My Favorite Hip-Hop Show

This past August 11th marked the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, and in that time it’s gone from a strictly underground niche to a prominent part of mainstream music. I have a lot of fond memories with hip-hop at its center: block parties that ran into the late hours of the night; listening to Angie Martinez after school every weekday; watching Video Music Box; having Kool DJ Red Alert visit my junior high school—the list goes on. My first experience with live hip-hop wouldn’t come until I was an adult, when I saw Lupe Fiasco and The Roots perform at Nokia Theater (currently called Palladium Times Square at the time of writing). This predates my relationship with concert photography by quite a bit, but once I started photographing shows, I knew I’d have to try and see some of my favorites at some point. For this month’s post, I just want to quickly talk about my favorite memories from a hip-hop concert I photographed.


Jay Electronica

In December of 2014, I was fortunate enough to photograph Common at Irving Plaza. He was touring for the album Nobody’s Smiling, and had Jay Electronica as his opening act. I went in with fresh eyes and really wasn’t prepared for all that would happen. When I arrived, there was actually another opener before Jay Electronica. Legendary producer 9th Wonder took the stage and introduced Rapsody, who proceeded to blow away the audience with her immense talent. It was actually my second time photographing her (the first being at a show that June in San Francisco) and it was great to get to take in a second performance so soon. 

9th Wonder


Jay Electronica was next, and while I wasn’t familiar with him by name at the time, I had definitely heard hit song ”Exhibit A” a ton. In what felt like the first minute of his first song, he took his performance closer to the fans and was standing on the barricade. After a bit of time at the barricade, he hopped over completely and was standing in the crowd, surrounded by hip-hop fans. As the show continued, he’d work his way all the way to the back of the room before returning to the stage and inviting as many fans as the stage would hold to stand with him as he performed. That exchange is also how I got one of my favorite crowd photos, which is still in my portfolio after all these years.

All of this had already taken place, and Common hadn’t even gone on yet! When it’s finally time, Common goes on and gives a performance filled with good music, dancing, a turntable scratch exhibition, and what would be the most exciting moment of the whole night. Common starts talking to the crowd as a lead-in to  ”I Used to Love H.E.R.“ and begins going through a crate of records on stage. As he’d go through, he’d pull up classic albums to show to the audience, eventually stopping on Brand Nubian’s One For All. Just then, Brand Nubian took the stage for a cameo performance, and the crowd went wild. Common returns to the crate, pulling Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, which prompts an appearance from Raekwon. After a bit more digging, Common pulls A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. When ”Award Tour” began and Q-Tip took the stage, Irving Plaza erupted. Each appearance was only for a single verse, but seeing and hearing all these hip-hop react to surprise after surprise was incredible, and I can’t say I’ve ever experienced another hip-hop show as exciting as that December night. 

Brand Nubian



I’m fortunate to say that I’ve photographed some of my favorite hip-hop artists, and I’ve been lucky to have photographed some legends from multiple eras. Nearly 10 years later, I still look back on this night fondly and it is a top 5 moment for me since becoming a music photographer. I know that there will be more amazing moments to come, and I can’t wait to see them for myself. 

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