Guest Star: "Nas Came Out, Everybody Went Crazy & The Legendary Shot Was Taken"

Thursday, Nov 25, 2010 8:00AM

Written by SOHH for Johnny Nunez

[Flashing Lights: Legendary hip-hop photographer Johnny Nunez reflects on his iconic shot of Jay-Z and Nas united at 2004's "I Declare War" concert.]

Now I'm going to say a few things that a lot of people already know, but I'm also going to expose the truth. That picture everyone remembers of Jay-Z and Nas uniting in 2005 almost didn't go down. 

Every Black photographer was excited about this concert. There are a lot of digital stock agencies out there owned and operated by white people, and it's okay because I work with one of them. But what a lot of people don't know is some how and some way, when we called Def Jam, they said something along the lines of there only being one photographer allowed or something like only a few photographers would be allowed [access to the concert]. It was some ridiculous story that said that none of the typical Black photographers were going to be allowed into Jay-Z's concert. We were all numb. We were thinking, "this is hip-hop. How can we not even get into our own events?'

Some photographers were allowed, but they were given a wack a** location [to shoot from]. And when I say wack, it was so far and so impossible that the first tier of people who got the greatest access were all white. So we were like, 'that's f*cked up.' I managed to get my way in through my network of people I know through Jay-Z's camp, but I felt bad for the other photographers that weren't allowed to get good access. My thought was if this is going to be his Black Album concert, then this may be his last performance. So how could [there] not be [any] Black photographers? It's gotta be persons of culture to tell the story and not saying that other races can't, it's just the policies that were involved looked weird. You had the white photographers in the front with a sprinkling of blacks and the rest of the blacks in the far back.

So before the concert, my man got an all-access gold pass that allows you go to backstage and I didn't have one of those. I had some front-only ridiculously wack a** pass which limited me from where I could shoot. I just kept thinking how could there only be one photographer allowed to go back stage and it was a white photographer too. But my man wen to Kinkos and made a laser print of what the all-access pass looked like. He took his license and made a print of it. Then he cut out his face from the license and put it over the copy of the original all-access and then after that, he had it laminated. After that, he gave me his pass to do the same thing and there we were, everyone had gold-out all-access passes from Kinkos, three dollars and fifty cents.

The white photographers were looking at us like, "what the --! Wait! How'd you get this!?" and we said, "this is our pass, we got it from the label." We were up in that b*tch and there's nothing they could say. The passes were good, they were laminated, they looked just like the real sh*t, and there was so much hype going on at that very moment that no one was going to question us. So once again, hip-hop prevailed and it felt like "Good Times" and "The Jeffersons." It was real sh*t.

Next thing you know, I was backstage and once Jay-Z brought out Nas, all the photographers were getting ready. Every press outlet was at the frontier but for someone like me who was running from the back to the side to the front with all-access, I was like, "D*mn, I gotta go back to the front." And if you look at see the documentary about the Black Album, I'm actually in it for about four seconds looking at the camera. It was to show that I was Jay's photographer. Anyway, as I got to the front, all these people that paid big, big, big tickets to be in the front were all celebrities. I'm talking about if you turned around, there's Madonna. You turn to the left, it's Naomi Campbell. It just wasn't looking good for me to get a really good shot because the front of the stage was filled photographers, blocking each other off and f*cking up a good shot.

So I was like, 'd*mn, what am I going to do' and I turn around and [hear] somebody say, "Johnny, you need to get a shot?" And it turned out to be one of my boys from Tommy Hilfiger. It was one of my man's who works at Tommy Hilfiger who previously couldn't get into one of Puffy's parties but I got him in. He said I could lean on his shoulder. And then Nas came out, everybody went crazy and the legendary shot was taken.

Check out Johnny Nunez's work below:

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Be sure to check out tomorrow's Flashing Light's featured photographer, Ray Tamarra.

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