Feel the high … Contact High, that is

From left to right, Claiborne, Beckman, Combs and Tobak. Photo by Leon Laing.

Vikki Tobak’s book, Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop, takes us behind the scenes of iconic images. Like a family photo album of prints, the book intimately chronicles our history while paying homage to the lost art of film photography. Before the advent of digital photography, photographers used contact sheets to select the best images from film.

On Nov. 16 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., author/journalist Tobak held a panel discussion with photographers Danny Hastings, Janette Beckman, Ernie Paniccioli, and Barron Claiborne; museum curator Rhea L. Combs; rap vet Chuck D; and visual artist/former Yo! MTV Raps host Fab 5 Freddy.

During the panel discussion, Hastings talked about the big-budget photo shoots from back in the day. “The ’90s was amazing,” Hastings says. Chuck D gave props to Fab 5 Freddy. “When you look at this man, you see hip-hop,” affirms Chuck D.

British-born Janette Beckman took photos of everyone from Slick Rick to A Tribe Called Quest — Rick and Tribe helped to define my teenage years. While Beckman signed my book, we talked about Rick, the fashionable rapper with British and Jamaican roots.

“He put his bag down on the floor while holding the champagne bottle, drinks some champagne, grabs his crotch, and that was it,” Beckman reminisces about her photo shoot with Rick in Tobak’s book. “Snap! I took that picture within the first two minutes of the photo shoot, and I knew that was it. To me, that image and that attitude was just so hip-hop.”

When I told Fab 5 Freddy I watched Yo! MTV Raps religiously, he said jokingly, “I’m glad you paid your cable bill.”

Go cop Contact High. It’ll make a great Christmas gift.

Visit my Instagram page to view more photos.

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