Capturing the birth of rap culture in the UK, presenter & DJ Norman ‘DJ Normski’ Anderson’s ‘photographic journey of Hip Hop in the UK’, is a fantastic look back to the past, tapping into the excitement, energy and overall vibe of the UK’s 80’s burgeoning Hip Hop scene.
The collection of photographs range from some amazing ‘up close and personal’ portraits to live shots & on to magical back stage glimpses of the scene at the time.
The collection of images include some of London’s earliest rap groups such as ‘The Demon Boys’ & landmarks such as the massively influential Def Jam tour of 1987 which included artists such as Public Enemy and LL Cool J.
Louder Than War caught up with the man himself, DJ Normski, for a chat about the roots of UK rap, what it was like watching the scene grow and to talk about how the images came together.
Louder Than War: Hi Normski. The photo collection is amazing, capturing some fantastic shots of the visiting US artists as well as the UK’s and London’s growing scene, all of which you’ve recently had on display at the ‘4our pillars’ Hip Hop culture event I believe?
Normski: Yeah, I was invited to display some of my photographs at the 4our Pillars event as the organisers wanted the event to really cover all aspects of the scene.
Its a collection so rich and alive with classic hip hop artists as well as with shots straight from the street & inside clubs. There’s also break dancers and other Hip Hop sub-cultures in there too. Was it being around this growing scene which inspired you to start taking photo’s
Normski: I actually started taking photographs in my early teens as a hobby. I was interested in the magic of developing and printing film. In the mid 80’s I was always part of the street scene and Hip Hop arrived at the the right time. I have always been into music, art and culture and actually was photographing people and places before I got into live gigs and artists. My archives are well into the 3rd decade now and have really derived from what was happening around me at the time.
Some of the earlier images were shot in London around 1985 of graffiti artists and break dancers…was it around that time you’d say that London started buzzing with its own hip hop culture?
Normski:¬¬ Yes I think the whole UK scene really kicked off in the mid 80’s and very quickly was the fastest growing youth culture movement in the world.
The collection does catch that early London Hip Hip scene with some magnificent shots, capturing groups like ‘Hijack Crew’ and ‘Demon Boys’. Can you tell me about those early London hip hop groups and that early scene you started to capture?
Normski: As I have lived in London all my life you’ll see that my images are taken from a UK perspective and I hope show that none of the UK artists were pumped full of money, but rather they had an attitude and a hunger to prove they had a voice and a look that we could call out own. Being one of a small group of UK photographers I was lucky enough to be able to catch moments, as a friend, in what was still then a relatively small scene. Everyone knew everyone that was playing a part in the scene and I made it a habit of going to as many jams and events as I could.
Working with the Demon Boyz and Hijack was a pleasure and a really unique experience. Both groups had only done one photo session before me and when we got together I think they appreciated my work ethic of listening to their ideas and allowing them to contribute to the creative process.
Most of the images we were creating were first timers and this cultural movement with it’s fresh voice was now being visualised. I didn’t always know where we would be taking the photographs, it was always in anticipation of going to the area that the artists lived in and trying to capture them and capture the vibe of where they were coming from.
There’s also Soul and Ragga artists in there as well isn’t there? The collection isn’t just Hip Hop but incorporated what was really happening in black culture around then. Do you agree?
Normski: The UK scene has always been a mix of British and foreign cultures. The whole Hip hop party element was born out of sound systems in the Caribbean with the toasters or MC’s not just riding the riddims and controlling the party, but also reciting what was going on in everyday life locally and globally.
Another big moment for UK Hip Hop is also captured in the collection with the legendary Def Jam tour of 87 with Public Enemy and other rap groups…a real inspiring time for Hip Hop in the UK which must have been amazing to catch.
Normski: The DEF JAM 87 tour was early in the life of Hip Hop & it was still one of the most important, eye opening and life changing concerts for most Hip Hop fans ever. I was already a big fan of all the artists especially LL and Eric B & Rakim, but Public enemy had arrived as the warm up group and by the end of the tour they were the talk of the town with there explosive live show and hard hitting honest rhymes. I was in my element standing in the photographers pit at Hammersmith inches away from the biggest names dropping all their classic tracks.
