JDL and Grandmaster Caz at Club Negril, 1981.
Photograph by Joe Conzo.


Almighty KG of the Cold Crush Brothers at Harlem World, 1981.
Photograph by Joe Conzo.


Little Crazy Legs strikes an impromptu pose during Wild Style shoot, Riverside Park, 1983.
Photograph by Martha Cooper.

High Times Crew breaking outside police station, Washington Heights, Manhattan, 1980.
Photograph by Martha Cooper


JDL at Skatin’ Palace, 1981.
Photograph by Joe Conzo.

As time passes, history reveals itself in the art it leaves behind, the highlights of a past long gone by. And so it is that in these artifacts we can reflect on who we were, where we’ve been, and how we got from there to here. Hip Hop was born in the Bronx, a movement of the people to gather together to have a good time. In its earliest years, it was a local phenomenon, a style of art, music, and dance created by high school kids who wanted to party but weren't yet going out to clubs. Plato said, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” not quite knowing just how fertile New York City in the 1970s was for culture, feeding the world for decades to come for Hip Hop was born of the streets, but it went far, far beyond.

Hip Hop became a global phenomenon, sweeping the world by storm. During the first two decades of its existence, before it went pop, Hip Hop was an underground phenomenon that appealed to the true school. It was D.I.Y. culture that required originality, authenticity, and skills. It was local heroes made good. In celebration of this great, modern-day hometown story, the Museum of the City of New York presents Hip-Hop Revolution: Photographs by Janette Beckman, Joe Conzo, and Martha Cooper, an exhibition presenting more than 100 photographs taken between 1977 and 1990. The exhibition also includes listening stations for the music of performers documented in the exhibition, as well as flyers about early hip-hop performances, newspaper clippings, books and other paper artifacts of the era.

Curated by Sean Corcoran, Hip-Hop Revolution brings together for the first time the work of three of the most renowned photographers of the burgeoning Hip Hop scene. For old school heads, the work of Beckman, Conzo, and Cooper was integrated into daily life, as their photographs appeared on flyers, in newspapers and magazines, and on record covers. Hip-Hop Revolution is a follow-up to the City Museum’s highly acclaimed 2014 City as Canvas exhibition on graffiti art, which brought critical praise and a large audience (which was previously covered September 4, 2014 edition of The Click).

The three photographers came to hip-hop music and culture in dramatically different ways and with distinct perspectives. Joe Conzo was a teenager in school when he started photographing the early hip-hop scene in the Bronx and has been called by the New York Times, “The man who took hip-hop’s baby pictures.” He photographed groups such as the legendary Cold Crush Brothers in early performances, and showed a scene that started on the streets, in high school gyms, and, eventually, at the nightclubs.

Martha Cooper, a legendary documentary photographer, began taking pictures when she was three, eventually earned degrees in both art and anthropology, and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand. She fell in love with street culture in New York in the 1970s and has pursued this direction in her work ever since, becoming seen as one of the most significant photographers of both the graffiti and hip-hop scenes.  She photographed many of the first public instances of breakdancing and was known to the city’s B-boys and B-girls as ‘Kodakgirl.’ Her photographs have been published in many magazines, and several dozen books and journals.

Janette Beckman was an experienced music photographer in Britain, having photographed the nascent punk rock scene for magazines and record companies—including three Police album covers. She was drawn to the energy of the developing New York hip-hop scene and moved to the city in 1982. She quickly became one of the leading photographers of the exploding movement, specializing in portraits and including iconic photo shoots of Run DMC, Salt’n’Pepa, and LL Cool J. She is credited for helping create the public face of Hip-Hop.

Curator Sean Corcoran observes, “Hip Hop Revolution shows the ways that three different people in slightly overlapping times used their skills and techniques to approach the same subject. Choosing these artists was natural. I began talking with them pretty extensively while working on the City as Canvas show, and as I began to think about this show, they gelled from a photographic perspective.

“I think these three photographers fit together very well. At some points they seem to overlap but the each photographer was at a different place in their lives while doing this work. Joe Conzo was in high school, an amateur photographer and an insider to the way of life that is what you see in his pictures of the Hip Hop scene as it was first coming up in the Bronx.

“Martha Cooper, a professional documentary photographer, had a very specific interest in youth culture and B-boy culture. She photographed young kids on the street dancing, as well as the Rock Steady Crew when they performed at Common Ground and Lincoln Center Out of Doors, as well as downtown at nightclubs like Club Negril and the Roxy. We’ve also included a selection of her work from the movies Wild Style and Style Wars, as well as on the television show, Graffiti Rock, showing the state of Hip Hop as the mass media began to pay attention to the phenomenon.

“This is where Janette Beckman picks up. She had come over from London as a portrait photographer, working for music magazines and record labels. She was working with artists who had recording contracts and public personas that they were ready to project to the world. Hip Hop Revolution presents the arc of the movement from its grassroots beginning to its first decade in the music industry.

“Hip Hop as born in New York. Although there were international influences on the music, it all happened here. It’s a true New York story beginning with Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. All of the players in the early years were born here. This is where they came from and this is where they were performing. The city provided inspiration and connection to create a new art form.

“New York culture isn’t just what happened one hundred years ago. History is happening every day. The influence these subjects and photographs has had on world culture is tremendous. The kids may not be familiar with these artists, so this is a good way to inform young people where the culture of Kanye West and Drake came from.

“We are ending the show around 1990. By then the culture had been picked up the mainstream media and pop culture in general, which helped perpetuate it and spread it through the world. Hip Hop is now a global culture.”

Artwork courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York
Curated by Miss Rosen

Big Daddy Kane, 1988.
Photograph by Janette Beckman.



Boogie Down Productions: KRS-One and Scott La Rock, 1987.
Photograph by Janette Beckman.


Busta Rhymes (Leaders of the New School), 1990.
Photograph by Janette Beckman.