when i started the hip hop story for National Geographic Magazine two years ago, i really did not know where to begin….i was lost…there was not one single rap cd on my shelf….i mean, i was pretty much from the  bob dylan, stones, doors, jerry garcia generation….if it was not for my two sons , bryan and erin, i would not even have a clue as to what followed….even then, i was pretty much locked into radiohead,  phish,  u2, rem, jack johnson and still bob dylan!!

i mean, i knew the "mainstream" rappers…snoop, nelly, 50 cent, diddy, jay-z, eminem and i had tracked the life and art of tupac just because he just always seemed so interesting to me….but, that was really about it…and i had not really listened….i felt the  beat yes, but i could not always understand the words….so i downloaded all of their lyrics…and i read, read, read, and read…that was when i realized this was a story about WORDS….what these guys had to say, was what the story would be…

i ended up in the south bronx projects…where kool herc, afrika bambaata, grand master flash and a whole slew of others , in the early 80’s, took nothing but what they had to say and some beat up turntables and created an art form that vibrates  and shakes concrete around the world….

one day i met "uptown" and "ruckus" (above)…they had both been childhood buddies….their mothers were friends…..they both went to jail when they were 18 or so and they both got out about 10 years later….while they were "inside" they wrote about their lives….when i met them they were living the life in the "’hood"…mostly journalists find out what is going on by asking questions…i built my rapport with these guys by NOT asking any questions….listening works…

i brought them my books …i took a few snapshots and brought them back the next day…and new pictures everyday thereafter…i let them take me where they wanted to go and do what they wanted to do…i let the lyrics i had downloaded and the lyrics that "uptown" and "ruckus" wrote sink deep into the recesses of my brain….i knew i was on to something special….i did not pretend to be anything other than who i was…my only thought was that maybe i could be a type of "bridge" to other white folks in my generation…

one day "ruckus" invited me for sunday dinner in his small apartment on the 18th floor of the Bronx River Projects…..i was honored….out of respect , i showed up in my sunday best…yup, coat and tie….i figured if they were going to invite me into their homes, i would invite them into mine….from that day forward there was an exchange of friendship and comraderie i had never experienced in all of my travels….this was as far away from home as i had ever been….

when they came to my brooklyn loft  and got on the computer and looked at my photographs of them, they really got into it….even telling me things like "yo dave, the lighting in this picture sucks"   …. they poured over all of my photography books and were very proud to be involved with National Geographic even though they were not subscribers….they each walked out one day with new copies of "Magnum Stories"….they were into the "collaboration" we had going….we all knew we were making some kind of history…..a document where they were the authors…i was just a facilitator…

so, my whole project started with these two unknowns….they have dreams….they want to be like nelly and snoop….for the money?  sure!! but, mostly to be recognized as poets, as artists, chroniclers of their world….one day several months later i tried to call "uptown" from snoop dogg’s studio in los angeles….i wanted it to be a great moment….but, "uptown’s" cell phone was out of credit….but he loved the story later anyway….

i took my lessons from "uptown" and "ruckus" and traveled around the world  to meet other rappers in other cultures…, barcelona, israel/palestine, korea,thailand  and finally to the heart of it all…africa…in senegal i met "jally" a senegalise griot….a story-teller….jally’s father , and grandfather and great grandfather and great great grandfather etc etc were griots….if your father is a griot, then you are a griot…there is no other path…and the griots passed on their beat, their rythem their ability to tell a story , to "rap" to their fellow slaves on ships that ended up on the shores of the americas….and from the cane sugar plantations and the cotton fields  came gospel, jazz, blues, rock n’roll and then all the  way back and  all the way forward  to "rap"….

some of my work appears this month in National Geographic Magazine, with a brilliant essay by James McBride ….some of it online as a video on Geographic interactive…..if i do a book someday, the text will be the words of "Uptown" and "Ruckus"…..i just hope they live to see it…because , you see, the life they lead can lead to fame and fortune, but more often leads to jail or death……this is just their fate….

but, my dream remains… be at a book signing somewhere with my "boyz from the hood" signing their books…..after all, it is their story, not mine….i just went along for the ride….