You got the all time Hip Hop greats like Guru, Bambaata, Marley Marl, Chuck D, KRS-1 and many others. With a lot of the portraits you can tell these artists were giving you their best side – resulting in some amazing images, how did you find working with those artists?
Normski: In a way I suppose it was a case of the right place at the right time with working with most of the artists. I was taking a lot of photographs that were making it into a few magazines like Hip hop connection and I guess it didn’t take long for the word to get round that I was pretty good with the camera.
Also, I showed up all over the place and I guess the artists knew I was keen as well as being an integral part of the UK scene so they often obliged by being professional and giving me some of their valuable time. I always tried to keep my sessions short and interesting. Every artist has their own individuality and I tried to recognise and focus on what made them feel special.
For you personally though what was it like shooting them. I assume you were and still are a massive fan of these artists?
Normski: Every time I had the opportunity to shoot with an artist that I was a fan of or not, it was always an honour and a slightly nervous situation as catching a bad photo never did anything for anyone. There is a moment when you frame a shot, press the shutter and feel a connection and you just know you got it.
With the UK artists and groups in there, did you find yourself quickly becoming synonymous as a rising photographer in and around London / UK quite quickly?
Normski: Yes, as I said previously I was there at the beginning of the scene and my skill was capturing moments in our history. I had no issues with going from area to area though I’m sure some UK artists would prefer to work with other photographers as I might have been seen as the enemy.
Which is your favourite picture and why?
Normski: The hardest question to answer is the “favourite photo an why” one! Having taken so many and enjoyed so many different events and occasions to choose just one is hard, but one of my favourites is the image of Hijack. I took it on a partly demolished building site in Vauxhall. The original photo was actually a Black & White print. As it was the favourite pose for all the members but only in B&W I had to come up with a way to colour it. So I took to some hand retouching with various inks and paints then copied the new coloured print to create what ended up as a comic book animation. We had taken many shots all day with negative help from the police who didn’t like the fact that we had climbed over walls to reach our locations, or the fact that the group were wearing balaclavas and looked like a terrorist group.
There are some great close ups in the collection as well as live shots but which do you find is the most popular shot?
Normski: A lot of my photographs are talked about for different reasons but one of the most popular is the picture of Big daddy Kane asleep on the Cold Chillin tour bus from 1988.
So how did you make that jump from photography to presenting and music media, was it a natural process after taking pictures, wanting to get more involved with new black music around that time?
Normski: For me it was quite a natural jump although I have tried to continue to take photographs throughout my life as it has always been my first love. At the beginning of the 90’s I had seen an opening in television and went to the BBC with intentions of taking photographs on future productions and again it was a case of right person, right time and right place as I ended up being invited to audition for the TV series Dance Energy and got the job to present dance music on a broadcast medium rather that just through photography.
Looking back and comparing the artists and groups in your collection to the Hip Hop acts today, where are we today?
Normski: Hip Hop has and always will evolve with time and continue to grow as a worldwide industry and be the real voice of the streets and youth generations. On one hand it is nothing like it was in the beginning as there is a much stronger business structure in place now, but it all comes down to talent and vision of which there is no end of between the US and the UK. The whole grime scene has grown from hip hop as we knew it and continues to create artists that have been able to make an impression on the music industry worldwide.
What new artists / groups are you picking up on these days, any new acts you rate today?
Normski: For a while now I have been listening and playing more underground club sounds and photographing artists beyond the hip hop world.
Lastly, what else are you up to at the moment, any new projects?
Normski: More recently I have been venturing into the retail side of producing t-shirts in collaboration with Classic Material and Foot patrol with a 2nd limited collection in production for 2013 and another bigger collection of shirts in production with Worn By All incorporating my Hip Hop and street style photography. I am also currently broadcasting a live online radio show every week called Get.Tronic as well as DJing in clubs, events and festivals.
To view the full collection and all of Normski’s photograph collections go here: https://www.normskiphotography.com/
Normski’s website is here: https://www.normski.me/
All words by Carl Stanley. More writing by carl on Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.