upper waypoint

D-Ray’s Photo Archive is West Coast Hip-Hop Gold

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

Cultural historian and photographer, D-Ray (center) takes a photo with the late legendary MCs The Jacka (left) and Nipsey Hussle (right) backstage at the New Parish in Oakland in 2013.
Cultural historian and photographer, D-Ray (center) takes a photo with the late legendary MCs The Jacka (left) and Nipsey Hussle (right) backstage at the New Parish in Oakland in 2013. (Cellski)

Editor’s note: This story is part of That’s My Word, KQED’s story series on Bay Area hip-hop history.

D-Ray’s photographs are full of bright, lively images of MCs you know by just one name. Kendrick. Jeezy. Even nicknames: Weezy. Anytime she and Drake cross paths, they take selfies.

The late Nipsey Hussle not only knew D-Ray, he would request that she be present at his Bay Area events. She served as official photographer for the late great Mac Dre’s Thizz Nation label. And her work documenting Bay Area hip-hop culture has been featured in many documentaries and print media, including Ozone magazine, where she worked as West Coast editor, and Showcase magazine.

A man in a durag and football jersey holds his arms spread, with friends in the background
The Jacka, who D-Ray photographed abundantly. (D-Ray)

This week, a special corner of D-Ray’s extensive archive — her images of the iconic late Pittsburg rapper The Jacka — go on public display. They’ll be surrounded by drawings, recordings, and other forms of art at The Jacka Art Experience, running Jan. 31–Feb. 3 at The Loom in Oakland.

D-Ray’s photography documented the life of not only the artist known as The Jacka, but the human being, Shaheed Akbar, who was murdered on Feb. 2, 2015. D-Ray was there for his vibrant life as well as his memorial. She was also present for E-40 and Keak da Sneak’s “Tell Me When To Go” video shoot, Mistah F.A.B.’s rise to fame, turf dance battles at Youth Uprising and many other flashpoints of Bay Area culture.

Sponsored

And to think, this West Coast cultural historian could’ve been a cake decorator.

“I used to take pictures of my cakes,” D-Ray tells me during a phone call, emphasizing the amount of energy she put into perfecting each pastry. “I spent all the time doing this and these people are going to eat my fucking cake?!” D-Ray says, recalling her frustration. “That’s how I started taking pictures.”

(L–R) Keak da Sneak and E-40 on the set of the music video for 'Tell Me When To Go' in 2006.
(L–R) Keak da Sneak and E-40 on the set of the music video for ‘Tell Me When To Go’ in 2006. (D-Ray)

Growing up in Hayward, D-Ray was first introduced to the camera by her grandfather. She worked a few gigs, from cake decorator to doing fashion and retail, and a stint as manager at the Picture People photo studio in Alameda’s South Shore Shopping Center. She eventually came back to decorating cakes, until her husband, hip-hop manager Gary Archer, asked her a profound question: “How many angles of that cake are you going to take pictures of?’”

Gary, who bought D-Ray a camera at the turn of the millennium so the couple could document their family, began working in partnership with D-Ray — she took photos of the artists he managed, like Mistah F.A.B. He also introduced her to the late Frank Herrera, head of Showcase magazine, the first publication to feature D-Ray’s work on the front cover.

A scraper bike on the set of E-40's music video 'Tell Me When to Go' in 2006.
On the set of E-40’s music video ‘Tell Me When to Go’ in 2006. (D-Ray)

Before her photography career took off, D-Ray tells me, she used to go through a process of decorating cakes: making one, not liking its appearance, scraping it off and then redecorating it. “In photography you can’t do that,” she tells me. “You come home, you’re looking at a set of pictures and you’re like, ‘I could’ve did that better.'”

So she learned how to do it well the first time.

Now, after more than two decades documenting the culture, she reflects on her work with pride. “I really have a thing about telling the story through my photos about our culture,” she says, “and I feel like I’ve captured everything through the years, and did it the best way possible, you know?”

Below is just a small sample of D-Ray’s photos, some never before seen, and her comments about each, edited for length and clarity.


Legendary late Pittsburg rapper, The Jacka, cracking jokes with Oakland community pillar and lyrical monster, Mistah F.A.B. at Moses Music in East Oakland.
Legendary late Pittsburg rapper, The Jacka, cracking jokes with Oakland community pillar and lyrical monster Mistah F.A.B. at Moses Music in East Oakland in 2004. (D-Ray)

D-Ray: So this was me just looking around the room and seeing these two knuckleheads laugh. You know what I mean? Just seeing them crack jokes there. They’re probably just roasting each other like no tomorrow. If you see Jacka, you can almost hear him laughing.

This picture right here shows Stan and Jack’s relationship. A lot of people might not realize that F.A.B. and Jack are actually close, you know, like friendship-wise, more than just music. But this right here, this is Ramadan. So Jack was definitely fasting that day, and they were probably cracking a joke on how he wanted to eat or something, you know?

Host Sway Calloway and East Oakland MC Keak Da Sneak chop it up while filming an episode of the show 'My Block' for MTV.
Host Sway Calloway and East Oakland’s Keak Da Sneak chop it up while filming an episode of the show ‘My Block’ for MTV in 2006. (D-Ray)

D-Ray: This is at Keak’s house in the 70s in East Oakland, during MTV’s My Block. History was being made and I decided to document it. To see them both sitting on a porch in East Oakland, it meant a lot to me. When Sway came to the Town it brought a lot of people out; it showed the love.

