A who's who of rap, including Canibus, Phife (from A Tribe Called Quest), Rakim and Xzibit, will smile for the camera on the steps of a Harlem brownstone for a hip-hop sequel to the classic portrait of jazz musicians that served as an Esquire magazine cover in 1958.
This updated version of the now-famous photo known as "A Great Day in Harlem" is scheduled be shot by renowned photojournalist Gordon Parks on Sept. 29 and is slated to grace the cover of the December issue of the hip-hop magazine XXL.
Although some have yet to confirm participation, the list of artists invited to the photo session includes chart-toppers Puff Daddy, Busta Rhymes, the Beastie Boys, Big Punisher, Canibus and the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as such older hit-makers as the Geto Boys, Public Enemy, KRS-One and Rakim.
"We've invited all of hip-hop's biggest hit-makers, but if they all show up, I don't know what we're going to do," XXL Editor in Chief Sheena Lester said on Friday afternoon. "I'm looking at this list of the people we've reached out to, and if they all show up, we'll have to have a three-page gatefold cover."
In August of 1958, Esquire Art Director Art Kane brought together the most important people in jazz to be photographed for the men's magazine. As shown in the Academy Award-nominated 1994 film documentary "A Great Day in Harlem," jazz legends Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins -- and 54 other notable musicians -- showed up by 10 a.m., as instructed, at a specified address in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City.
The invitees treated the occasion like a grand family reunion, making Kane's job a difficult one. Kane's perseverance paid off, however, and the resulting portrait is recognized as a classic representation of the giants of jazz during that period and hence.
Forty years later, Lester is hoping to have the same success with "A Great Day in
Harlem '98" -- a gathering of the biggest names in hip-hop at the same residential location on 126th Street, between 5th and Madison Avenues, where the original portrait took place.
Among the many hip-hop artists who have already agreed to show up are Q-Tip and Phife from A Tribe Called Quest, Big Punisher, Canibus, Black Moon, Xzibit, Tha Alkaholiks, the Roots, Rakim, Eightball and MJG.
"Basically, anyone that we've contacted who won't be there will not be there because of scheduling conflicts," Lester said. "We've gotten nothing but positive feedback about it."
According to Lester, the idea to do the photo shoot was first generated at the beginning of this year. The original plan was to shoot it in August, on the 40th anniversary of "A Great Day in Harlem," but plans for the event couldn't be completed by that time.
"As a staff, we sat down and put together a wish list which included everyone from Afrika Bambaataa to new stars," Lester said. "We tried to get everyone we could, but it has been a very difficult thing to do. If we included everyone who had a small hit, we'd have 15,000 rappers."
Lester also said she was considering reaching out to the handful of jazz musicians in the original photo who are still living, most notably saxophonist Rollins.
"Can you imagine all these rappers and Sonny Rollins?" Lester mused. "That would be off the hook!" Rollins and his management could not be reached by press time for comment.
This will be the second time this year that a hip-hop magazine has gathered rap stars together to take a photo inspired by the Harlem jazz portrait. In the September issue of Vibe, the editors gathered together many of the participants in 1988's
"Self-Destruction" and 1990's "We're All In The Same Gang" recordings to create a photo labeled "A Great Day in Hip-Hop." Photographed by Pitor Sikora at Morehouse College's Graves Hall in Atlanta, it featured such rappers as Chuck D from Public Enemy, Digital Underground's Shock G, Big Daddy Kane, MC Lyte, Slick Rick and MC Hammer.
"It was a lot of fun," MC Lyte (born Lana Moorer) said of that photo session. "I hadn't seen a lot of [the other participants] in a long time, so it was a lot better than your average photo shoot."
Lester is counting on the Sept. 29 session to also be "better than your average photo shoot." While the creators of the documentary about the 1958 portrait were lucky enough to discover that jazz bassist Milt Hinton and his wife had filmed the proceedings, Lester said that XXL is arranging to film the photo shoot for a video to be sold either through the magazine or through music retail outlets.
Proceeds from the sales of the video will go to the Harlem Boys' Choir.
"We want to capture young artists meeting their old-school heroes [on the video]," Lester said. "We want to show what the energy is like when all these hip-hop stars get together. I want to capture the candid moments for all the fans to see."
"We want this to pay homage to the jazz greats and the original photograph," Lester continued, "and we also want to show the important faces in hip-hop. Getting it together has been hard work, but we'll pull it off."