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Who Shot Ya? Three Decades of Hip Hop Photography

Posted Apr 12 2006

At many levels, this is an important book for anyone interested in youth culture, much less hip hop.

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At many levels, this is an important book for anyone interested in youth culture, much less hip hop. As the title suggests, the majority of this book is a collection of thirty years of hip-hop photography by Ernie Paniccioli. He doesn't disappoint, showing his wide breadth of work, from coast to coast. The collection includes artists as diverse as JT Money, Tupac, Davey D, Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., and Lil' Kim. Other photos include graffiti shots, girls with doorknocker earrings, and young b-girls. As hip hop is so heavily dominated by music, it's easy to forget about the visual components, including videos and photography by the likes of Paniccioli. How else would so many kids around the world be familiar with African medallions, four finger rings, and Los Angeles gang sings?
Cover of Who Shot Ya?
Besides the pictures, hip-hop critic Kevin Powell and Paniccioli himself make interesting comments about hip-hop culture. They both set up the context of hip hop's creation and growth and its importance to youth of the post Civil Rights era. While neither is an apologist, both address hip hop's contradictions, including sexism. Paniccioli's piece is particularly interesting as he brings in personal stories of growing up as a poor Cree Indian in inner-city New York, addressing issues of poverty, race, and culture. He doesn't glamorize the ghetto and is very critical of big business exploiting people's suffering. While Paniccioli is older than nearly everyone he photographs, his ability to draw the connections between rock, jazz, and hip hop are invaluable. As Paniccioli has been documenting the culture for three decades, going places that many other photographers wouldn't, he's a vocal critic of hip hop, but it comes from a good place. While obviously disgusted by big business and the nihilistic components of hip hop, Paniccioli also continues to see hip hop as a voice of young people.  Through his pictures he allows them to express themselves and not be defined by others.

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