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Kendrick Lamar - Love / Jamil GS - Stick-ups
Left: Kendrick Lamar’s ‘LOVE.’ video / Right: Jamil GS’s ‘Stick-ups’ series

Photographer Jamil GS says Kendrick Lamar’s ‘LOVE.’ video copies his work

Jamil GS believes his ‘Outta Darkness’ series was used in the ‘LOVE.’ video without permission

About a minute and a half into the music video for Kendrick Lamar’s “LOVE.”, a scantily clad woman appears against a black backdrop, pulling pin-up poses, illuminated by a single source of light. It’s a stylish shot, and for any fans of hip hop photography, it might be familiar. The image recalls “Outta Darkness”, a 2004-05 calendar of pin-up-style photos by Jamil GS, an influential photographer who has previously shot the likes of JAY-Z and Diddy and had his work exhibited alongside the likes of Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. As the godfather of the ‘ghetto fabulous’ style of photography that reigned supreme during the 90s and early 00s, Jamil GS pioneered a look that took hip hop culture to the next level. He was surprised when he believed he saw his signature style replicated in Kendrick’s video.

“I’m disappointed that someone whose music I respect, and with such resources, would copy my work,” Jamil GS sighs. “When another artist or peer appropriates my work, it devalues it. I have a clear signature style that has taken years to develop and situations like this, if not called out, make it harder for me to market my work.”

“LOVE.” was directed by Dave Meyers & the Little Homies – the latter name being an alias used by Lamar and Top Dawg Entertainment’s Dave Free for their visuals – and continues a series of collaborations between Lamar and Meyers that recently saw the directors take home a Grammy award for his work on “HUMBLE.” The rapper’s videos have often referenced different artists and photographers, like the multiple allusions to the work of Gordon Parks in “ELEMENT.”, but the line between homage and plagiarism is sometimes thin. In fashion, accounts like @diet_prada are calling out copycats, while just on Sunday, British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor claimed that her work had also been imitated for the rapper’s “All the Stars” video, also directed by Meyers. Representatives for Meyers and Lamar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jamil GS creates photographs combining strength, dignity, and glamour by casting artists and models from the streets and pairing the hottest local trends from Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem, Queens, and Kingston, Jamaica, with the latest prêt-à-porter collections from Paris, Milan, and London. Whether shooting for record labels or magazines, Jamil GS’s photographs defined the look of the 90s and 00s.

‘Ghetto fabulous’ was used to refer to people who came from humble circumstances yet had luxury cars, clothing, jewellery, and cosmetics. The idea took off just as hip hop went mainstream. By the late 90s, moguls like Sean John, Jay-Z, and Kimora Lee Simmons were incorporating this aesthetic into their work, while rappers like Mystikal, Fabolous, and Ras Kass were using a variation of “Ghetto Fabulous” as the title of their albums and songs.

“When I first started photographing hip hop, it was either underrepresented or negatively portrayed in the media,” Jamil GS explains. “I was determined to change that and present the culture as it reflected the soul of the people. This was the inspiration for the Ghetto Fabulous look. I want to bring out the authentic attitude that comes from within, from living with hardship and adversity or inherited traumas and add master lighting to bring out people’s inner glow and perfect the image.”

In 2000, Jamil GS launched the GS Stickups Calendar, a series of collaborations with brands including Hysteric Glamour and Supreme. Inspired by Harri Peccinotti’s work for the Pirelli Calendars, 70s Playboy magazines, and Marvel comics, Jamil GS reinvented the classic pin-up for the new millennium.“With the reach that Kendrick has, he can easily be mistaken as the originator of a visual style that he is not,” Jamil GS says of the “LOVE.” video. “I want to set the record straight.”

The “Outta Darkness” photographs came into being while Jamil GS was working on a campaign for Royal Elastics. When the power suddenly blew out in his studio, he was forced to be resourceful, and decided to go ahead with the shoot using just the hot lights on set. The result inspired the photographer to go in a new direction for some time. “It was a spiritual idea: out of darkness comes the light,” he explains.

Jamil GS explains that he intends to revisit the “Outta Darkness” idea again in the future. “I understand the value of my work,” he says. “Even things that I’ve shelved for a minute, they come back when the time is right. When this situation comes out, people will think I got inspired by Kendrick Lamar – there’s no value in that for me.”

This is not the first time Jamil GS’s work used without permission. In 2007, an artist on a major label released a video that appropriated photographs he made for the 2001 summer fashion feature of The FADER. “I did the cover as well,” Jamil GS recalls. “It was the first sold-out issue of The FADER. I took action. The violation of artists’ work has been growing over the past ten years. Cases like David LaChapelle vs. Rihanna and the estate of Guy Bourdin vs. Madonna show how artists of the highest calibre plagiarise and/or appropriate other artists’ styles and concepts without consideration of the original artists’ detriment.”

“Being an artist is a privilege, as an artist you are tapped into a powerful source that allows you see many things others don’t and you are given the opportunity to create and be original,” he adds. “Kendrick is in a position to inspire many people right now, and as a conscious rapper he has the opportunity to uplift not just his audience but his fellow artist and peers. Stealing or borrowing from an artist is called ‘biting’, and it’s far from the integrity of hip hop culture as I know it.”