The video for Mobb Deeps Shook Ones Part II showed Havoc and Prodigy skating to the bowels of New York, where you can speak the wrong words and you will get touched. A decade later, places like that still exist, and Hip-Hop photographer Boogie knows it all too well.
In late 2006, Boogies photography book Its All Good showed the side of New York thats much more Reasonable Doubt than Kingdom Come. The Serbian-born Brooklyn resident spent time in the crack dens of Bushwick photographing crack addicts and gang affiliated drug dealers. With needles, pipes and pistols aimed right at the lens, what can we see about the lifestyle that so many of our MCs claim to live and endorse?
AllHipHop.com: Ive followed your photography in magazines for years, before seeing the book. From your perspective, what inspired Its All Good?
Boogie: The thing was, I never planned for any of this. You cant plan projects like this. You cant really say, Oh, Im gonna go to a f**ked up neighbor and do something cool. It just happened. I was pretty bored with my neighborhood. Im in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; its a hipster area. Theres gayish guys, hipster kids. Theres nothing for me to shoot here. I was just going deeper and deeper into Brooklyn, towards the other side towards Bushwick. I was just walking around, deeper and deeper. I met a group of homeless people in an abandoned parking lot. I went straight to them, and they just froze. What the f**k? A White guy with a camera. Its not a White neighborhood; its predominantly Black and Hispanic. I just went, Hey, can I take some pictures? Only one was okay with me taking pictures of her. We became friends. Started hanging out, drinking beers, and others in the group starting accepting me too. For me, it was so interesting. If you live your normal little life, you dont get in touch with any of that, ever. For me, it was really great. It was something new. Im always intrigued by things like that people on the margins of society or people in struggle. Back in my country [Serbia], I used to take a lot pictures with gypsies same way, hanging out, drinking beers.
One day [this woman] told me, A friend of mine is coming; were going to smoke some crack. Do you want to take some pictures? Wow. I was playing dumb. They smoked crack and I took some pictures. Theres a book called Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue [by Eugene Richards]. It was done [in 1996] on drug addiction, gang stuff, mostly in the projects in Red Hook, [Brooklyn] and some was shot in Philly too. Its an amazing book. You go through a book like that and go, What the f**k? How did this guy take these pictures? Did he pay money? Did he know someone there? Then the next day, youre doing pretty much the same thing. Its a cool, cool feeling.
AllHipHop.com: On one hand its a fascinating discovery. On the other, who is your consumer? I dont imagine there are many people who want crack users and dope heads on their coffee tables
Boogie: Yeah, I know. [Laughs] Im the guy, I have Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue on my shelf. I think my consumers are mostly people who are into photography, but also who are interested in the whole gangster lifestyle. The book is showing junkies, drug users, and drug dealers both sides of the game.
AllHipHop.com: In the back of the book, you thanked Tragedy Khadafi. Was that a friendship thing, or did he have a role in the book?
Boogie: He had nothing to do with the book. Hes a cool guy. I took some photos of Tragedy for XLR8R magazine, and weve been in touch with him for a while. Hes the real deal, man; hes as real as it gets.
AllHipHop.com: From your work on this project, what are nuances between the Latin Kings, the Bloods of Brooklyn, or the few Crips you photographed?
Boogie: The weird thing with the Bloods is, one of my friends from the book, he was a Three Star General with the Bloods. His name was Casino. Hes not a Blood anymore, hes a Latin King now. I had no idea things like that can happen. He told me that Bloods are turning on each other in Brooklyn, and a lot of Blood sets are fighting each other. Latin Kings are more community-oriented. When youre a Latin King in New York, youre [amicable] with a Latin King in Chicago. Theyre all as one. Bloods arent like that. For me, that was weird to learn.
AllHipHop.com: Ive spent time in Bushwick. Thats 20 minutes or less from Times Square. How does it feel to see this depravity or poverty, and know thats in the skyline of one of the wealthiest cities on earth?
Boogie: The thing thats also weird is all these project buildings, everything looks nice. Everything looks nice on the outside, but the real s**t is happening behind the closed doors inside. You got to the projects and its a sunny day, and everything is nice, and you know that last night a guy was killed, his brains were all over the sidewalk right there. I dont know its weird. Another thing thats even more weird is that people from the ghetto never go to Manhattan; they dont leave their neighborhoods. The whole purpose of ghettos is to contain the poor. Obviously, Im from the f**ked up country where the whole city is like the projects. [Laughs] For me, that was fascinating. The violence is contained in the projects. Then you have a neighborhood thats better off whether Hasidic Jew or whatever, just a few blocks away, where everything is fine there. Nothing ever happens there. Violence doesnt spill over.
AllHipHop.com: Saying your whole country is a ghetto, do you think you were able to gain easier acceptance of these people based off of that?
Boogie: I think so. I think so cause first of all, I have no prejudice. I just went there with my heart open. I think people can feel that. Maybe my whole life story maybe that makes more f**ked up than they are, so they can feel that too. [Laughs] I wasnt really afraid; Im okay with guns. I mean, I am. In my country there are a lot of guns we had 10 years of war. You could buy a hand grenade for three to five dollars, and an [AK-47] was 40 dollars. So if somebody messes with you, you buy a hand-grenade and f**k up his business. [Laughs]
AllHipHop.com: Youve photographed a lot of Hip-Hop personalities through your career. How much do you think Hip-Hop today is influenced by gangs, and how much are these gangs influenced by Hip-Hop?
Boogie: I think Hip-Hop is a way out. For many of these people, for ghetto kids, I think Hip-Hop or sports are the way out. I think in that matter, Hip-Hop is very positive. Then, when I think its not positive is sometimes Hip-Hop supports violence. I think that doesnt do any good to the ghetto kids. The thing that lacks with a lot of kids in the ghetto is a lack of work [ethics]. Lack of persistence. Attention spans are short. I know kids there are great rappers, but theyll do it for two or weeks, and if nothing happens, theyll go back to selling drugs. Of course Hip-Hop is influenced by gangs everything revolves around gangs and drugs. Just recently I was in an apartment where kids were playing video games in one room while in the kitchen theres a bag of money, weed, and crack. Guns are around and kids are around. When you grow up looking up at that everyday, of course it influences your life. If you become a rapper, itll turn into your lyrics.
AllHipHop.com: If you were to remember this work by one photograph, what would it be?
Boogie: Its either the cover or the gangster with the glock or nine-millimeter in the hallway. That was the first time that I took photos with guns. That day was an adrenaline rush like never before; it was great. I was in the hallways with all these guys whom I barely knew, and they had loaded guns. Only later was I like, Ought oh, it could have ended differently. I couldnt sleep I really couldnt sleep that night. I was all hyper and pumped. But the next day, of course, I went again.
AllHipHop.com: How long was the duration for these photos?
Boogie: Two years, almost three.
AllHipHop.com: Are you still going back much?
Boogie: Yeah, I went recently. Im checking up on my friend, the guy on the cover, in the middle; hes a real friend. Im trying to help him. Im trying to get him some work maybe modeling or something like that. I got him a job for a company from Tokyo. He made some cash really easy as a model, but I just wanted to show him its possible. You can make money in a just. You dont have to sell drugs.
AllHipHop.com: What do you think it meant to them that the books out? Do you think it uplifted them? Other people may be passing judgement on them now too
Boogie: I think it feels good, both for me and for them. They saw the book. My friend saw the book. It feels good, man. They like it. They left a mark. They know that the way that they live, they can be gone tomorrow. It feels good to know that theyll be remembered. The guy on the cover, holding the gun, hes doing life [in prison] for murder now. So you know.