In the fall of 1982, celebrated music photographerJanette Beckman moved to New York City, where she found hip hop on the edge of explosion. After a decade underground, the DJs, MCs, b-boys, fly girls, and graf writers were finally getting their due from the downtown crowd. While trains were covered in graffiti and boomboxes were blasting on the corners, DJs were up in the clubs while the dancers rocked the floor. Artists were getting signed and local legends were born. And while some called hip hop a fad, Beckman knew better.
Her photographs, collected in The Breaks: Stylin’ and Profilin’ 1982–1990 (powerHouse, with texts by Bill Adler and Tom Terrell), transport us back to a time before music videos and marketing departments took control. The queen of the ’80s album cover, Beckman shot the icons of the era: Africa Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Fearless Four, the World Famous Supreme Team, Lovebug Starsky, Salt’n’Pepa, Run-DMC, Stetsasonic, UTFO, Roxanne Shante, Sweet T, Jazzy Joyce, Slick Rick, Boogie Down Productions, Eric B. and Rakim, EPMD, NWA, Ice-T, 2 Live Crew, Tone Loc, Gang Starr, Ultramagnetic MCs, Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, Special Ed, Leaders of the New School, Jungle Brothers, Beastie Boys, Rick Rubin, and countless others. The era was as original as it was innocent, and Beckman’s images remind us of a culture that brought forth The Message before it got Paid in Full.