Blogging about subjects pertaining to hip-hop is something I swore to keep to the bare minimum, but talk of Brian Cross’s work on the new Dickies book project ‘Working In LA’ for Powerhouse is as fine a time for a digression on his photography, writing and directing. Why avoid rap blogging? Because I have no exclusive to upload, and everyone’s at it – look at your hands, you’re probably linking to OnSmash or ripping a Mob Style rarity without even knowing it.
An Irishman in LA, Mr Cross, sorry, B+ (as good a nickname as any) has delivered some of the best record cover imagery and photojournalism I’ve seen. Picture editor for Rap Pages until it fell off – a magazine that’s often underrated in terms of writing and imagery, some of the covers remain unsurpassed to the present day. I’ve long mourned the death of the iconic magazine cover shot.
Having hipped me to a Good Life beyond the bravado on the Left Coast, his book ‘It’s Not About A Salary’ is underrated – one of the few tomes that didn’t try to give its reader the idiot’s guide to hip hop, instead painstakingly focusing on the evolution of the west coast in an articulate, scholarly style, giving the mighty Skatemaster Tate as much coverage as Boo Yaa T.R.I.B.E. – alas, despite threatening a follow-up, a perfect-bound collection of roundtables with the likes of Conscious Daughters and Volume 10, as mentioned in the intro never materialised. Probably for the best.
I guess it takes an outsider to truly bring out the best in what most born and bred LA residents would take for granted.
Work with Solesides crew, particularly on the KEEPINTIME project and subsequent sequels, uniting the old sample sourcers with hip-hop’s respectful new breed, and the ultra-consistent Wax Poetics has made him something of a badge of quality – his Dilla photography says more about the much-missed subject than a thousand cash-in compilations or beat jacks.
But for all the consistency, one image is still etched on my retinas. The man may have passed, given circumstances the beef is tasteless, but the ‘It’s On 187umkilla’ artwork from ’93 – Chucks, 40 pouring, spliff-toking, wind-cheating, gun leaning greatness rivals fellow ghetto-tableaus like ‘Music To Driveby’, ‘Act A Fool’ and ‘We Can’t Be Stopped’ to remain favourite album (if we’re going to be specific, EP) cover of all time.
Speaking of static, he’s reputedly the recipient of a subliminal lyrical attack courtesy of Psycho Les (“Ask a question/3 seconds to answer/Kill a photographer shooting as a freelancer/On a mission trying to peek over my shoulder at the vinyl”) because photographing crate-diggers can be a dangerous occupation – In its own way, it’s a kind of acceptance. You’re nobody ’till somebody disses you.
One half of Corona’s finest may have promised homicide for peeking, but yeah, you get props over here. One of the industry’s most overlooked exports.
KEEPINTIME -Mandatory viewing – (RIP Earl Palmer)
A B+ Nitro Microphone Underground video – (peace to Tora and the crew)