Lisa Leone's Here I Am Captures 25 Years of Hip-Hop Through Photography

Courtesy Lisa Leone
See The Fugees and a quarter century of hip-hop through Lisa Leone's eyes.

Ever since she was a teenager growing up in New York City, Lisa Leone has always had a camera in her hands.

"I started working in high school as an assistant to photographers," she recalls. "Now it's like second nature, like a part of my body."

Throughout her 25 year love affair with the lens, the New Yorker has seen it all. But one of the most significant moments the photographer has captured is the birth of hip-hop.

"It happened naturally," Leone fesses.

"I went to the High School of Art and Design, which was really the high school of graffiti and break dancing," she laughs. "A lot of graffiti artists and break dancers came out of that school. It was before people outside of New York City knew what breakdancing was."

"I was always more into documentary and street photography as opposed to a set up, so I would just document the world around me and take pictures of them 'cause they were my friends."

See also: The Field: Miami, a Documentary About Hip-Hop, Money, and the "Miami People Don't See"

The "friends" Leone is talking about are Fabel, Doze, and Mare 139 to name a few.

Today, these guys are known as early hip-hop icons, but back in the day, they were just a bunch of kids doing what they loved - little did they know that they would become the pioneers behind a global cultural phenomenon.

"It's not like I went around and was like, 'These are the people I know are gonna make it,' but the people that did [make it], there was a certain thing about them and you kinda knew already."

Twenty five years and thousands of archived photos later, Leone has complied her first monograph, Here I Am, which shares the history and evolution of hip-hop through photography in 104 pages.

"As an artist, you look back and the work I did 25 years ago holds so much more meaning now. That time was really about community and creativity and support. It was such a different time than it is now, especially in hip-hop."

Leone will take over Rec Room tonight in celebration of her book release along with hip-hop legends Fab 5 Freddy, the Jungle Brothers, and Maseo de la Soul. But before she and the gang party like it's 1989, the photographer chatted with Crossfade and shared some of the most legendary moments in hip-hop history captured by her on camera.

Courtesy Lisa Leone

Grand Master Flash, Rock Steady Park, New York City, 1991
"Rock Steady Park was like home, a community. It was all friends and people I grew up with. It was reminiscent of a mini block party. This picture of Grand Master Flash was just a moment I captured. There was usually a circle with people rapping or dancing. I actually found a picture of DMX rapping and I looked back and was like, 'Holy shit! That's DMX.' It was great. I always looked forward to going up there. It was like little reunions. That girl he was talking to, Margaret, she was the manager of one of the major dance crews. Anyway, she wasn't such a nice woman, and his face says it all. [Laughs] I was like, 'That's exactly how you should look at this moment!'"

Location Info


Rec Room

1690 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, FL

Category: Music

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