on-a-lincoln" target="_blank"><em>Purchase This Photo</em></a>
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    Photo Credit: Raymond Boyd
    <h2>Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre</h2><strong>Raymond Boyd: </strong>That shot is special too, because that’s when Snoop had debuted and was performing at the Regal Theater, and during that time I was writing for <em>Fresh Magazine</em>. I spoke to Dre during soundcheck and asked if I could get an interview with him and Snoop, but before the show Dre told me I couldn’t get Snoop right then, but I could talk to him. So we went to a room and did the interview with Dre and it was real cool, and then we went back to get pictures of him and Snoop together, and he got Snoop and they posed for me. Come to find out I couldn’t interview Snoop because he was real high, and when I was taking pictures during soundcheck, Dre whispered to Snoop to look away from the camera. So my shots are all of him looking away, and I could tell Dre was really protective in the way he wanted to present Snoop, but the fact he still allowed me to get shots of him and Snoop was great. With all of these shots, it’s not always that it’s planned in a certain way, you just happen to find yourself in a situation where you get shots like these. It was just cool back then.<br /><br /><a title="snoop" href="http://soniceditions.com/image/snoop-dogg-dr-dre-9vw" target="_blank"><em>Purchase This Photo</em></a>

Previously: 26 Rappers Who Called Their Projects Classics
Photographer Jonathan Mannion Picks Out The Most Classic Hip-Hop Album Covers He’s Shot
A Dad Recreated Classic Rap Album Covers With His Sons
17 Photos Of Rappers As Teenagers
Raymond Boyd’s Sonic Editions Collection