18 thoughts on ““uptown” and “ruckus””

  1. it’s happy face. :) ;)

    I thought it’s international sign.

    it’s means that I like this text.

    but i have nathing to say more this time.

    its pleasure to read your posts.


    it’s means quick: good moring i like this post.

    ha,ha,ha…(laugh). I’m realy difficult blogman.

    I hope that you do not lose patience.



  2. and one question

    moment ago I have looked Geert Van Kesteren’s essay “war status iraq”. I feel shock and anger when I see something like that. So, I have a question: magnum photos has been founded with thought about war photography. Your pictures is opposite than war and suffering. I know, not everyone photographer from magnum documents conflicts, but they are sometime ask, you should go to war zone? Do you never feel need to taking so powerful photos of sorrow? Like Nachtewy, or Gilles Peress?


  3. I subscribe Martin’s word: it’s a pleasure to read this post (it’s a pleasure to read all your posts).



  4. hey martin…

    well, that is pretty funny!!! i am sure it is an international sign, but i am so so “out of it” with certain aspects of the computer age…sort of weird that i would find the net as a place to publish!!! ;) !!

    no martin, how i can i lose patience with you?? you are always here…you are one of my favorite responders !!.and both of us have trouble with communication…not personally…just language etc….yes, yes, very funny!!!

    ;) david ;)

    p.s. ok , tell me…if this ;) is happy face, than what is this :) ???

  5. I can not be stopped laugh!

    i have big banana on my mouths, we say in poland.

    :) this is happy face with open eyes

    ;) this ist happy face with put forth eye.

    but meybe in another countrys it’s mean something deferent?

    but in Poland it’s very friendly sign.

    My Mum always send me :) or ;) on end of sms.

    then it’s means “good day”, or “take care”

    but it’s only sign, use how you like.


  6. hey martin….

    magnum photos was originally led by two key photographers….robert capa and henri cartier-bresson……capa chose conflict and war….henri chose little quixotic moments in everyday life…so, you can see , from the beginning magnum had at least two approaches to documenting the world…

    while some magnum photographers choose to cover conflict, we have many who choose something completely different….look at martin parr and antoine d’agata for example..

    we have many types of photographers who really have only two things in common…all magnum photographers “bear witness” (they shoot the world as it is…no manipulation) and they all are “authors” striving to push forward a personal photographic style….

    i have chosen my path because it fits my particular personality and background…all photographers should “dig” into their childhood to find out “who they are” and subsequently produce the most artistic work..

    i have so so much respect for gilles and jim and paolo and alex and thomas d. etc etc…what they do is so important….

    but each of us has a different mission….mine is to sensitize people to other people….to help in general understanding…to help one culture to understand another (like hip hop) so that maybe (idealistically) we do not have so many conflicts which need to be photographed..

    everyone puts a different “brick in the wall”


  7. Hey David,

    I am gonna start this brief note by telling you a dirty little secret: For about half a year or even longer, it doesn’t matter, I only crossed your path at the Magnum office a couple of times and frankly I never knew what to think about you. There wasn’t any more conversation then a “Hello” maybe. Sure I knew your work, your photographs but as a person I didn’t know you. And I am full of prejudices, maybe not the typical “mainstream” prejudices but still… I am a human being and out of my experiences, even if those experiences might be subconscious, I built up prejudices. I am trying not to have any, but of course I do.

    One of those prejudices reflected you. I thought about you as a macho guy, as somebody who just felt a little superficial. The “cool” guy… Maybe I didn’t like that because I always wanted to be a cool guy but have never been.

    But then I remember the day we started to talk about your Hip Hop story. I just asked about it and you started to tell me – sitting in that small photographers room. Later we went down to that cheap and good Dominican restaurant across the street (I love that place and the people there) and you told me about uptown and ruckus, about the story, your approach to Hip Hop and the South, South Bronx. And suddenly we were in the middle of exchaning ideas for possible ways of presentations that story for Magnum In Motion and in a multimedial way for an exhibition for example. And I started to like you. Still not really knowing you but I felt your spirit and enthusiasm.

