On the latest episode of the History of the Bay Podcast, host Dregs One talks with legendary hip-hop photographer D-Ray. Throughout the conversation, she drives home the notion that good photography is all about getting the shot.
She explains that access is a necessity, technical skills are important and cultural competency is key, but having the ability to get the shot — one image that speaks to the overall spirit of the event — that’s what’s most important.
On Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, The Midway was converted into a cathedral of Bay Area hip-hop culture as it hosted the first ever History of The Bay day party. A celebration of all aspects of Bay Area hip-hop culture, the event was organized by Dregs One, D.E.O. and the team behind the aforementioned podcast; and hosted by the lively brother from East Oakland, Lord Rab of No Vultures.
Veteran rappers who’ve put on for the region for decades rocked the stage as fans and fellow artists packed into the quaint outdoor area and rapped along to their favorite songs bar for bar. Inside were panel discussions about the state of the culture and vendors selling clothing stitched with the game given to them from the soil. I walked laps around the venue, amongst acclaimed artists of all sorts, hunting for the shot.
I made images of Giants baseball hat brims pulled low over faces billowing clouds of smoke, photographed a woman with electric red hair rocking a pair of glowing golden “415” earrings, and snapped the moment when Nef The Pharoh asked the audience to raise their middle fingers.
An exhibition of Bay Area rap artifacts in the hallway curated by Anthony MacArthur
showcased a treasure trove of items: a copy of Paris’ The Devil Made Me Do It, a Zion I flyer, a DVD of Mac Dre’s Treal TV, an image of Rappin’ 4-Tay in Murder Dog magazine, a tape of Souls of Mischief’s ’93 Til Infinity. Bruh, these fools even had a pair of Hammer pants on display.
It was one big-ass reminder of Bay Area hip-hop’s global impact; supported by the fact some of these iconic artists were in the building.
As Yukmouth of the Luniz, San Quinn, RBL Posse, Mac Mall and more hit the stage, D-Ray, the photographer who inspired my photographic philosophy for the evening, stood on stage with her designer hand bag and camera. Earlier she’d spoken on a panel alongside renowned Oakland aerosol artist Dime of the Few & Far Women collective, pioneering Oakland lyricist Carla “CMG” Green of Conscious Daughters, and KQED Arts’ associate editor Nastia Voynovskaya.
As East Oakland legend and king of the super duper hyphy hyphy Keak The Sneak hit the stage, the audience erupted. With the crowd gathering ever closer to him, Keak, who uses a wheelchair after surviving multiple gunshot wounds and a series of medical issues, became hard to see.
I stood 10 feet from the stage, periodically taking photos when the line of sight allowed for it while simultaneously rapping every lyric as Keak tore through his list of hits. At one point Keak paused to to appreciate the love from the crowd, and let out an exuberant smile. My camera clicked. I got the shot.
The image of his smile was emblematic of the entire day: the joy of Bay Area hip-hop, personified. The event allowed me to meet designers behind logos I’ve seen for decades and shake the hand of lyricists I’ve been following for years. Dregs One freestyled for a minute or two straight about miscellaneous objects that folks in the audience handed him, and you could hear people laughing at his punchlines. All afternoon I saw folks hugging, passing trees and taking selfies together.
After making the image of Keak’s smile, I took my eye away from my viewfinder and saw that D-Ray had left her position from the crowded stage. She was now in the audience, with me, in front of the stage — except she was right in front, with a clear view of Keak, and at that very moment holding up her phone to take a portrait. Damn, I bet she has an even better angle of the shot.
Again, access is a necessity, technical skills are important and cultural competency is key. But a big part of getting the shot it is simply about being at the right place at the right time. And for one overcast July day in San Francisco, the right place was an outdoor patio surrounded by folks celebrating the spirit of hip-hop in the Bay Area.