Fillmore raised MC, San Francisco rap star Messy Marv poses for a photo.
San Francisco rap star Messy Marv poses for a photo. (D-Ray)

D-Ray: So Messy (Marv) got the cover of Showcase magazine; that was actually shot behind Showcase’s office in San Leandro, off East 14th. It’s my very first cover shot. Frank Herrera was like, “D-Ray, you think you can do it?” I was like, “Hell yeah.” Mind you, this was film. You couldn’t see what you were taking pictures of.

This shot ended up in The Source magazine, XXL, this is what got me exposure in the world. Messy Marv welcomed me into the world. Also, Kilo Curt, Mac Dre and Miami The Most showed up to go talk to Gary and Frank because they were working Mac Dre’s record at the time. They saw me doing Messy Marv’s photoshoot, and that’s what got me adopted into Thizz — because Dre was like, “Oh, we need a female photographer.”

A candid shot of one of the many dance battles held at Youth Uprising in deep East Oakland, circa 2006.
A candid shot of one of the many dance battles held at Youth Uprising in deep East Oakland, circa 2006. (D-Ray)

D-Ray: We used to have dance battles at Youth Uprising, it was a safe haven. Kids from East Oakland, their parents, folks who weren’t a part of the youth center would come, it was something to do on a Friday night. Those kids, look at them, those kids in the middle row are the only kids that probably go to Youth Uprising. Those other kids are family and friends.

The ambassador of the Bay, E-40, sitting on his scraper watching Oakland going wild while on the set of the video for the hit song "Tell Me When To Go".
The ambassador of the Bay, E-40, sitting on his scraper watching Oakland going wild on the set of the video for the hit song ‘Tell Me When To Go.’ (D-Ray)

D-Ray: It’s showing East Oakland and both sides of Vallejo. Do you know what I’m talking about? Because I am the official Thizz photographer, and I still have a relationship with people like 40.

I saw it, I took it. I saw the T go up, and it automatically happens. I’ve just got to keep it real. As soon as the T goes up, it just happens. It’s just the way my mental is trained.

Well-known rapper and proud representative of Pittsburg's El Pueblo Projects, The Husalah, posing for a photo while sitting in a cherry red drop top car.
Well-known rapper and proud representative of Pittsburg’s El Pueblo Projects, Husalah. (D-Ray)

D-Ray: I spent like two weeks with Husalah before he turned himself in, and we wanted to get all of his stages, like all of his looks. I mean, he changed his clothes multiple times. We went to the projects, we did all types of stuff, just to make sure he had content while he was in prison.

When he was in prison, I made sure that he was still kept alive. Like, I had good pictures of him. I had press packets. I had whatever we needed. It was a sad situation. I’ll never forget it was like those two weeks.

The late MC, The Jacka, and well-known turf dancer, Ice Cold 3000, pose for a photo at Youth Uprising.
The Jacka and turf dancer Ice Cold 3000 pose for a photo at Youth Uprising. (D-Ray)

D-Ray: This is at Youth Uprising (YU). The Jacka would show up anytime I asked Jack to show up.

I have a thing with YU, those are all my kids. I don’t know him as “Ice Cold,” I know him as Gary. You get what I’m saying? Today, knowing his name is Ice Cold, I’ve had to get used to it.

I have a bunch of kids at YU, and I just felt like I had to make sure (Gary) had a picture with my brother and he had that kind of love that my brother could pass off to him… And I just remember, because they were all excited to see Jack there.

Jack would get me in trouble tho, because he would come through smelling like OH MY GOD. Olis Simmons (the former head of YU) would say, “D-Ray, take him outside and spray him down before he comes in here.” I’d be like, “Why Jack, why?” But then, you couldn’t hold that against him. The kids would love him because he’d come in and he’d be himself. Jack would inspire those kids, and bring shirts and talk to them. I think that’s what gave Gary — Ice Cold — so much hope. He makes me very proud. Ice Cold makes me very, very, very proud. To see him glowing in this picture like he is, that’s why I pulled this picture.

Sponsored

The Jacka Art Experience runs Wednesday–Saturday, Jan. 31–Feb. 3, at the Loom in Oakland. Details here.

lower waypoint
next waypoint
The Stud, SF's Oldest Queer Bar, Gears Up for a Grand ReopeningHow a Dumpling Chef Brought Dim Sum to Bay Area Farmers MarketsThis Sleek Taiwanese Street Food Lounge Serves Beef Noodle Soup Until 2:30 a.m.Minnie Bell’s New Soul Food Restaurant in the Fillmore Is a HomecomingSFMOMA Workers Urge the Museum to Support Palestinians in an Open LetterOutside Lands 2024: Tyler, the Creator, The Killers and Sturgill Simpson HeadlineYou Can Get Free Ice Cream on Tuesday — No CatchLarry June to Headline Stanford's Free Blackfest5 New Mysteries and Thrillers for Your Nightstand This SpringA ‘Haunted Mansion’ Once Stood Directly Under Sutro Tower