Photographer Ricky Powell shares frozen frames from rap's halcyon age
It pays to be in the right place at the right time. For Greenwich Village photographer Ricky Powell, that place was the hip-hop clubs in the 1980s where he became Def Jam's unofficial chronicler, and "the fourth Beastie Boy." From Grandmaster Flash to Eric B. & Rakim, Powell caught the golden age in his lens.
Growing up in the village, Powell had known Beastie Boys' Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz from around the neighborhood for years. He even confesses to having a fourth-grade crush on Horovitz's older sister, Rachel, who was in the same grade as Powell. Intoxicated with hip-hop in his early 20s, Powell caught the Beastie Boys at the Cat Club, and hung out with them afterward. A friendship with the Beasties was born, and Powell was invited along for the group's legendary Raising Hell Tour with Run-D.M.C.
"Then it just kind of cascaded upwards from there, as far as the rap connections," Powell recalls. He soon became a fixture around the Def Jam office and got to know such artists as Public Enemy and LL Cool J.
The kind of cantankerous character brewed only in New York, the 47-year-old Powell rages about "new jack cornballs" and casually adds that there are a couple of people he'd like to see "shot in the head on the street." He doesn't care much for today's rappers, suggesting he was there when it was great. "It's just played out," he says. "I prefer doo-wop to hip-hop these days."
Powell brings his shenanigans to Atlanta to kick off the new weekly sound/art event, waxchaotics. He plans to show candid slides from the '80s – including much of the photography featured in Oh Snap!: The Rap Photography of Ricky Powell – while narrating "my version of shit," he says. There will also be some of the street photography for which Powell is well-known. Later, he'll spin some records, but don't expect any Young Jeezy.
"I'll be playing jazzy funk, funky jazz and a little classic rock," he says before affirming a few moments later, "I'm going to die a bitter old man."
But it's entertaining for the moment.