The New York photographer lensed the 90s scene, capturing everyone from A Tribe Called Quest and D’Angelo to Mary J Blige and Usher. Here, he takes us on a tour through his archive
A Tribe Called Quest for Arena (1998)
“This photo was taken towards the end of Tribe, just before their long break, when they put out The Love Movement. There was a tight vibe on the set between them. They already knew they were going to split up. That was the vibe but besides the somber attitude, they were pretty flexible.
“I used to have a Sony Walkman and listen to their album on repeat walking the streets when I first came to New York. For the shoot, I wanted to take it back to the neighborhood where I enjoyed listening to their music many times. But at the same time I wanted to show the grandeur of the downtown Brooklyn skyline. This was on Lafayette Street looking north towards DeKalb and the Williamsburg Bridge in the background. The skyline looks completely different today.
“While I was up there waiting for someone to show up, I looked over the edge of the roof on the street and saw a production van pull up in front of the entrance. Someone started off loading big boxes of film and video equipment and putting them on the street. Then a U-Haul backed up, picked up the stuff, and took off. Basically it was a planned robbery – an insurance scam. That’s one of those classic New York things you used to see.”
Showbiz & AG, Goodfellas for Payday Records (1994)
“When I decided to stay in New York I had to survive, so I got a job at a restaurant. One of the waitresses was a budding model and I took some nice shots of her when I was still an apprentice. Her boyfriend owned a management company and a record label, Payday Records, and he liked what he saw.
“This shoot was at was the very beginning of my career. We went up to the Bronx. I’m glad they were down. A lot of these cats, they wanted to shoot something that was more aspirational. This was pre ghetto fabulous but if there was a budget they would have demanded another location like the Plaza. Showbiz was about to go to jail so it was also a tight vibe. He had a lot on his mind.”
D’Angelo for The Face (1995)
“This was the actual moment when you heard Brown Sugar for the first time. It’s in Harlem on 116 and Fifth Avenue. Even though he’s from Virginia, it had a Harlem vibe to it. When we went were walking on the street and a few people recognized him and asked, ‘Brown Sugar – is that you?’ It was that fresh.
“D’Angelo was so chill. We did three locations that day and he was really open. Here’s the thing, most of these artists, we’re the same age. They weren’t celebrities or stars yet, they’re doing their craft so there’s mutual respect, the artist to artist kind of thing. There was no financial gain. I just wanted to do whatever I could just purely to big this up.”
Mary J. Blige for Trace (1997)
“This was a cover shoot for Trace magazine. Mary had a suite at the Parker Meridian on 56 Street in New York. I didn’t get to choose the location, but I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do for the cover. I was messing around this light painting technique where you do a slow exposure, turn out all the lights, black out, then you paint with a flashlight around the person, create all these shapes. It’s a real tedious process. You need to be into what you are doing to have a good outcome.
“This shot is not that. This is one of the other shots I took in the process. This as the time when she was going through some stuff. She wasn’t happy and the record label wanted to send her to etiquette class. Being the diva that she is, she got into fights with journalists and photographers. She had an attitude like she was pissed.
“It was not that easy for me to deal with. I had to have a quiet moment with her in the bathroom because she had a small entourage. Normally there’s time to sit down, get to know each other, eat or drink but we didn’t have that on the shoot so I had to vibe out with her in the bathroom and that helped a lot. Human to human interaction without all the buffers.”
The Firm for The Face (1997)
Foxy is another one. She’s Brooklyn but she’s as feisty and rugged as Mary. Unpredictable. I love her. This was the ghetto fabulous era. Hip hop was blowing up: big advances, platinum albums, they’re really making money now. And they’re stars so they’re late. AZ and Nas came first; Foxy Brown was nine hours late. I did some great solo shots with Nas and AZ, then I was like, ‘Okay she’s not there yet, fuck that.’
“I told my assistant to pack up and just as she was taking the last light down, Foxy showed up. When they saw the Polaroids they were like, ‘This is hot.’ I did two set ups: one black and white, the other red-toned, which is what the magazine ran. It fit perfectly with their style; they’re decked with Gucci, Prada, Dior. My thing is always photographing the people. Whatever the set and the styling might be, that’s great, but I there needs to be a connection to that rather than purely the concept.”
Juvenile for Spin (1998)
“These are the Magnolia Projects, where Juvenile and Turk are from. Projects anywhere are hard but in the Dirty South, it’s amplified. There’s no concrete on the ground. It’s real country. People from out of town have stigmas (about the hood). If you say, ‘Let’s go to the Bronx,’ they say, ‘Ill get shot.’ Magnolia is the same thing: ‘If you come in you might not come out.’ I’ve gone into a lot of situations and shit has gone down but I came out okay.
“I was fortunate enough to have the liberty to propose to do other things to. I wanted to go to the swamps. They had never been. We took a caravan of Mercedes with bulletproof windows and they all had guns in their waists. Meanwhile we’re out on those little airboats with their knees about their ears cause they’re scared of the gators. It was a trip.
“It was a success because they felt like they achieved something by overcoming their fear of the swamps; growing up they thought they’d be eaten be gators and cannibals. That little gator right there, that could have bit your arm off. It was so vicious, it was crazy. The jaws on that thing! But it was fun.”
Jamaican Yard Girls, Kingston (1998)
“I feel really at home in Jamaica. I love the music and the culture, and wanted to document it for myself. I used to follow a sound system called Stone Love, one of the biggest ones in Jamaica. This was at a place called the Cactus Club in Kingston.
“I was going out to clubs, having a good time partying, and scouting models to shoot. This photo was taken on the way out in the parking lot. I saw these girls inside and did some shots with one of them. We did a little mini shoot in the parking lot and this is one of the shots.
“This shot has only been published on my Instagram but people have taken to it and recreated it as paintings and illustrations. There’s an artist that painted it and used it in Paper magazine. But this image is part of a series of work that I’ve only cracked the cap on.”
Usher for The Face (1998)
Usher was acting in The Faculty, his first feature film, directed by Robert Rodriguez. They were shooting in Austin, Texas, and I was given the liberty to suggest where I wanted to shoot. It was summer, hot as hell in Texas, so I was like, ‘Let’s go wherever there’s water, I don’t want to be sweating all day! I’ll get a small boat and let’s catch a breeze.’
“I asked Usher if he could water ski and he said, ‘No but I could try,’ so he tried and he did. He tried 100 times until he got up and stayed up. This shot is right after he got up. He took the challenge and he wouldn’t give up until he came up. Well done.
“Usher is one of the most professional artists that I’ve ever worked with. He was so friendly. Everyone had been friendly buy New Yorkers have a different attitude, a different edge. He’s from the South has that warm Southern vibe. Also his mother was his manager, so she really schooled him in etiquette. He was very professional courteous, and completely open. He didn’t have any demands. The only thing he requested was if we could try to go to a mall unannounced.”