Janette Beckman on Helping N.W.A. "Fuck Tha Police": "They Were Just So Sweet and Nice"

Categories: Interviews, Photos
Janette Beckman NWA.jpg
Photo by Janette Beckman
NWA in Los Angeles.
Janette Beckman had already immortalized the Clash and the Sex Pistols on film when she first met the members of N.W.A. She was putting together a book of photographs of the hip-hop community.

"I try not to have any preconceived notions when I go into a situation," she told Crossfade while watching the graffiti murals go up in Wynwood during Art Basel Miami Beach week.

"People had told me they were these Black Power people and they didn't like white people, but it wasn't like that. They were just so sweet and nice and helpful."

Janette Beckman MC Lyte.jpg
Photo by Janette Beckman
MC Lyte in Brooklyn.

N.W.A.'s song, "Fuck Tha Poilce" had just come out when Beckman visited their Los Angeles studio.

"I asked them if they'd come outside to take a shot," Beckman remembered. "So we go outside and I see this police car coming down the street. I jumped out into the street and the police car stops right in front of me.

"The officer looks at me and then looks at N.W.A. I don't think he knew who they were, but he asked, 'Are you okay?' I said, 'Sure. Can I take a picture in front of your car?

"So I got my shot of N.W.A. standing by the car, my three frames, and then he drove off," Beckman said.

Eazy-E died not long after and the photograph remains one of the iconic images of the group. But Beckman's place in gangsta rap lore almost took on a whole new dimension.

After the photo session, she said, "N.W.A. asked if I would come do a voiceover in the studio for one of their tracks. I looked at what they wanted me to read and it was about how to give the perfect blowjob.

"I said, 'Ah, no. I don't think so.' But now I think I should have. I could have been famous!"

Janette Beckman islington twins.jpg
Photo by Janette Beckman
Twins in Islington, London.
Despite Beckman's humility, she did become quite famous as one of the great portrait photographers of our time. In the coverage of a show she had this year in Paris, Beckman was called "the Anti-Leibovitz," a label she doesn't dispute.

"I make images of people as they are, not as something else," she said. "I don't have them standing on top of a car, holding up a dead rat. Unless that's their thing."

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Dream South Beach Hotel

1111 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, FL

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Morrison Hotel Gallery

124 Prince St., New York, NY

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