Rappers with Cameras
Rappers with Cameras
By Brad Puet; Street and documentary photographer based in Seattle
I've been a fan of Geo (aka Prometheus Brown) of the Hip Hop crew Blue Scholars ever since he stepped on the stage. It's been an honor to watch him grow. It was through him and another friend that I started taking my iPhone and taking photos. It's no surprise to me that Geo would later hook up with Thig Nat from The Physics, another Hip Hop group in the Northwest, and begin a new arm of showcasing their artistry to the community. This time it wasn't through a microphone and a stage or a mp3, it is through images and their visual stories.
Readers around the world, I introduce you to the Rappers with Cameras duo, Geologic of Blue Scholars and Thig Nat of The Physics.
Let's have fun!
BP: Thanks for doing this interview fellas. Please tell us a bit about your background in the creative arts prior to photography.
Thig: So I'm part of the Physics and been making music since the late 90s. Me, my brother Monk Wordsmith, and Justo started in college. Afterwards we really started to focus on the music. Over the last 10 years, we've evolved in our music and with that my creative artistry also grew with photography. I've always been grounded in music.
Geo: Same here, I rap. That's what I do. I'm one half of the Blue Scholars along with the DJ producer Sabzi. We met in 2001 and didn't really take it seriously. He made beats, I rap. Around 02-03 we started recording, 04 we put out our first album. Since then, it's been our main musical project just like Thig and the Physics. We've just continue to put out albums, go on tours. We're working on a new album right now.
I've always been into photography but never really found a way to express it creatively. I would just take pictures and look at them and be like, "Ah that's tight!" and appreciated others peoples photography. But I think it was through the process of the music, working with photographers for our visual components as musicians that photography started to move up creatively for me. People like Sabzi's brother, Andrei Zia Mohajerjasbi, who we got started together. Right when Blue Scholars was getting started, he was getting started. We made music and he made videos and filmmaking.
At this point my learning curve started there. I always had a point and shoot. When the phones started having better cameras, I was super into that. Once I started getting familiar with the actual mechanics of it, I started integrating it back into the music. So Sabzi and I started bringing out our analog cameras. It was about 2008 when we were touring and we wanted to document what was happening. We had a digital camera, but it was always running out of batteries, always running out of space. It was convenient because we could take 400 photos a night but 399 of them would be shitty (laughs). I think it actually broke. It was a Nikon DSLR and it broke. The Blue Scholars camera broke. So we went with a gang of disposables and just went crazy with taking shots and going to Rite Aid or something like that to print them out.
We liked the analog because it was what made us feel like this is us. This is our memory, aesthetically, rough around the edge-ness type of memory. It's how we saw it. I was an 80's baby so the aesthetic from the analog is what made me love it more.
"Flight Club." NY, NY. Photo Credit: Thig Nat
"Neumos" Seattle, WA 2013, Photo Credit: Prometheus Brown
BP: So that's a great segway with how you love the aesthetics of analog because of what you remember. For instance, I've talked, Geo, about how your Pops had a camera with him a lot. Tell us a bit more about that or who influences your photography.
Geo: Oh yea, Pops probably has a camera on him right now. He was a gear head man. He was an electrician in the Navy but photography was one of his hobbies. He ALWAYS had a camera around his neck. I remember I thought I had a complex about it because we are Asian and Pops is like a walking stereotype. He is always making us pose in front of something or with someone. Like if you saw some photos of me around the age of 7 and 14, I'm just grumpy. I'm like, "Damn - Pops is making me pose...again in public." (laughs) Now I look back and I appreciate it because I inherited a lot of those cameras when he went digital. He's definitely an influence. You know non-professional but took dope pictures. Maybe not dope by some standards but dope because they are random, like super random-ness. This helped me be even more appreciative of like say street photography. So my pops led me to read more about folks like Henri Cartier-Bresson and even Jameel Shabazz from the Hip Hop era. Pops helped me see that.
Thig: I think my experience is real similar. Growing up, my parents had the old school cameras like a Minolta and we had albums full of photos of us. It was something that we grew up with. I didn't take photography serious until after I graduated college. Now that I look back at it I always had a point and shoot. Even if I wasn't really serious about photography I would still take photos. But deep down, like in my subconscious, I had a need to always take photos. I always had a cheap point and shoot that I carried around all the time.
It wasn't until I was immersed in the Seattle Hip Hop scene that I wanted to be able to document these experiences I was having. I was surrounded by so many interesting, cool, talented people and I wanted to document that. I started a Tumblr page to be able archive my photos. This was around 2008 or so, where I started to get really serious about photography. I bought a DSLR, a Nikon D90, crop frame sensor etc but to me it was the dopest camera ever. It meant I was serious about photography. I didn't even know the difference between crop frame, full frame you know what I mean?! I just knew that I wanted to take it more seriously. So from there it was a progression. I literally took my camera everywhere I went; to shows, to parties, to hanging out with friends, family. It was just about taking pictures.
So now I can look back at this progression and appreciate the same photographers Geo mentioned. More importantly the inspiration for me started because I just wanted to document my life and my music through photography.
"Summer." Alki Beach, Seattle, WA. Photo Credit: Thig Nat
"Taft Avenue." Manila, Philippines 2013, Photo Credit: Prometheus Brown
BP: So how did Rappers with Cameras begin?
