NEWARK, New Jersey – Since bursting onto the scene in the 1970s, hip hop has become the best-selling musical genre in the world. And capturing his rise from the very beginning was the photographer Ernie Paniccioli.
“If you look back in history, you’ll see that all musical genres came from the neighborhood or the ghetto – reggae came from the slums, jazz came from the cat houses, you know, I could go on – the rock and roll came from the poorest of the poor,” Paniccioli said. “Every art form came from the streets. From the street upwards. And she was rejected, ridiculed, accepted and honored – and it’s the same with hip hop.”
Paniccioli’s photos of the now titans of the industry are currently on display at the Grammy Museum Experience Prudential Center in Newark, as part of an exhibit celebrating June, Black Music Month.
“Black music is, in essence, American music. It’s about the experience that we all have culturally, historically,” Mark Conklin, director of artist relations and programming, told FOX 5 NY. “And so we wanted to bring together programs, exhibitions and events that would celebrate all of that and give a new generation an understanding of how important this music is to us as a people and as a country.”
In A Hip-Hop Life: Five Decades of Hip-Hop Music, Art and Culture, Brother Ernie, as he is known, has used his lens to capture the sides of these legendary characters that go beyond the obligatory poses that reflect the harshness of the streets. Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Flavor Flav and Salt-N-Pepa are among those images. Asked about these characters who are now gone, Paniccioli had tears in his eyes when he saw his photos of Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls and DMX.
“I remember Biggie saying about one of his records that he never thought hip hop would go this far,” Paniccioli said.
Ernie Paniccioli looks at some of his photos on display at the Grammy Museum Experience Prudential Center in Newark, NJ (FOX 5 NY Photo)
His photos were also published in the coffee table book Hip Hop at the end of the world: the photography of Ernie Paniccioli.
Now approaching 75, a cancer survivor and still not ready to put away his 35mm Canon, Brother Ernie has reflected on his role in spreading the small musical genre that no one gave a chance to but now everyone knows.
“If I can be remembered, if my work can be respected, if my work can be enjoyed in the future, that’s the legacy,” Paniccioli said. “But I don’t want to leave right away.”
A Hip-Hop Life: Five Decades of Hip-Hop Music, Art and Culture | Grammy Museum Experience Prudential Center | 165 Mulberry Street, Newark, NJ 07102