My photographic work is and always has been deeply personal to me. The majority of my childhood was spent in Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I grew to be comfortable with being marked as different, whether in Lusaka or in Washington D.C., and found hip hop as a point of common ground, as a way to connect beyond language and location.
The “Comunidad” photo exhibit explores more than ten years of work within the global hip hop community. An exploration of friendship, collaboration, identity, migration and diaspora, these photographs represent a small visual record of Nomadic Wax, and of hip hop’s influence around the world. Each person photographed is a close friend and collaborator, someone that I’ve known and worked with for years, whom I admire and respect, people whose family I care about. And the variety of locations and settings represent that. Many of the photos were taken when crashing at each other’s homes, after exhausting video shoots, or on the road; experiences that have woven together a close-knit community around the world, the very crux of what Nomadic Wax, originally a record label, is all about: create, support, and collaborate as friends.
As a result, my photos are less about photography and more about deep and longstanding friendships. They are about the memories and experiences that I am reminded of when I see these faces. They are about a diverse and vibrant group of artists. People who embrace geographic, cultural and linguistic differences, and have forged ahead to create a beautiful community and beautiful art together.
Bocafloja is one of Mexico’s most influential hip hop artists, progressive thinkers and creative minds. We met at the very first Trinity College International Hip Hop Festival way back in 2006, and have been friends and collaborators ever since. His generosity is unconditional and his ability to make and share space, whether in his home or on stage, is remarkable. This photo was taken during the music video shoot for Memoria that my wife and I did together with Bocafloja in NYC in 2012. Shot in-between Harlem and the Bronx, this photo represents the memories and shared experiences that build community.
Emile YX?, is founding member of the legendary Cape Flats hip hop crew Black Noise (Cape Town, SA). In a lot of ways, he is the godfather of South African breakdance culture, and his influence has been felt across the continent. We’ve coordinated numerous exchanges both in DC and in SA, shot multiple music videos together, and he introduced me to Gatsby sandwiches and Bunny Chow. His work in the Cape Flats community through his organization Heal the Hood is nothing short of extraordinary. He’s a father, a mentor, a teacher, a b-boy through and through, and I’m honored to be his friend. This photo was taken in 2010 during the SA2DC exchange/mini-tour.
Kokayi. What can I say? One of my favorite emcees, period. One of my favorite producers, period. One of my favorite singers, period. My personal allegiance/bias to DC artists aside, I am a huge fan of his artistry, and appreciative of the fact that he’s been supportive of Nomadic Wax from day one. Whether it’s facilitating global exchanges or hosting emcees from abroad, Kokayi is down to break bread, jump in a cypher and educate. He’s a wild character, a father, a husband, a great friend; he’s family. And if you are passionate for the true craft of freestyle, then he is someone you need to know about. The photo was taken in DC in 2016 when he asked me to hook him up with some new press and promo photos. We always collaborate like this, with a mutual appreciation of each other’s’ craft. This location is one of my favorite ‘secret’ DC locations. It’s a beautiful red brick wall in an alley behind a house I lived in for seven years in northeast DC. Whenever I track back through old material, I can find many different photo and video shoots that I did in that alley. I always come back to it.
This is one of my favorite photos. Keyti is an OG of Senegalese hip hop. His first group Rap’Adio were pioneers that broke down a number of cultural barriers and helped popularize rapping in Wolof, as opposed to the colonial language of French. We met in 2007 while filming the Democracy in Dakar documentary, though he had been close to Ben and Nomadic Wax since our first project: African Underground Volume 1. Keyti steered our team through the complexities of Senegalese politics and its relationship to hip hop. We’ve been friends for 10 years now, and his spirit and passion continue to inspire me. Plus, there’s the genius project Journal Rappé that he and another OG Senegalese emcee named Xuman started. Trust me, if you haven’t heard of the project, look it up on Youtube. The photo was taken in Marché Sandaga in downtown Dakar back in 2010. We had just filmed an accapella video in the middle of one of the city’s busiest corners. We were packing up the gear and about to head out when I snapped this photo.
Comrade Fatso is a pioneer of the remarkable and unique spoken word poetry scene in Zimbabwe. I learned about him and this scene in the mid-2000s, during some of the worst times politically and economically in Zimbabwe. I was stunned to hear about this scene, revolving around the incredible Book Cafe in Harare, that somehow existed under Mugabe and full economic collapse. As I learned more, I realized that this was a very politically savvy community of artists. Often times using satire and humor, they were at the cutting edge of underground political activism in Zimbabwe. That cheeky sense of humor is spelled out in Fatso’s name. In 2009, we organized the first US tour for Fatso and Outspoken, two of the top artists of that scene at the time. We drove across the east coast in my Honda Odyssey and the entire band stayed with my parents in Maryland. In 2011, I had the opportunity to go to Zimbabwe and see them in action in their hometown, and to make my own personal pilgrimage to the Book Cafe. Harare remains one of my favorite cities in the world today, and the hip hop and poetry scene in Zimbabwe is perhaps my favorite in the world. Fatso and the organization he cofounded called Magamba has since put on one of the best annual hip hop festivals on the continent: Shoko Festival. We took this photo in an abandoned train yard outside of Harare, as we were shooting a music video for the song “Korokoza” (“Hustle”). Shortly after this photo was taken, we were rounded up by local police; detained and released after several hours with cameras still in hand.
Nomadic Wax coordinated Poetic Pilgrimage’s first US tour in 2009. Once again, we traversed the east coast in my old minivan; a recurring theme we all look back on fondly. These two women are brilliant, creative, and effervescent. We have been friends ever since, with different visits both in the UK and in the US. When my wife Stacey went to grad school in England, we stayed with Sukina and her husband (the emcee Mohammed Yahya), and Muneera visited Stacey in Brighton. They are all family members. The photo is of Muneera and Sukina on my parents’ ATV in PG County, MD. Having a ball. Taken in 2009.
In 2010, I travelled to Port Au Prince with Montreal-based supergroup Nomadic Massive. They were conducting a series of workshops with youth in the neighborhood of Carrefour-Feuilles, and I was there to document it. This was less than a year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, so it was an especially personal and emotional trip. A number of the members of Nomadic Massive are Haitian and for many, it was the first time they had been back since the Earthquake. Despite the physical and emotional devastation of Carrefour-Feuilles, the workshops abounded with energy and excitement. As part of the project, the 45 workshop participants wrote and recorded an anthem. This photo was taken during the marathon recording session. The line of kids from the workshop stretched out from the recording booth, through the waiting area, into a courtyard, out through the front door, and onto the street. In the photo, you can see Butta Beats and Waahli troubleshooting cable issues with the computer. Nomadic Massive is my favorite hip hop group on the planet. They embody the essence of international hip hop completely. Each member speaks and raps in multiple languages. They are firmly rooted in the multi-lingual and multi-ethnic intersection of all the crisscrossing migration paths that come through Montreal. We’ve travelled the world together. They’ve done farm chores with my parents, we’ve toured and crashed together, and they were the sounds of my wedding in 2016.
* The “Comunidad” photo exhibit runs through September 29, 2017 at ReCreative Spaces: 3501 Perry Street, Mount Rainier, MD 20712.