Thig: Geo and I had known each other for awhile before we even talked about a photo. Like we knew each other through music and collaborations and of course there was a mutual respect for each other already for our music. It was a few years ago, we had a studio at the OK Hotel. I remember, because I really wanted to get into film photography. Like I started to dip my toes in the water a little bit as far as film photography, and Geo was in it but we didn't know about each other just yet. I don't even remember how we came to find out we were into photography.
Geo: I think it was just we kept finding ourselves being the only two people among all these rap people who always had a camera on em.
Thig: Right! So you know we started to talking about photography and cameras and lenses that we wanted. Like stuff we always wanted but could never afford. Later we ended up buying them cameras, some we still want. But anyways at the OK Hotel. Its located in Pioneer Square and every 1st Thursdays is the Artwalk in that neighborhood. Well specifically at the OK Hotel, we would always see this. Artists would open their doors to their studio and showcase art, put up their work, invite their artist friends to put up their work. There may be some wine in those studios and some music. We would see this a lot and we'd be like, "Man, this is tight! People just put up their work, get drunk, and have a good time." (laughs)
We saw all these studios doing their thing and then I said to Geo that we could do this shit. So we decided to do the it too. We would put up a turntable, play some music. There wasn't no pressure to sell prints, it was just about fun.
That was the first one and we kept having more. We'd put them on in bigger venues and more people started to come through. Social media helped make it become big and help it keep evolving. It's like morphed into zines, a website, and like doing projects for Nordstroms. It's now become something that is now a brand. It's a zine. It's a website. It's a party. It's a gallery.
Geo: So your catching us in the middle of our evolution. It will always continue to evolve and morph and change form. Rappers with Cameras is everything Thig just said and our need to document from our perspective what's going on, what's surrounding us in what we feel as an incredible music scene in Seattle. It's a unique thing that we want to document.
"Rappers with Cameras" as far as the name, is also a way to poke fun at the idea of "What or Who is a photographer?" SO we're like fine, we're not photographers. We're rappers. With cameras. BUT really we acknowledge the fact that if you continue to use a device that captures light and turns it into an image then you are essentially a photographer.
When I started bringing my camera around - that's why I linked up with Thig so heavy, is because here's one dude in the room who doesn't think that me bringing my camera around is corny.
"Occupy Wallstreet Rally." Zucotti Park, NY, NY. Photo Credit: Thig Nat
"Westlake" Seattle, WA 2011 Photo Credit: Prometheus Brown
Thig: There were some people who would judge you like, "Oh! So you're trying to be a photographer now?" (laughs)
Geo: Yeah! It's like ok for that guy to bring his camera around because he's a "photographer" but I'm not supposed to bring mine around because I'm supposed to be a "rapper" and if I did, then I'm a weirdo. I mean I didn't take it all so seriously but I did think about it a bit. So when I'd see Thig I'm like, "That's my dude right there." We can have conversations about not being weirdos. And I love the fact that there are more folks coming out who are like, "Yo I'm a photographer and I do music!" Like the homie Nam. He's been doing both and now that he's linked up, more and more musicians are coming out as photographers.
Then I look into it more and this has been going on forever. Musicians have always been documenting their experiences. I mean like there can be a Tumblr page called "Jazz Musicians with Leicas." (both laugh)
Thig: Even like actors you know what I mean. Like even just creatives in general who don't claim to be photographers but are.
BP: How do you see the community responding to Rappers with Cameras?
Thig: I think it's been amazing the type of response, feedback, and participation we get from the community. It's in my opinion the only event in this city that will bring in rappers, photographers, people in fashion, professional athletes, singers, musicians, people who are into fashion. It's honestly the most diverse parties in Seattle.
Geo: Most definitely. I also love the pictures that come from it. Like you'll see an OG standing next to like a...hipster drinking from the same bottle of E-40's Mango Moscato. This is one place where its organically multicultural. It's first and foremost about the appreciation for visual art and also from the fact that its coming from a place of music. A very strong place of music. The subjects in our photos are mostly our friends who are all musicians. It's like, "Hey you want to see Macklemore before he was famous? It's right there on the wall and its up for only $40!"
"My parents." Seattle, WA. Photo Credit: Thig Nat
"Green Room." Seattle, WA 2011, Photo Credit: Prometheus Brown
BP: So with that, where do you see Rappers with Cameras going in the near and distant future?
Thig: So we are trying to figure out how to make a zine a more robust representation of our photos and we're looking at our images being on merchandise but the parties will always continue. We'll keep playing with the format. For instance, we had one event where it was at Town Hall where it was more of a panel discussion rather than a party. I think it'll keep evolving. We want to be able to show our work and present our work better every time.
Geo: We want it to grow. We're in the process of asking the homies who have been to all the parties, who've all expressed some interest in becoming a part of it going forward. We may even look into building a collective which will have the same purpose as me and Thig which is about the photography and the music and the intersection between the two. Or even if you're into other mediums and you're really into rap music, then come and fuck with us. Oh and its fun.
Thig: Personally I want people to appreciate the fact that everyone has a creative eye and that you don't and shouldn't be in a box that tells you that you are supposed to be one particular thing. I want people to take this and see that it involves and includes them. That it is a perspective that is unique and a glimpse of what we do and hopefully inspire them to do the same.
Geo: I want to see more rappers with cameras. I want them to acknowledge that they have a camera and they can document their life with that. They need to show their story and not just tell it.
Well there you go. Big thanks fellas! See you at the next Rappers with Cameras event!
Follow Brad Puet on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bradpuet
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