NEW YORK -- The Jungle Brothers were there, trading smiles and bear hugs
with Grandmaster Flash, the Geto Boys and other famous faces on the steps of the old
Blondie singer Debbie Harry snuggled with her dog Chi-Chi as Rakim and Fat Joe
found a pose.
And as the camera clicked away, a tardy Run-D.M.C. arrived, scurrying to join in the
photo, accompanied by cheers and clapping from the crowd.
"There's a lot of a power here, a lot of juice," rapper Wyclef Jean said as he stood near a
gathering of some of the most famous rap artists and pioneers. "It's a historical
The moment was a photo shoot, dubbed "A Great Day in Harlem," held Tuesday
(Sept. 29) to re-create a famous photograph of jazz musicians taken in 1958 for the
cover of Esquire magazine. This time, the photo was being shot for the cover of an
upcoming tribute to hip-hop in the rap magazine XXL.
Substituting urban-music legends for the jazz legends of the earlier era, the shoot
gathered more than 300 hip-hoppers, including some of today's top artists, such as
Run-D.M.C., Fugee Wyclef Jean, the Jungle Brothers, Da Brat, Xzibit, Shaquille O'Neal,
Slick Rick, Rakim and Fat Joe.
The original photo, shot in August 1958 by Art Kane, brought together 57 jazz greats of
the time, including trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie, bass player Charles Mingus and
saxophonist Sonny Rollins, on the steps of 17 East 126th St., a brownstone apartment-building in Harlem. Now, 40 years later, standing in front of that same apartment -- its
facade since scarred by a fire -- the hip-hop musicians greeted each other in much the
way a family does after having been reunited, with hugs, kisses and words of kindness.
Waiting on the closed-off block of 126th Street, the musicians spilled over to the steps of
two adjoining buildings and onto the street as photographer Gordon Parks silently
snapped away, capturing the moment on film. Assistants blared out instructions from
bullhorns, asking the rappers to look at the camera or to pose casually.
Grandmaster Flash, who, along with his band the Furious Five, released the seminal
1981 single, "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel,"
acknowledged the profound influence he had on bringing turntables and scratching
records to the music industry.
"We were just looking for some kind of alternative entertainment for people
that refused to follow a rule," said Grandmaster Flash (born Joseph
Saddler). "Like with disco you had to have a suit jacket, a tie on. There
were too many rules. My piece was the turntable."
Flash also revealed that he has recently inked a deal with Columbia
Pictures to make a film of the story of his life. But a shooting schedule hasn't been
worked out, and no actors have been confirmed yet, he added.
Most of the musicians at the photo shoot were casually dressed, forgoing the expansive
gold jewelry and clothing that have often characterized hip-hop fashion. Instead, many
opted for simple T-shirts, jeans and baseball caps.
Jungle Brothers member Afrika wore the same outfit he sported on the cover
of the Jungle Brothers' first album of experimental hip-hop -- khaki pants, a khaki field
jacket and matching safari hat -- as an ode to his early days in rap.
"This is the outfit that started me off," he said. "It worked yesterday and it'll work today."
Among the handful of female musicians who attended the shoot (invitees Salt-n-Pepa,
Lil' Kim and Lauryn Hill were no-shows) were Da Brat, Paula Perry and Rah Diggah of
the FlipMode Squad, along with Harry, whose rap/new-wave single, Blondie's "Rapture,"
helped push the genre into the mainstream in the early '80s.
"I think they invited me because 'Rapture' was the first rap song to go
into the charts," Harry said.
Other no-shows included Puff Daddy, the Beastie Boys and A Tribe Called Quest.
In addition, a film documentary was being made of the event by producer Nelson
George, whose credits include the television sitcom "The Chris Rock Show." The photo
itself will be featured in the Dec. 8 edition of XXL.
"It's a great thing for rappers to be portrayed in such a positive way," said
Wise Intelligence of the Trenton, N.J.-based rap band Poor Righteous
XXL magazine editor-in-chief Sheena Lester said she hopes the photo will show
that, like jazz, hip-hop will continue to endure.
"We want this to pay homage to the jazz greats and the original photograph," Lester said.
"And we want to show the important faces of hip-hop."
The Jungle Brothers' Afrika had a more direct take on the hip-hop re-creation of the
jazz-inspired 1958 photo.
"You look at music -- bebop then is what hip-hop is now," he said.