“Rap is something you do. Hip Hop is something you live.” ~ KRS-One
Hip Hop music has been around for decades and is now celebrating its 50th anniversary. The legendary Hip Hop genre has been the driving force of popular music culture for years. It has become a significant influence and source of inspiration worldwide - lyrically, musically and visually.
Early Hip Hop music saw its roots in the 1970s in the New York City borough of the Bronx. It started as a collaboration among intersecting groups of Black, Latinx, and Caribbean American youth at block parties - community gatherings that featured DJs playing soul and funk music. NYC DJs like DJ Kool Herc, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa began to experiment with different techniques during parties, including longer percussive breaks (called "breakbeats" or simply "the breaks"), turntable techniques, scratching, freestyle, and improvised vocals based on Jamaican "toasting." They're often credited as pioneers of modern Hip Hop and Rap music.
One example is “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugar Hill Gang, a song that came to heavily influence mainstream hip-hop today.
Rapper’s Delight, Sugarhill Gang, 1979
In 1984, several Hip Hop albums - especially from artists Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys - introduced what became called "new school Hip-Hop." This style emphasized drum machine beats, minimalism, shorter songs (which were more radio-friendly), and socio-political commentary. These artists shifted away from the party rhymes and funk influences of "old-school Hip Hop."
The late 1980s and early 1990s were the golden age of Hip Hop, in which many performers enjoyed huge mainstream success while introducing major innovations with each new record. The era also saw the rise of gangsta rap, a subgenre that emphasized the lifestyle of inner-city youth and was characterized by artists like Schoolly D, Ice-T, and NWA.
By the late 1990s, Hip Hop was a major mainstream genre and created many high-profile artists, including Lil Wayne, Timbaland, Nelly, Puff Daddy, Jay-Z, Ja Rule, D.M.X., Eminem, and 50 Cent. In 1995, the Grammys added a new award category for Best Rap Album; it was awarded for the first time to Naughty by Nature.
In the 2000s, many artists incorporated heavier influences from punk, jazz, indie rock, and electronic genres. The rise of internet distribution and streaming services at the turn of the century and into the modern day created an explosion of artists, mixtapes, and experimentation.
Twins Sarah J. and Sally A. Edwards have captured moments of some of the biggest names in Hip Hop, from J. Dilla to Questlove. In celebration of Hip Hop's 50th anniversary, we are honoured to showcase some of the photography that captures the rawness and beauty of Hip Hop legends.
"This photo was part of a Slum Village editorial for BLAG. Sally arranged it with their manager and brought Questlove as a surprise to join the interview.
"There was limited room, so these photos were all taken in a bathroom. I was crouched in the tub, and each group member was photographed individually due to size restrictions. J. Dilla was such a lovely, warm person. He's missed and remembered fondly." - Sarah J. Edwards
"We had worked with André a couple of times before when I was an editor for NME.com. We'd always got along well but didn't really know each other. "When we heard OutKast had a new album, we had to get André for a BLAG cover.
"The shoot took 10 minutes. I was using 35mm film and a flash. The room had a low ceiling, so we had to shoot swiftly and compactly. The images came out strong and fun." ~ Sarah J. Edwards
"GZA appeared on the cover of our first printed BLAG magazine, and we stayed in touch. He texted me a few days before the show, asking me to photograph the performance. So this is a pretty exclusive shot!" ~ Sarah J. Edwards
"We became friends with the Beastie Boys when we were teens and always spent time together whenever we were in each other's cities.
"This shoot took place in Brussels in the basement of a huge venue. Fourteen thousand fans were unaware their idols were goofing off downstairs in what we believe is one of their funniest ever interviews.
"The shoot was equally low-key. We'd somewhat ironically themed the edition 'D.I.Y', and that's precisely how it went.
"We had no lighting down there, so production kindly set up some Mac 5000, which are exceptionally bright spotlights. Money Mark (American producer and musician) put his design studies skills to work, as we got rolls and rolls of aluminium foil to reflect the light. We carried telephone books which were used as weights, and backdrops from a London art shop via Eurostar.
"The shoot was filled with leg-pulling from both sides of the camera.
"It was my first 120 film shoot." ~ Sarah J. Edwards
"It was kind of a coup to get this cover, as 50 Cent had already released 'In Da Club'. The news of our magazine BLAG had been circulating in New York, and we were introduced to a member of 50's management team who was eager for him to shoot a cover with us. When he arrived in London, they made about 30 mins available for us to do the shoot and interview. We managed a really fun interview and a roll of film or two." - Sally A. Edwards
"This shoot took place in Mayfair on a hot July day in 2006. "We did their BLAG cover interview, which was a lot of fun and laughter.
"Meanwhile, there was a power outage in the room we'd set up to shoot. Our assistant had been organising the lights, and everything blew. Thankfully, the photographer after us had arrived early and kindly lent us his kit.
"We played Organized Noize beats. Big Boi freestyled along. We made tea and had a relaxed atmosphere going.
"Questlove believes this is one of the last ever shoots of the duo. I'm glad they look so happy." ~ Sally A. Edwards
"This was about the fourth time I'd photographed Questlove. Phil Knott shot his first BLAG cover, and I did the interview. From then on, we connected with Questlove as we shared a mutual love of hard-to-find records and well-curated editorials.
"We set up at our old studio in Jasmine, West London. Questlove brought a selection of press shirts and his hair dryer - this is as self-styled as it gets. We used a beauty light and dark colorama to capture iconic portraits." - Sarah J. Edwards
"This was for a BLAG cover, not the first time we had worked with the band. Our good friends who ran Elms Lesters Painting Rooms were kind enough to allow us to use their space, one of the city's favourite creative places. It was a real pleasure to host Chad, Pharrell and Shay. Everyone had a great time." ~ Sally A. Edwards
"This shoot was a treat, as we were kindly granted permission to use The Dome at Hotel Cafe Royal. The dome can be seen from the ground as it sits opposite the famous lights of Piccadilly Circus. Joey was great to work with, laid-back, confident and grateful." - Sally A. Edwards
Take a tour of our 3D Gallery.
Date: 26 February, 2023 - 1st May, 2023
Time: At Your Leisure
Place: Wherever you are
Bring: Popcorn, chocolate, cocktails
Where: 3D Gallery 👉 Closed
About Sarah J. & Sally A. Edwards
Sarah J. & Sally A. Edwards are British twin sisters who work as Photographer and Art Director, respectively. Raised in rural England and Scotland, they spent much of their childhood and art school years secretly relying on a crackling radio, untuned T.V.s, passed around mixtapes, and discovering international magazines – to inform themselves culturally.
The sisters created BLAG during art college, using the wages they made from their Saturday job. They grew it to become an international glossy, choosing up-and-comers for covers and features ahead of the curve.
Known for in-depth, down-to-earth editorial content leaning into humour and kindness, they unveil an empathetical viewpoint not often seen. Sarah and Sally believe critical ingredients for making striking images are: humour, storytelling, respect, down-to-earth scene setting, and specifically created soundtracks. The sisters’ ethos is that each shoot portrays subjects naturally, taking an organic approach with zero to little in the way of retouching and essential lighting only.
Sarah J. & Sally A. Edwards