    You did a great job, I am looking forward to the new NG issue, to the book, to future exhibitions and presentations. Thanks for sharing this and for being a warm host!

    Well David, all this just to say: Respect and peace out! :-)

    Martin, the guy from Vienna and the north-east Bronx

  8. hey david

    so i have finally checked out your site – took me a while to catch up on everything!

    i think it’s really great… and i like the different areas/blogs you’ve got going on – kept me interested/curious and it does give it a magazine feel… super work! it was fun seeing you again in san miguel – i still have to email Marie about the pics… i’ll keep you posted whenever i head down to nyc – maybe you’ll actually be around!

    hope all is well – talksoon


    p.s. love the bling – suits you real nice! lol!

  9. Hello from the UK

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts, looking forward what you have in store…

    I thought I’d post the link to the NG website multimedia section for your Hip Hop story for everyone to enjoy:

    Was the Hip Hop story instigated by you? [I understood that it was quite difficult to get a story picked up starting with pictures – much easy to get a written story commissioned, with images to follow]

    Shame your shoot in Bahia isn’t a few weeks later, as I’ll be there then…

    Thanks again


  10. hello martin fuchs…

    pretty funny martin, because i never saw myself as a “cool guy”…too damn many insecurities..

    you are the cool guy!!!!…my god man, i have no idea how you manage to put out that blog!!! i mean that is a “monster” in the best sense…….very very impressive….you are the blogmeister extraordinaire!!!!!

    do you have a whole staff????i do not see how you could possibly do it yourself unless you were working 24/7 on it….tell me, tell me how do you do it???

    i am so so sorry we did not actually get to work on hip hop together…you were so into it and with so much knowledge…i would love to collaborate with you in the future, so let’s not lose touch…we both have platforms for doing that, so i will do my bit to make it happen…

    with mucho macho respecto!!!….david

  11. brother, i love the story.. watching the images/videos online brought me great joy… and when you get that book done, i want a signed copy.. signed by all three of you of course..

  12. Mr. Harvey, I just finished the NG piece about hip-hop and the NG online photo gallery. Your pictures were wonderful, as was Mr. MacBride’s essay. This is not a subject I would ordinarily spend a lot of time thinking about, but the article cleared away many of the misconceptions I had about hip-hop. And no, I didnt think those Parisian rappers were French, either. In a purely unrelated manner, ;) or ;-) is a wink and a smile.

  13. i am a latecomer here , David… i watched the multimedia , it is a pure treat to our eyes.. The photographs are fantastic and so is the essay…

    I read your post earlier and after seeing the multimedia , i came back again to this post and re-read it.. i read quite a lot of times and started thinking of co-relating the photo essay and the commentary of yours “behind the lens”… it felt good to know about your association with them… how deep you go into the subject … this story is an exception and you truly said, it is kind of a birth of a history …

    Salute, Sandip

    PS. i felt terribly sorry after i posted my comment on “portrait of Zaida”.. I wrote a mail in your studio mail box about it. :(

  14. sandip…please please do not feel bad about your post on “zaida”…i think i would have asked the same question…the picture looked like it could have been cropped, unless you look very very carefully at the perspective…anyway, i always look forward to your comments….david

  15. hi dave holden..

    there was a bit of coincidence on how the hip hop story started….it was an idea suggested to me by my oldest son bryan and it was idea that came to chris johns, editor of the magazine, from his daughter…almost simultaneous….i had written a short proposal, but chris was ready to do it anyway….

    moral: listen to your children!!!


  16. Hi David

    I’ve been following your work for about three years now and i’ve just found this site, so i tought i’d try and post a comment to you. I’m almost shaking with fear to think that you might take a minute to read anything I have to say, but I guess that’s one of the great things about the internet. Anyway i just wanted to say how great it is to see another DAH story in National Geographic. It’s interesting that the mulit media sections show much more than the final edit for the magazine. I always catch the multi media story and then i can’t wait to get my hands on the magazine, and then I can’t help feel a little disappointed with the final edit! But i imagine any photographer understands that. I guess there could never be enough pics and double page spreads to absorb in NG. Looking forward to the next one.

Comments are closed.